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Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Family violence under the spotlight in counselling study

RESEARCHER: Dr Charlene Petersen RESEARCHER: Dr Charlene Petersen

For many teenagers in South Africa, violence and crime constitute a way of life, having both direct and indirect effects on their psychological, emotional, developmental and physical wellbeing, says Dr Charlene Petersen.

A psychologist in the Department of Student Counselling at CPUT, Petersen developed a psycho-educational technique that can be used by psychologists, social workers and therapists to re-construct adolescent identity within the context of family violence, as part of her doctoral research, which she recently completed at the North West University.

Her thesis titled “Re-constructing adolescent identity in the context of family violence within the Belhar community of Cape Town,” was borne out of her interest in identity and adolescent development as well as a need for wanting to assist teenagers who find themselves in a family violence context.

“Adolescents growing up in poverty-stricken communities with high unemployment, concomitant dysfunction within the family, lack of infrastructure, and high incidences of crime and violence have limited access to mental health services and with the increase of violence and crime infiltrating many homes, it is evident that there is a need for restorative therapeutic intervention with adolescents in South Africa,” says Petersen.


As part of her study, Petersen worked with a select group of teenagers from the Belhar community, a suburb in Cape Town. A mixed-methods approach was used in the study, with data obtained through semi-structured individual interviews, psycho-educational intervention and pre-test and post-test assessments (Adolescent Self Concept Scale).

Through the use of psycho-educational tools and projective techniques, Petersen as well as the teenagers gained insight into their experience of family violence, as well as how they perceive themselves and interact with others, and how they foresee their future selves in a non-violent setting.

“I asked questions, such as how they felt in the context and what part of them comes out in that context. I wanted to find out what resources they had within them. It was about empowering them,” she says.

“The psycho-educational technique helped them to redefine their perception of family violence is and how differently to react to it.”

Petersen, who worked with each teenager over a period of ten sessions, says it was heartbreaking to hear the individuals stories, however, says it was beneficial for the teenagers, as one of the worst cases turned his life around.

“It is important to know that in the midst of violence, you don’t have to become like the perpetrator or the victim. You can redefine yourself in the context of family violence through self -empowerment and coping skills.”


Petersen says the study proved the feasibility of the use of psycho-educational intervention and assist teenagers in their identity formation process in terms of how they perceive themselves and their interaction with others within the context of family violence.

The psycho educational technique can either be used on its own or with other therapy modalities and “therapists working with teenagers can become more informed in how to approach identity issues as a process emergent from a relational field and how to facilitate re-constructing an integrated identity,” says Petersen.

Written by Candes Keating

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