Domestic Abuse

For Mental Health and Substance Abuse Practitioners / Social Workers

The Role of Community Mental Health Practitioners

Guiding Principles

In working with victims of domestic violence it is important to adopt the following principles, which will help guide a safe and effective response.

  1. Regard the safety of the victim and her family as a priority - whatever you do, consider how it might affect the safety of the victim.
  2. Respect the autonomy of victims and their ability to make choices, such as whether or not to stay in the relationship for the time being.
  3. Maintain an attitude that does not threaten, blame, or make judgments about the victim, the abuser, or the choices that have been made - this may only make the victim defensive, or cause him/her to defend the abuser.
  4. Hold perpetrators of abuse responsible for the abuse and responsible for ending the abuse - never hold the victim responsible for staying.
  5. Believe the victim and be willing to listen.
  6. Provide choices, not interventions - empower the victim to take control of their life.
  7. Recognize reasonable changes that can enhance the identification of victims of domestic violence in your agency or office setting.
  8. Always discuss the topic of domestic violence with a client in private. Never discuss domestic violence in front of her children or anyone who might be her abuser.
  9. Be sure to let any potential victims (even those who deny abuse) know three things:
  • a. It’s not your fault
  • b. You’re not alone - this happens to many people.
  • c. There is help available.
(Excerpted from Florida State University School of Social Work Institute for Family Violence Studies online tutorial for Community Mental Health Staff. The complete online tutorial can be found at )

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