Psychic Trauma of Intimate Partner Violence Focus of Athena Project

By Lois Baker

Release Date: February 7, 2008 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Between 900,000 and 3 million women annually experience violence or abuse by their intimate partners, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates.

And while the children in such relationships often receive extensive counseling as a matter of course, support for their mothers -- who may have experienced sexual or emotional abuse as well as physical abuse -- may not go beyond providing temporary safe housing. If counseling or additional services are available, they are likely to be sporadic or dispersed throughout a community.

For women in crisis, these may be hurdles too great to overcome.

The Athena Project at the University at Buffalo was designed to help correct that scenario.

Headed by J. Gayle Beck, Ph.D., professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, the project is offering private and confidential psychological assessment, treatment and counseling in a safe location to victims of intimate partner violence.

In addition to offering aid and comfort, the Athena Project will generate pilot data that Beck and colleagues will use to design a group-treatment program that can be adopted by organizations throughout the U.S.

Beck developed a similar program for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following traumatic car accidents.

The researchers chose the name Athena purposely. "We wanted to call the project something other than 'domestic violence,'" said Beck. "Athena is the goddess of wisdom, battle and certain crafts. She is portrayed in armor and also tending a pot over a fire. We thought the name was appropriate, given the many challenges these women have faced.

"There has been much research on abused children and many programs to care for them, but abused women themselves have some pretty profound problems, and these haven't been addressed in the psychological literature," she continued. "We have put together an in-depth psychological assessment, and will do some careful groundwork research on intimate partner violence."

The project will define the trauma resulting from this violence, the social and psychological consequences it causes, the mental health needs of these women and how social services can meet these needs. Some of the problems Beck expects to address include intrusive memories of the abuse, trouble concentrating, being jumpy or irritable, and depression and anxiety.

The researchers have worked with 30 women to date and plan to see at least 30 more. Women can be counseled and receive services in two safe locations: The Family Justice Center in downtown Buffalo, located at 237 Main Street on the 14th floor, or in a suburban location, the Center for Anxiety Research at 168 Park Hall on the UB North (Amherst) Campus. Both sites provide child care. Women may call 645-3650 ext. 230 for more information.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.