Domestic Violence Counseling Degree and Schooling Guide [2024 Guide]

What is Domestic Violence Counseling?

The field 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.

Domestic violence counseling is more than just about  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.

Domestic violence counselors 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 Degree Requirements to Become a Domestic Violence Counselor?

Counselors that specialize in this field are typically masters level workers because of the training they need to work effectively with victims of violence.

Undergraduate Degrees

To achieve the appropriate level of education and training, a bachelor’s degree is first required. At the bachelor’s level, students typically major in counseling, psychology, or a closely related field. The studies at this level are quite general and prepare students for advanced training by providing them a solid foundation of understanding of human behavior, working with people in distress, and other topics related to human services.

Undergraduate programs usually require completion of 120 credit hours and take four years to complete if a student is attending school full-time.

Master’s Degrees

There are a variety of master’s degree programs that can prepare students for work in this field. Popular programs are those in psychology, mental health counseling, and marriage and family therapy, to name a few. Programs of this nature tend to require anywhere from 30 to more than 60 credit hours of coursework, which can take 2-3 years to complete.

Coursework at this level focuses students’ attention on developing the skills required to work with clients of all types, not just those that are victims of abuse. Students take classes in counseling theory, abnormal behavior, and psychopathology, among others.

There is also a significant portion of graduate coursework dedicated to acquiring and practicing clinical skills. This includes working in pretend counseling situations with classmates under the supervision of a professor. Doing so allows students to give and get feedback from one another and from their teacher.

Graduate students also must complete an internship component in which they are placed in a real world setting to work with real clients under the supervision of a licensed professional. Students that wish to become a domestic violence counselor would use their internship to gain experience specifically working with individuals for whom domestic violence is an issue.

Doctoral Degrees

Prospective domestic violence counselors can pursue a doctorate although it is usually not required. Doctorate programs offer students even more advanced opportunities to study domestic violence because doctoral programs are much more focused on research than on normal classroom learning.

Students usually spend at least five years completing a doctorate, of which the majority of time is spent in independent research, preparing one’s dissertation, and participating in internships or fellowships to acquire more advanced clinical skills.


Once the necessary educational requirements are completed, prospective domestic violence counselors can pursue additional training as part of a certification program. Some states offer their own state-level domestic violence certifications, which have widely varying requirements.

There is a national certification program offered for clinical domestic violence counselors. The National Association of Forensic Counselors (NAFC) requires applicants to have at least a master’s degree, state licensure as a mental health worker, three years of supervised practice in domestic violence counseling, 40 hours of domestic violence-related training, and a passing score on the NAFC certification exam.

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 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?

No data has been recorded specific to that of domestic violence counselors. However, licensed mental health counselors on average earn $83,486 per year, as of August 2022. Top earners can expect to make over $140,000 pear year.

What Occupations are Related to a Domestic Violence Counselor?

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. They do so in many different venues including private practice, community mental health settings, schools, hospitals, and non-profit settings.  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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