Let’s assume you have your professional credentials, and now you’re beginning to work in the domestic violence field. What are some of the “tricks of the trade” that seasoned practitioners have learned?

First, educate yourself about the current research – see What are the Seven Key Facts About Domestic Violence? It may turn out the research findings are different from what you were taught in school.

Second, review how your state views counselor-client confidentiality protections in the context of intimate partner violence and child abuse. Brush up on the local mandated reporter requirements.

When you do the assessment, listen with a compassionate but critical ear. Don’t take anything at face value. Schedule a meeting with the client’s partner, or at least make every effort to telephone the person to get both sides of the story.

Be aware how allegations of domestic violence can be a wielded like a weapon. Don’t allow yourself to be used as a pawn by a person trying to gain the upper hand in a child custody dispute.

Meet the client where they are and be flexible in your approach. Think of yourself as a wilderness guide leading your client through uncharted territory. Teach the client practical abuse-reduction strategies such as boundary-setting, anger management techniques, self-talk, time-out, and homework. Contracting can be useful for clients with a volatile personality, resistance issues, or impulse control problems.

When the immediate crisis abates, probe deeper into the client’s experiences:

  • “So how did you get to this point in your life?”
  • “Does that remind you of any of your previous relationships?”
  • “How were problems resolved at home when you were a child?”

If there is ongoing physical violence and children are present, you will need to meet with the children. In some cases, Child and Protective Services will need to be contacted.

Finally, maintain proper boundaries to avoid burn-out: “It’s their life. I can’t take this person home with me. I can’t change their life for them.”  Remember that the client will take your advice and do with it what they will. If you begin to develop too big an investment in the outcome, go to a supervisor or colleague to get a fresh perspective.

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