Sunday, April 12, 2015

Domestic Abuse and the Counselors Who Try to Help: Information for Writers with Donna Glaser





Today I welcome to ThrillWriting Donna White Glaser. Donna is the author of The Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery series and the Blood Visions Paranormal Mystery series. She is a psychotherapist and lives northwestern Wisconsin. As if that weren’t enough, she and her husband own a residential construction company where it’s Donna’s job to deal with any overly emotional, what-do-you-mean-you-can’t-put-roof-trusses-up-in-a-thunderstorm? clients. Strangely enough, she often comes up with ideas for creative murders and hiding bodies during business hours. Currently she is at work on the fifth Letty Whittaker 12-Step Mystery, The Lies We Tell and is plotting the second in the Blood Visions series,  Scry Me A River.

Fiona - 
Would you please tell us a little more about your psychology background?

Donna - 
I'm a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in WI. My degrees are BS in Psychology and MA in Human Relations, and I've been working in the mental health field for thirty years. Much of that time has been working with children and adolescents. 

Early on, I worked in residential treatment centers with kids who had been removed from their homes and foster homes for severe neglect and abuse. Those that were placed in the RTC after their own behaviors had gotten dangerous, either to themselves or to others. 

Domestic violence is so horrific because it happens in families, the place where we should feel safest. Not surprisingly, the children who are trapped in these situations react with what they see and experience.

I shifted out of working in RTCs after marrying and getting pregnant with my first child. The kids' stories and the intensity of treatment grew too close when I had my own babies, so it was time for me to step back and let others carry that particular burden.

That's also when I began to write. Prior to leaving that field, I think my energies were too focused on pouring into others for me to have any leftover for creative purposes. I did stay working as a therapist, though when my kids were young I kept it part-time. I worked (and still do) with outpatient clients, both adults and children. 


Five years ago, I was hired by an agency that does Children and Adolescent Day-treatment, so I was back working with kids again. In CADT programs, kids remain in their homes, but come to daily treatment during school hours. The particular program I work for is only a half-day program, so the kids head back to school when they're done with our group. During the time they're with us, we provide group therapy and help them deal with traumas and issues that are overwhelming them. Many come from homes where domestic violence is, or has been, common.

Fiona - 

If writers want to see the influence of your work with domestic abuse in literature they can read some of your early stories. Can you tell us a bit about those works?

Donna - 
Description for my first series, the Letty Whittaker 12-Step Mysteries: Letty is a psychotherapist, a recovering alcoholic, and a bit of a smartass. The themes in the series are loosely connected with Letty's journey through her own 12 Step program as well as the tough issues she faces in her own career. In the first book, The Enemy We Know, Letty is attacked by the boyfriend of one of her clients after Carrie leaves their abusive relationship. When Wayne (the boyfriend) can't take his anger out on his usual target, he turns his focus to the person he blames for Carrie's escape. 

The second book in this series also focuses on domestic violence. It's set in a women's shelter where Letty uncovers the fact that several women have been murdered or gone missing over the last several years.

Fiona - 
Let's start with a definition. What is considered abusive by a mental health professional?

Donna - 
I can't answer what is abusive by law. I know there have been many times when I've reported what I felt was abuse to CPS (Child Protective Services), and they've labeled the situation "unfounded." Unfortunately, it's a lot like the old "porn" definition: it it looks like porn to you, it is. But that's so hard to make objective. 


In a therapeutic setting, I let the client decide what is abusive in the context of their lives. As far as reporting goes, as a mandated reporter, I have to report instances where physical or sexual abuses of certain population types, eg. minors, the elderly, mentally ill. Neglect is also reportable, but emotional abuse isn't.

Fiona - 

When folks think about abuse they often imagine bruising and broken bones but abuse also includes

  • emotional abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • medical abuse
  • neglect


Abuse happens at all levels of education and socio-economic situation, what kinds of personalities and what kinds of triggers might begin the cycle of abuse?

Donna - 
You're so right about the generalization of abuse. It's not confined to any one demographic or victim personality type. That's because the abuse starts with the abuser. I know that sounds stupid but what I mean is that there is nothing about the victim that triggers the abuse to start. It's all about the abuser, and is born out of inflated insecurities which spawn the need to control. As an example, I've noticed that when a person, any person, is feeling out of control in some (or several) areas of their life, they often turn to another area and overcompensate. For instance when my work as a therapist starts to feel overwhelming, I come home and plot murders. I can control what happens in my books. I can decide every little piece and interaction in my characters. On a much larger and significantly more horrific scale, abusers follow the same pattern. They feel out of control, or less than, in some area--usually public--and they turn to something they can control to compensate.

Fiona - 
And the victim's are frequently not people that we would think could ever become victims. Can you tell us a little about victim cycles and how things escalate?


Donna - 
You're right that victims are often people we would least expect. That's because we have a preconception of the kind of person we think would become victims. Maybe that's because we'd like to think we are safe from falling into that trap. But we aren't. 
Most of the women (and some men) that I've seen are strong, capable personalities. Ones that lead and make decisions in their jobs. I think sometimes it's their very strength that leads to the entrapment. Knowing and believing in her own strength, the victim


  1. has a difficult time seeing herself as such
  2. believes that her very strength can "make a difference" in the abuser's life. Her love will be strong enough to weather this storm. Compassion is also another trait that victims have in plenty. They want to help and they want to be the ones to heal their partner's wounds.


Regarding how things escalate: 



  • THE TEST - an abuser starts with a test. Usually a threat, but a real one. Maybe he'll bring a gun home one day, or maybe it'll be a push or a drawn back fist. Some action that will test how his partner will (or won't) react. And then he'll apologize, often quite sincerely, for losing his temper while at the same time casting whatever he did as his partner's fault. He's sorry, but she shouldn't have. . .whatever.
  • ISOLATION - is key too, and happens at about the same time. Isolation can be physical--maybe a move to a location where the partner doesn't know anybody, maybe he'll encourage her to quit her job. Or it could be emotional. He makes her choose between him or her friends/family. He makes it an issue of loyalty and often couches it as an action that will help heal him and prove her love.

The actual triggers, once that prep work has been put in place, can really be anything that adds stress to the abuser. Life. Whatever. His job isn't going well. Financial burdens. Relationship conflicts in other areas. Anything really.

Fiona - 
Upon the initial threat - the test -can you give me three responses? 


  1. A counter move on the would be victims part that would curtail further abuse. 
  2. A neutral act that would lead to a second test 
  3. A response which would solidify the abusers new role. These are simply examples - obviously each situation is unique.

Donna - 

  1. The most effective counter move would be for the partner to leave the relationship. From what I've read, most of the women who've been abused state that there were clear signs and situations prior to getting married. Just leave. We're taught that true love forgives all, but it doesn't have to. 
  2. A neutral act would be one where the potential victim sets a boundary. One that she thinks will clarify acceptable and unacceptable behavior to her partner. Unfortunately, in the world of human interactions, words mean less than actions, and the action taken was, in this case, inaction. He might exert more self-control, which will extend the time between the threat and the next, but if a man is going to be an abuser he's going to abuse eventually. 
  3. A response that would solidify the cycle would be if the woman accepts responsibility for being the trigger and, in turn, apologizes for causing it.


I also want to stress that while I'm using he = abuser and she= victim, that's definitely not always the case. Especially in terms of emotional abuse. The same patterns apply there and in those situations I've seen a 50/50 ratio of men victims as women.

Fiona - 

That's an interesting plot twist.

There are also people who are abusive by nature, and they are looking for victims. Can you talk about some warning signs that -- let's put this in the context of a male looking for a female victim to -- a woman could be aware of. And what kinds of traits might an (psychopath, sociopath, narcissistic) abuser be seeking out in a mate.

Donna - 
If we're shifting to the more extreme personality disorder of an Antisocial Personality (psychopathy,) then he would probably be looking for a malleable, gullible person. 


APDs (antisocial personality disorder) don't feel love, but they are often charming and have learned what people, in this case, a woman, wants to hear. They'll use manipulation before aggression, because over-aggression might make the woman leave. 

If an APD marries, there is going to be an ulterior benefit for him. He might recognize that being married is a kind of screen for him; maybe he gains access to money or her kids, if he's a pedophile.

It's difficult to say what to look for in order to avoid an APD, because they often are highly skilled in getting what they want. They're conmen, and they're usually very good at it. Unless they're dumb, and then they get caught and put in jail. The very, very smart ones go into politics.

Fiona - 
So we are nearing the end of our interview - what did you think I'd ask/want me to ask you about this subject in terms of what a writer needs to bare in  mind when writing this kind of plot line?

Donna - 
One thing I wanted to point out is the #1 question so many people ask about or to the victim: Why do they stay? 


  • They stay, not because they are weak, but because they are strong and compassionate and those very qualities work against their instincts to flee. 
  • They stay because they've been isolated and cut off from resources. 
  • They stay because they've been told that nobody else will have them and nobody else understands what they really are and nobody else will believe them. 
  • They stay because they've been isolated financially or because they have kids together and he's a good father (sometimes). 
  • They stay because they know the most dangerous, unpredictable period for them to be serious hurt or killed is after they finally do leave. Leaving is necessary. It's ESSENTIAL. But it's not easy.


Fiona - 
If an author has written a plot that includes abuse, and characters outside of the situation are becoming aware that there is an issue, what helpful response could the other character offer the victim?


And what can a victim do to get out especially when they're leaving has been threatened with retribution?

Donna -
If you see someone in the situation, encourage her to leave and don't judge her when she is afraid to. Try not to be frustrated when she goes back and forth in her decision or when she gives you the excuses for him that she tells herself.

For the victim? 


  • Tell everyone. Get out and tell everyone. 
  • Tell the police 
  • Tell your friends and family 
  • Tell your coworkers. 
  • Be alert and aware of self-protection strategies and do what you have to do, including move, to keep yourself safe. 
  • If you need to find a safe place like a women's shelter for a while, do it. As heartless as this sounds, feeling ashamed won't kill you, but the abuser might. It's awful, but it's not fatal and it will get better.
Fiona - 
Awesome! Thank you.


You have a book up on Kindle Scout - Folks if you go over and vote, and Donna is offered a contract, you will get the book for FREE a week before anyone else gets to a chance to see it. That's a no-brainer win-win situation!


Donna, can you tell us about the story - I think it's so intriguing.

Donna - 
A SCRYING SHAME Book One in the Blood Visions Paranormal Mystery series. Following a near death experience, twenty-five-year old Arie Stiles decides she might as well take the job nobody else wants: a crime scene clean-up technician. It’s good money, which she could use, and death doesn’t hold a lot of mystery for her. Or so she thinks. Arie isn’t on the job long before discovering she’s been “gifted” with a new psychic talent—the ability to scry. Whether she wants to or not, Arie can read the memories of the dead in their blood. When she is assigned to clean the crime scene of Marissa Mason, the socialite author of the best-selling gold-diggers' bible, Rich Bitch, Arie finds herself haunted by blood visions day and night, and to her shock discovers an unexpected family connection to the victim. With her brother suffering the unwanted attention of the police as the primary suspect, can Arie face her fear of the blood visions long enough to follow the trail of clues left in the murdered woman's memories and find the real culprit?



VOTE NOW - and (hopefully!) GET A FREE COPY


Fiona - 

And now for our traditional ThrillWriting tell all :)
Can you tell us one of your harrowing stories?

Donna - 

The first one that pops to mind was when I was still in college and I started working at a residential treatment center for developmentally disabled adults. I filled in as a substitute at the school. Most of the classes were designed to teach life and work skills--some as basic as sorting buttons to learn counting, colors, and differences in size. At the other end of the spectrum, was the wood shop. Residents there were quite skilled and made craft items like lawn ornaments and birdhouses, which were sold at fundraisers. The men and women who worked in the shop were quite proud of their independence and enjoyed having a real job.


For some unknown reason, I started subbing in the wood shop, despite the fact that I knew nothing about wood-working or tools. Or anything, really. But ignorance is bliss and I was making good change so I toddled happily along. The shop was a cavernous room filled with bandsaws, routers, drills, and various other tools that made a lot of noise and had the potential to slice off important body parts. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is every body part. The room housed three different classes-nearly forty people, teachers included.


The plus side was there were two other teachers to help me figure things out, although their interactions with me started out fairly crabby because they were essentially doing my job since I was so CLUELESS. But I was all they had. Eventually, when they saw I was going to stick around, they lightened up a bit and gave me some tips about how to run the class. I kept my students away from the scarier tools and we stuck to sanding and painting wooden tulips in messy but cheerful colors. And I got to know several of the residents, especially a very dapper middle-aged man named Ernie who wore a faded plastic rose in his lapel and called me "mama."

Things were going well.

Until, that is, the school administration decided to prohibit smoking. Keep in mind, this was twenty-five years ago, so smoke-free environments weren't as much of a given as they now are. A further complication was that the residents were adults. Working adults, as they saw it, and they wanted their cigarettes.

Oh, my.

The announcement was made in the morning and it caused a stunned silence in the shop. For about four-point-two seconds, anyway. Then the dam broke and a steadily building roar of consternation and anger began to rise. The other teachers promised to find out what was going on and we split the classes up and set everybody to work. A few protesters had trouble moving on, but the majority, although still frowning and sullen-looking, got to work on the day's chores. After a while, things seemed to settle back into a routine of sorts. But the air felt tense and brittle.

At first break, the resentment rebounded. The smokers were used to having a cigarette or two on their breaks, and the fact that they couldn't was brought back to them. The wood shop seemed divided into two camps: the angry and the anxious. I was firmly in the second camp. Things were not looking good. But the other teachers stayed calm and professional, and kept the groups moving through their schedules.

And then, lunch time. Nicotine withdrawal and the indignation of trampled rights combined into an unholy cataclysmic event. They rioted. And, by riot, I mean, the adult residents started chucking two-by-fours and Sawzalls and metal stools. Open cans of tulip paint sailed through the air, leaving streamers of red and blue and yellow in their wake. I grabbed several pacifists who were frozen in fear and shoved them under the work tables. I dove behind the lumber racks. This, I decided, was going to be my new home.

Except from across the woodshop I heard, "Mama! Mama!"

"Ernie? Ernie, get down!"

"Mama!"

"Ernie!"

I started crawling. When I got to Ernie, he was standing fully upright in the chaos, clutching his fingers and sobbing as hammers and birdhouses whizzed past his ears. I hauled him down beside me and dragged him under a table where we shivered and cried together for a while. Eventually, the police and several teachers from other classes showed up and restored order. When they finally found Ernie and myself, he was drawing pictures of kitties in the sawdust and I was curled in the fetal position sucking my thumb. (Actually it was the other way around, but I promised him I wouldn't tell.)

Over the years, I've been involved in many other precarious situations, but this one helps keeps things in perspective. Having survived the Cigarette Wars, everything else is cake.


Fiona - 
Donna would love to hear from you via her website at www.donnawhiteglaser.com or on Twitter: @readdonnaglaser.

Thanks so much, Donna.


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