Counseling Spankers

Query to Project NoSpank from Wally Phillips, August 1, 2001


I need some help. I'm currently in grad school to become a psychotherapist and I'm writing a paper on violence to kids. I need a solid resource on how, as a therapist, to deal with families who hit their kids. I need clinical interventions and/or a theoretical orientation.

Can you point me to some knowledgable, professional resources?

Many thanks!

Response from Robert Fathman, August 2, 2001

Dear Wally,

I am a clinical psychologist [Ph.D.] in full time private practice, and I work with kids and families as well as adults. If by "resource" you mean a textbook or journal article, I'm not aware of any. But I'll respond briefly how I deal with such issues as a therapist, and feel free to ask more questions if I can be of help.

When I am seeing kids, I always ask parents first, then the kids, about what type of discipline is used in the home, currently and historically. When I discover that any form of physical punishment is used, I ask specific questions about who does it, how often, if a child is hit with an object, etc. Parents, like the media, will often use the term "spanking" [which by definition is done with a hand] to cover belt whippings, hitting with tennis rackets and hangers and other such practices.

I always of course advise against any form of corporal punishment, and I offer alternative ways of dealing with kid challenges. I ask the child when was the most recent occurrence, and I have had kids show me bruises on backs, legs, etc. I ask if there have ever been bruises or injuries. In those cases, bruises or other injuries, I tell the child, then the parents, that this is abuse, and I am obligated to report it, but I hope they will still feel comfortable returning to work with me on the issues.

If no abuse has occurred, I not only offer alternatives, but also explore how the parent was raised, I get into issues of causes of anger in the lives of parents and children, and do all the other typical therapist things to prevent any further use of hitting. When parents explain/defend their use of hitting on religious grounds, I do not at all avoid the issue out of some apprehension about trampling on matters of faith. I've learned how to explain Biblical passages differently, I point our contradictions in the Bible without ridiculing beliefs, and I can easily say, "Can you really imagine Jesus hitting children?"

I'm not always successful with these approaches, but it is my sense of things that it does work in a large majority of the cases I treat, and I hope that in those families where spanking continues, that their own encounters with tv shows and magazine articles supporting my view will eventually lead them to stop spanking at some point after my last contact.

Hope this helps.

Robert Fathman, Ph.D.
Dublin, Ohio


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