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

Carlie Watson, Nikki Carthy*, Sue Becker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


The purpose of this paper is to explore primary care psychological therapists’ experiences of working with mid-life and older women presenting with intimate partner violence (IPV) and develop a theoretical framework using a grounded theory approach to identify the experiences of those practitioners working with this phenomenon.

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.

A core state of therapist helplessness was uncovered. The framework demonstrates that psychological therapists can doubt their ability to work meaningfully with women over 45 years of age 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.

Research limitations/implications
The framework identifies barriers in working effectively with IPV and women in the mid-to older-aged populations.

This study is the first to suggest a framework that is grounded in practitioner experience with capability to transfer to a range of professionals working with mid-to older-aged women such as forensic, medical and specialist psychologists.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)222-234
Number of pages12
JournalQuality in Ageing and Older Adults
Issue number4
Early online date6 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


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