Helpless helpers: primary care therapist self-efficacy working with intimate partner violence and aging women

Carlie Watson, Nikki Carthy, Susan Becker

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Purpose: To explore primary care psychological therapists’ experiences of working with midlife and older women presenting with intimate partner violence and develop a theoretical framework using a grounded theory approach to identify the experiences of those practitioners working with this phenomenon. Methodology: Interviews with 17 practitioners were conducted. The data analysis was informed by a grounded theory approach, which requires three states of data coding: open, axial and selective. Data codes were thematically sorted into causal, contextual, strategic, intervening, interactional and consequential conditions. Findings: A core state of therapist helplessness was uncovered. The framework demonstrates that psychological therapists doubt their ability to work meaningfully with women over 45 experiencing IPV. To avoid the core state of helplessness therapists use strategies such as avoiding asking questions about partner violence, making assumptions of how patients interpret their own experiences, addressing symptoms rather than the root cause, and going above and beyond in attempts to rescue patients. The consequence of therapists’ helplessness often results in burnout. Implications: The framework identifies barriers in working effectively with intimate partner violence and women in the mid to older aged populations. Originality/Value: This study is the first to suggest a framework that is grounded in practitioner experience with the capability to transfer to a range of professionals working with mid to older aged women such as forensic, medical and specialist psychologists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-234
JournalQuality in Ageing and Older Adults
Issue number4
Early online date6 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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