What Is Domestic Violence Counseling?

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What Is Domestic Violence Counseling?

Domestic violence counseling is a form of therapy that may be beneficial for survivors of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse includes intimate partner violence which is physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or emotional or psychological harm perpetrated by current and former partners or spouses.

Domestic violence can also include abuse by other members of the household, including parents, siblings, relatives, or roommates.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, over 10 million people experience physical abuse by an intimate partner every year in the United States and national helplines typically receive over 20,000 calls per day.

Domestic violence counseling may be offered by agencies with expertise in these issues, also known as domestic violence service providers (DVSPs), or by independent counselors who are trained in this area, says Tami Sullivan, PhD, director of the Family Violence Research and Programs at Yale School of Medicine.

If you or a loved one are a survivor of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Types of Domestic Violence Counseling

These are some of the types of therapy that domestic violence counseling may involve, according to Dr. Sullivan:

  • Individual counseling, which can help address a person’s unique needs. Individuals can talk to their counselors one-on-one about their feelings and experiences and work with them to develop goals for counseling. This type of approach recognizes that not everyone experiences abuse in the same way, that the impact of abuse differs among individuals, and what individuals need to move forward also varies tremendously.
  • Support groups, which focus on the shared experiences among members and on helping individuals realize they are not alone. The effects of participating in these groups can be powerful, particularly because so many people keep the abuse a secret and come to feel isolated and alone. The shared understanding and sense of universality among a group of peers can promote well-being in ways that for some, cannot be accomplished in individual counseling.
  • Integrative therapies such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.
  • Creative arts therapies that involve artistic modes of expression such as music, visual art, drama, dance, writing, poetry, or play.
  • Couples therapy, which used to be taboo, because there may be risk to the survivor, but there are specific circumstances under which it may be a safe and appropriate therapy to try. It involves a separate safety assessment with the survivor before commencement.
  • Helping to overcome PTSD through empowerment (HOPE), which is a form of therapy that aims to empower survivors who have developed PTSD.
  • Strengths and empowerment (RISE), which is a form of therapy that is being developed specifically for people who have experienced intimate partner violence.

Domestic Violence Counseling Services

According to Dr. Sullivan, domestic violence service providers may offer several different types of services, which can include:

  • Counseling for emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, PTSD, self-harm, or other mental health needs
  • Legal support for survivors, for instance, if their partner has been arrested
  • Financial management programs that help individuals develop skills toward gaining financial independence from their abusers
  • Training and support for employment
  • Programs for children who may have witnessed domestic abuse

These services can take many forms and target many different needs, says Dr. Sullivan.

Who May Need Domestic Violence Counseling?

This form of counseling may be ​​beneficial for individuals who are currently experiencing abuse as well as those who have experienced abuse in the past, says Dr. Sullivan.

Stereotypes of Domestic Abuse Survivors

People tend to stereotype domestic violence survivors as women who have been severely physically abused; however, Dr. Sullivan says it’s important to note that not all survivors are women and not all survivors experience physical abuse. “It is hugely problematic to put this stereotype out there as if this is the only way domestic violence is experienced and this is the only type of person who can benefit from services.”

For instance, Dr. Sullivan explains that some individuals have never experienced physical abuse, but still fear for their safety on a daily basis because of the psychological abuse they endure.

On the other hand, she says there are individuals who are not necessarily scared of their abusive partner but suffer because of the effects of abuse on their self-worth and day-to-day functioning.

Benefits of Domestic Violence Counseling

Domestic violence counseling can benefit people who have experienced the following types of abuse:

  • Physical abuse, which includes physical harm via actions such as slapping, hitting, punching, hair pulling, pinching, kicking, beating, biting, burning, and other forms of physical violence.
  • Sexual abuse, which involves forcing someone to take part in a sexual act such as rape, sexual touching, sexual texting, and other sexual behavior without their consent.
  • Psychological abuse, which involves verbal and non-verbal communication that is intended to control someone or cause them mental and emotional harm.
  • Stalking, which is characterized by a series of repeated advances or unwanted attention that can cause the person to fear for their own safety or the safety of a loved one. It also includes cyberstalking, which is a form of stalking conducted over the phone or the internet.

Effectiveness of Domestic Violence Counseling

According to a 2020 review, psychotherapy can help reduce depression and anxiety in people who have experienced intimate partner violence.

The review included the following types of therapy:

A 2020 study found that HOPE therapy and a form of present-centered therapy (PCT) adapted to include safety planning showed promise in treating people who have developed post-traumatic disorder as a result of intimate partner violence.

A small 2021 pilot study with 15 participants found that RISE may also be a promising form of therapy for people who have experienced intimate partner violence in the past year.

Things to Consider

These are some factors to consider before you undertake domestic violence counseling.

Personal Safety

Dr. Sullivan says it is important to ensure that you feel safe to participate in therapy and that you are not putting yourself or your loved ones at risk. If you or your loved ones are in danger, it can be helpful to develop a safety plan and leave the abusive situation as soon as possible.

Counselor’s Qualifications

It’s also important to seek therapy from a qualified professional who has training and experience in this area.

While domestic violence service providers specialize in counseling for survivors of abuse, there is much less consistency in how individual therapists are trained, with some having extensive training and others having no specific training in domestic violence, says Dr. Sullivan.

According to the American Counseling Association, seeing a therapist who is not trained in domestic violence counseling could be more harmful than helpful.

For instance, a therapist who takes a common counseling approach that involves asking questions such as “Could you have done anything differently?” or “How would you change your reaction if this were to happen again?” could inadvertently make the survivor feel responsible for being abused.

How to Get Started

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic abuse, it’s important to seek help and support immediately.

Another option is to look up your state’s coalition against domestic violence–each state has one, says Dr. Sullivan. “The coalition has domestic violence service providers across the state that can assist you with obtaining their services or referring you to others in the community who can provide the support you’re looking for.”

A Word From Verywell

Domestic violence is a serious issue that affects millions of Americans every year. While it’s necessary to recognize it and treat it, it’s equally important to work on prevention, by promoting supportive, healthy, respectful, and nonviolent relationships and communities, where equality is prioritized.

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10 Sources
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