Domestic violence (DV) is a complicated problem that defies easy explanation. So a careful assessment is essential to effective domestic violence counseling and treatment. Furthermore, if laws in your state designate you as a mandated reporter, you need to have a reasonable suspicion of abuse before you can report an incident. If you report an alleged incident without sufficient proof, you may be opening yourself up to a lawsuit.
Have the client fill out an intake form that includes DV-specific information, such as behavior checklists, prior history of DV injuries, property damage, and the like. This should include the client’s own behavior as well as his or her partner’s behavior. If you are seeing both parties, have them fill out the forms separately and compare the answers. Make sure the intake form uses gender-neutral language.
At the initial meeting, avoid any pre-conceptions regarding which partner instigated the violence, the nature of the abuse, and whether the violence is mutual or one-way. Explain that your normal procedure is to interview each partner separately so both sides of the story can be heard and the nature of the abuse fully understood.
Get a thorough history, including family of origin issues. Use open-ended questions as much as possible to maintain the flow of the interview, while trying to follow the events in chronological order.
Find ways to verify the information provided. Request the person to bring evidence of abuse to the next session – emergency room reports, medical records, photographs, etc. Clients are more likely to tell the truth if they know you will be verifying the information.
Evaluate the client for imminent risk of harm: “Are you worried about your safety right now?” and take action as appropriate: “If you’re not safe today, we need to deal with that before you leave here.”
Obtain the name and telephone number of the partner. When the client verifies he or she will not be in danger by involving the partner, contact that person to schedule a meeting, or at least speak with that person by phone.
(1) Kline JA. The Whole Truth about Domestic Violence. Dillon, CO: Swan Mountain Press. 2003. Chapter 4.
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