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Understand DARVO and the Healing Role of Counselling

Updated: May 5

In the intricate midst of human relationships, conflicts and misunderstandings are common. However, when these take a dark turn, where an individual’s behaviour systematically disempowers and confuses the victim, it’s a realm far removed from the ordinary. One such pernicious pattern is DARVO – an acronym for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. This psychological manipulation tactic is often employed by perpetrators of wrongdoing to deflect responsibility, invert the power dynamic, and control the narrative.



What is DARVO?


To understand DARVO and the healing role of counselling, this term was coined by Dr. Jennifer Freyd, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrongdoing, particularly those who are accused of sexual offences, might display in response to being held accountable for their actions. The stages of DARVO are as follows:


  • Deny:  The perpetrator will outright deny the behaviour, often with fervent assertiveness, refusing to accept any responsibilities for the harm caused.

  • Attack: After denial, they may proceed to attack the credibility, character, or sanity of the victim, attempting to discredit them and shift the focus.

  • Reverse Victim and Offender:  The final stage sees the perpetrator adopting the role of the victim and relegating the actual victim to the position of the aggressor.


This insidious tactic can cause immense psychological turmoil for the victim, leading to confusion, self-doubt, and a host of other emotional and psychological challenges.


The Trauma of DARVO


Victims of DARVO can suffer secondary form of trauma of top of the primary harm inflicted by the original wrongdoing. This trauma is compounded by the gaslighting nature of DARVO, as victims might begin to question their memories, perceptions, and even sanity. They may also face public scrutiny and social isolation if the perpetrator’s attacks damage their reputation and relationships.


The Power of Counselling in Addressing DARVO


Counselling can be a beacon of hope and a critical step towards healing for individuals who have experienced DARVO. Professional counsellors can help victims in several ways:



Counsellors provide a safe and non-judgemental space where victims can share their experiences. By validating their feelings and affirmations of the events, counsellors help to counteract the gaslighting effects of DARVO.



One of the cruellest aspects of DARVO is the way it distorts reality. Counsellors can assist victims in maintaining a clear view of what happened, reaffirming the truth and helping them distinguish between the manipulations and the facts.



Through therapeutic techniques, counsellors empower victims to regain control over their narrative. This includes building self-esteem, establishing boundaries, and developing assertiveness skills


Healing Trauma

Counselling can offer specific trauma-informed therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and others tailored to help the victim process and heal from the trauma caused by DARVO.


Building Resilience

Victims learn coping strategies to manage the emotional fallout and to protect themselves against future instances of psychological manipulation.



DARVO can leave deep psychological scars, but counselling offers powerful tools for recovery and resilience. By understanding the dynamics of DARVO, victims can begin to unpack the layers of manipulation and mend the fabric of their reality that was torn asunder. With the help of a skilled counsellor, they can navigate out of the fog of confusion and reclaim their voice and truth, ultimately moving towards healing and wholeness.


If you or someone you know is experiencing the effects of DARVO, reaching out for professional counselling can be an important first step in the journey toward recovery. Remember the darkness of DARVO loses its power in the light of awareness and professional support.

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