How Mental Health Professionals Should Handle Lesbian Partner Abuse: A Look at the Research

How Mental Health Professionals Should Handle Lesbian Partner Abuse: A Look at the Research

By Kenny Luck, M.A., A.B.D. (Ph.D. Candidate)

According to research over the last few decades, “Salience surrounds the issue of lesbian battering.” Articles in the research literature go on to say: “Lesbian victims of partner abuse are even less likely than are their heterosexual counterparts to seek help in shelters of from counselors because of the overlay of homophobia that exists both in the battered women’s movement and among mental health professionals (MHPs).”

Although the article that cites this information was published more than 15 years ago, and much progress has been made toward the acceptance of gay marriage on both the legal and social fronts, some barriers continue to exist. That said, however, “Although therapists, especially those who work with lesbians, are becoming increasingly aware of the prevalence of lesbian partner abuse, the topic remains shrouded in silence.”

Mental health professionals need to keep this in mind when working with vulnerable populations.

The history of violence in lesbian relationships “had been discussed by activists in the battered women’s movement since 1978, but was not made public . . . until 1986.” Of course, since then, and as noted above, much social and legal progress has been made in raising awareness about gay marriage and the acceptance of homosexuals and lesbians within the larger society. The question that concerns MHPs now is: How should MHPs handle lesbian partner abuse and maximize positive therapeutic outcomes for all of those concerned?

This isn’t an easy question to answer.

Yet, in the article “Lesbian Partner Abuse: Implications for Therapists,” researchers Susan L. Morrow and Donna M. Hawhurst provide some insight into how MHPs could handle lesbian partner abuse within the therapy context. Some of the technical approaches therapists can use include:

* Intrapsyhic Model

* System Model

* Addiction Model

* Advocacy Model

Each of these models has their advocates and detractors, and these models are appropriate in some cases and not in others. Whatever the case Morrow and Hawhurst put the focus on victim safety, victim empowerment, and counseling the

batterer. “The choice to remain in or leave the battering relationship belongs with the survivor,” the researchers write. “We, however, advise victims to achieve whatever separation is necessary to prevent the violence from happening again.” Finally, the researchers conclude: “Because of economic, emotional, parenting, or other entwinements, the abused lesbian may not perceive herself as able to leave the relationship. She should be encouraged to explore all options.”

That said, however, lesbian partner abuse continues to be a difficult problem for the batterer, the victims, and MHPs who are tasked with seeking positive outcomes fro their clients. The best approaches for handling these difficult situations is, perhaps, for MHPs to put into place best practices as well as to use researched-backed interventions.


Marrow, S., and Hawxhurst, D. M. (1989). Lesbian Partner Abuse Implications for Therapists. Journal of Counseling and Development, 68, 58 – 62.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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