A Review of “Is It Abuse?” by Darby Strickland

Issues involving abuse are some of the most difficult counseling and care situations to navigate. The challenges surrounding these types of situations are many, but chief among them is a proper diagnosis of the problem. Abusers are adept at hiding their destructive behavior and often counselors, pastors, and friends are not aware of the signs of trouble. Darby Strickland’s Is It Abuse? is the robust guide that we all need to become better equipped to identify and intervene in cases of domestic violence.

Darby Strickland is a counselor and professor with the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation. She teaches courses particularly in Counseling Abusive Marriages and contributed to the church-based training curriculum Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused. She has an earned Masters of Divinity in Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, and has spent years counseling and caring for the victims of trauma and abuse. This book evidences her knowledge of the subject.

Is It Abuse? is exactly the kind of “guide” that you want for a subject as complex and important as domestic violence. The book’s subtitle clarifies its objective: A Biblical Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims. The two goals are connected. To help you have to be able to rightly identify the problem. Strickland spends a significant amount of space in the book helping readers to identify the specific expressions of the various types of abusive behavior. In fact, the amount of detail and clarity provides can be almost overwhelming and it is, in one sense, utterly depressing to read. I have ready many books on abuse, but the amount of detail and specificity that Strickland provides is astounding. She gives not simply descriptions of behavior but even case studies. In order to be helpful we must be able to accurately identify the types of abuse people are experiencing and seek to understand the dimensions of it, as well as its impact on victims. Strickland does this profoundly well!

Strickland establishes three specific goals for readers of this book. Readers should be able: (1) “to pick up on cues that something is wrong;” (2) “to draw out stories so that you can get clarity on the situations…and their severity;” and (3) “to provide wisdom and Christ-centered counsel” (16). Each goal is woven through each chapter as readers gain insight on specific types of abuse, the impact on victims, and the ways to provide help. She tells readers both how to approach situations, what to look for, and what not to do. The book is robust in its guidance.

The book is broken down into three parts. Part one focuses on “Understanding Oppression.” Strickland’s use of the language of “oppression” is particularly helpful. Sometimes we can get bogged down in the technical definitions of abuse and struggle to identify whether certain behaviors qualify as “abuse.” Strickland provides us an alternative way to approach the issue. She writes:

I like to use the term oppression, since it provides a framework for this behavior that is addressed in Scripture and captures the domination that it involves. No matter what form oppression takes, its intended outcome is the same: to punish and wound a victim so that an oppressor gets their world the way they want it…All oppression is a grave sin – some abusive tactics may be more or less sever than others, but they are all destructive and dishonoring to victims and to God. There is no place for oppression in a marriage. (24-25)

This focus on abuse as oppression sheds some fresh light on the subject and helps us to think more Biblically about it and focus on the sinful nature of it, not its qualifications to meet some technical criteria. Within part one readers will learn about this definition of abuse, the dynamics of it, the impact of it on victims, and the role of a helper.

Part two focuses on “Uncovering Oppression” and is, by far, the weightiest portion of the book. Here, Strickland explores five different types of abuse: Physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual, and financial. She lumps emotional and psychological together, noting that while they are somewhat different they have enough overlap to warrant this merging. Each chapter goes through the specific manifestations of abuse in these categories and explores their impact on victims. She then walks readers through the best ways to approach each situation and the kinds of help that sufferers will need.

Part three rounds out the book by focuses more broadly on “Upholding the Oppressed.” In two chapters she gives us guidance on the specifics of helping mothers and children, and how to be supportive of victims. She gives some real practical tips in these two chapters that all should read.

This is a heavy read. The descriptions of abuse, along with the specific case studies, are hard to stomach. For many of us the level of hatred that sufferers endure from their spouses is hard to imagine, and yet it is so important for us to read because it is their lived experience. If we wish to help we must be willing to understand. Is It Abuse? is not the “best” book I’ve read this year, but it might be the most important counseling book of 2020! Abuse is such a massive problem in the church and it is an issue we have for far too long minimized, ignored, or mishandled. That is changing in more recent years, but the greater interest in the subject means we need greater equipping. Darby Strickland has written the most helpful guide for the church on the subject. I highly recommend that all counselors work their way through this insightful book.

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