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LESBIAN MOTHERS’ COUNSELING EXPERIENCES IN THE CONTEXT OF INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE

Authors


  • Ramona F. Oswald and Jennifer L. Hardesty, Human and Community Development, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign; Carol A. Fonseca, Educational Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
    This research was funded by a grant from the Lesbian Health Fund, a program of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. We express our appreciation to Lydia P. Buki, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, for her suggestions on this manuscript.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Ramona F. Oswald, Human and Community Development, 905 South Goodwin, Urbana, IL 61801. E-mail: roswald@illinois.edu

Abstract

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant concern for some lesbian households with children. Yet we know of only one study that has examined lesbian mothers’ experiences with IPV. In the current study we analyzed the counseling experiences of participants in our prior study. Interviews with 24 lesbian mothers (12 Black, 9 White, and 3 Latina) 23 to 54 years of age (M = 39.5) were coded using thematic analysis. Overall, lesbian mothers experiencing IPV did seek help from counselors (n = 15, 63%), typically after reaching a breaking point. Counselors were most helpful when addressing the abuse and promoting self-empowerment, and least helpful when victim-blaming or ignoring the abuse and/or the same-sex relationship. Lesbian mothers’ perceptions that mental health professionals were sometimes ineffective have implications for provider training. In order to work effectively with this population, providers should attempt to eliminate or correct personal biases or prejudices with self-exploration and education. By becoming more aware and knowledgeable of the nuances, struggles, and strengths of the lesbian community, providers can gain competency in providing therapeutic services to such clients. Mental health professionals can also adopt an advocacy stance to assist in spreading cultural awareness to others and support policy or institutional changes to include same-sex IPV. Competencies can be assessed through future studies that identify the knowledge and skills gap among mental health professionals who frequently work with the lesbian population.

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