Domestic Violence Counseling Careers

What is Domestic Violence Counseling?

The niche of domestic violence counseling is a rewarding albeit difficult field. Professionals must face the darker aspects of human interaction and seek ways to mitigate family violence. Domestic violence counseling is a specific field of counseling aimed at helping victims of domestic violence. Workers in this area are highly skilled professionals who work with victims to assess and understand their situations, empower them to make difficult decisions and provide support in challenging times.

The issues around domestic violence can be extremely complex and individuals within this role are highly trained, leaving them as the best people to provide support to people in domestically violent relationships. This training takes time and dedication but the role that a domestic violence counselor plays in the life of someone suffering from domestic violence, can be absolutely critical. But domestic violence counseling is about more than just persuading someone to leave a dangerous environment, it’s about educating people to their options and providing them with a safe place to deal with the longer-term effects of domestic violence if they do decide to leave.

What Does a Domestic Violence Counselor Do?

A domestic violence counselor provides support and understanding to victims of domestic violence. Initially, they will work with their client to assess the situation. Their ultimate goal is to ensure the safety of their client, and this often means working with them to support them as they leave a domestically violent relationship. They will also provide ongoing support to victims who have left their violent scenario, to help them cope with the aftermath – setting up a new life and dealing with any psychological after-effects of their experience. It can also involve working closely with victims who don’t feel able or willing to leave, to try to maintain their safety as much as possible.

Domestic violence counselors often work in educating clients too – through an education program around domestic violence, a counselor can provide a client with more information and potentially help them to reassess their situation. They often encourage patients to become self-directed, empowered, and autonomous. They can also show that a change of circumstance is not only necessary, but possible. Domestic violence counselors may also act as an advocate for their client when dealing with other service providers or within a legal setting.

Domestic violence counselors may also help patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, depression, anxiety, and other abuse-related conditions.

Other responsibilities can include court-involvement advocating for victims, helping patients find medical treatment, and restraining orders.

What is a Sexual Assault Counselor?

Sexual assault counseling is a specialized form of counseling psychology in which clinicians work exclusively with the victims and/or perpetrators of sexually based crimes. Sexual assault counselors might focus their work on particular age groups, such as children, or they might work with clients of all ages. Sexual assault counselors must have highly specialized training above and beyond the typical requirements for a master’s degree or doctorate. This training often includes courses in victim advocacy, trauma-focused therapies, recovery techniques, biological bases of violent sexual behavior, treatment methods for sexual offenders, and methods for self-care.

The job duties of sexual assault counselors are naturally among the most difficult of any counseling field. Sexual assault counselors engage victims in counseling, with the goal of helping the victim work through his or her feelings and emotions regarding what happened to them. With child clients, counselors might use play therapy techniques to get the child to open up about his or her experience in the context of play. Talk therapy is a more common approach with adult victims. In both cases, counseling with victims is often carried out in a one-on-one setting.

Many sexual assault counselors work with the perpetrators of sex crimes. The approach to working with offenders is much different than that used with victims. Counseling with sex offenders typically includes an educational focus. That is, counselors work with offenders to help them develop the skills that will help prevent future offenses. For example, a sexual assault counselor might conduct group therapy sessions for offenders in which they learn how to deal with anger, rejection, shame, and other heavy feelings in an appropriate manner. Communication skills might be emphasized as well. This type of therapy is usually conducted in a group setting, so individual members have a support system as they attempt to learn, grow, and change.

Some sexual assault counselors also work with the courts to provide expert testimony in cases of a suspected sex crime. They might offer insight into the perpetrator’s state of mind, or they might provide information about the deleterious impacts the assault has had on the victim. Additionally, sexual assault counselors often provide information to the families of victims regarding court proceedings, services available to protect their loved one from further harm, and details regarding how they can help support their loved one in overcoming the trauma they have experienced. In this regard, sexual assault counselors operate more like an advocate or family liaison.

Why is Domestic Violence Counseling Important?

Domestic violence counseling provides a critically important service for both victims and perpetrators of violence.

For victims, counseling offers them a chance to work through the feelings and emotions of being victimized. By exploring what’s happened to them, victims are able to overcome the fear, shame, guilt, and other heavy feelings that often accompany being victimized. Counseling tends to focus on developing strong coping skills that allow the victim to take control of their feelings and emotions and deal with them in a healthy manner. Learning how to be confident, feeling safe, and developing the tools they need to move on after such a tragic event are further benefits derived from domestic violence counseling.

This type of counseling is also beneficial for individuals that commit acts of violence against others. Perpetrators can gain insight into why they behave the way they do, talk through the emotions they feel before, during, and after they inflict pain on others, and learn how to build positive relationships with others such that violence and abuse no longer occur. Often, learning about one’s thought processes and developing an awareness of triggers to violence are benefits of domestic violence counseling for perpetrators of violence.

Where Do Domestic Violence Counselors Work?

Domestic violence counselors may work on hotlines, in clinics, hospitals, social service centers, shelters, and many more settings. In serious cases of abuse, domestic violence counselors must work with the correctional system, and law enforcement to prevent further harm.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Domestic Violence Counselor?

Domestic violence counselors must earn a bachelor’s degree, often to be followed with either a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in counseling or family therapy. One must also complete a certain amount of continuing education requirements yearly.

Typical coursework include substance abuse, violent interactions, post-traumatic stress disorder, and much more. Additional classes may include mediation, child development, and negotiating skills. One must also learn to deal with threats and intimidation in an effective manner. Some schools even suggest that domestic violence counselors learn basic self-defense techniques, or learn fundamental martial arts skills. Generally, assertiveness classes are mandatory for those who intend to work with violent populations.

What are the Work Experience Requirements for a Domestic Violence Counselor?

Domestic violence counselors are required to complete internship requirements. Internships often take place in domestic violence shelters, hospitals, or mental health clinics. Additionally, most states require that students complete 3,000 internship hours. Internships may involve managing a shelter, or managing cases within a crisis intervention center.

Generally, work requirements do not involve any statistical research- although certain governmental agencies may ask interns to collect data. Internships also often require students to become familiarized with the court system, and basic record-keeping methods. Some graduate schools have low-cost clinics in which you may be able to acquire the necessary clinical internship hours.

What are the Licensure Requirements for a Counselor?

Licensing requirements vary by state. Information related to state professional counselor licensing boards is available on American Counseling Association website.

What Personal Skills are Needed to be a Domestic Violence Counselor?

Ideally, domestic violence counselors have calm personalities, are good listeners, and can suspend their judgments. Domestic violence counselors must not be triggered or frightened by stories of abuse, and must be able to act- often in the face of violent threats. As a domestic violence counselor, you must have a very specific set of skills and abilities:

  • Excellent listening skills – Particularly early in a relationship with a new client, a domestic violence counselor spends a lot of time listening. This not only helps to provide them with the information they need to make an assessment but also empowers the victim and gives them a feeling of taking control.
  • Patience – Clients aren’t always ready to take the step to leave a domestically violent relationship and cannot be forced to do so. Even when they can see that they are in danger or that they have options, it may still prove too difficult. A counselor has to have patience and provide support until the time the client is ready.
  • Compassion – Clients are in a difficult position and need support, a domestic violence counselor has to be able to give them a safe place where they can talk openly about difficult issues and feel secure.
  • Keen observation – A client may struggle in the beginning with talking about the abuse they are facing, the counsellor must be able to question gently and effectively but also must be able to observe the client effectively. They must be able to take note of non-verbal responses that may give them more clues to the details of the situation and use these in an appropriate way.
  • Naturally calm – Domestic violence counselors have to hear stories of abuse on a daily basis. They must be able to remain calm and cannot, themselves, be triggered by these stories of abuse.

What is the Salary of a Domestic Violence Counselor?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, marriage and family counselors make an average income of $41,500 every year, as of May 2012. No data has been recorded specific to that of domestic violence counselors. Social workers (who often work in situations of domestic violence) can expect to average around $58,410 per year, as of May 2014.

What Occupations are Related to a Domestic Violence Counselor?

Domestic violence counselors play an integral role in stopping the cycle of violence. They do so in many different venues including private practice, community mental health settings, schools, hospitals, and non-profit settings. Domestic violence counselors help victims cope with what’s been done to them and work with perpetrators of violence to change their ways as well. Other occupational areas that seek to achieve the same goals are:

Social workerSocial workers offer therapeutic treatments to all kinds of clients, including those that have experienced domestic violence. In addition to offering therapy, social workers also help victims and abusers with practical tasks. For example, a social worker might help an abusive husband find an appropriate counselor to help him work on his anger issues. Likewise, a social worker might put an abused child in protective custody such that his or her parent can no longer harm them.

Counselor for abused women – As the name implies, counselors for abused women treat women that have been abused by their partner. Like social workers and domestic violence counselors, counselors for abused women take a multi-modal approach with their clients, providing services that meet their social, emotional, and physical needs. Counselors might engage their clients in talk therapy, arrange for a stay in a safe shelter, and find clothes and other resources for their clients, and so on.

Forensic psychologistForensic psychologists work with victims of abuse on many different fronts. They might investigate the actual abuse itself, such as gathering information for authorities such that charges can be filed against the abuser. Forensic psychologists might also provide clinical assistance to victims or abusers in the form of counseling. Further still, forensic psychologists often take part in research activities to learn more about the antecedents of violence.

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