What to Look for in a Counselor or Therapist

If you decide to connect with a counselor or therapist, look for someone who has an understanding of the cycle of violence, and especially domestic violence. Do not feel obligated to continue therapy if you don't trust the therapist or feel like the person is not able to meet your needs. We encourage you to interview a counselor before deciding to see that person regularly. Some therapists understand domestic violence and some don't; seek a therapist who truly understands the cycle of domestic violence and its consequences.

You can determine this by asking some questions during your first meeting:

  • What is your understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence?
  • Do you have a relationship with the nearest domestic violence organization?
  • How many domestic violence survivors have you worked with?
  • How do you approach safety planning?
  • How well do you understand the reactions of children?

Therapists who understand domestic violence will:

  • Let you tell your story at your own pace.
  • Believe what you tell them.
  • Take your need for safety and freedom seriously, and understand that getting free takes time and planning.
  • Encourage you to connect with a domestic violence service provider, and be willing to talk with them if you want them to.
  • Support your decisions, even the ones they disagree with, though they may challenge you to think them through clearly. This includes not pushing you to leave.
  • Help you deal with your depression, anxiety, or other feelings.
  • Refer you for substance abuse services, if needed.
  • Help you plan for the future.

Some signs that a therapist does not understand domestic violence:

  • If they think that staying with your partner indicates that you have psychological problems.
  • If they suggest that you probably contributed to your partner's behavior, or did something to provoke him or her.
  • If they push you to leave, whether you are ready to or not.
  • If they suggest you to go to couple's counseling with your partner, and don't understand why this can be dangerous.

If it becomes clear to you in the first couple of sessions that the therapist does not understand domestic violence, doesn't empathize with your situation, or blames you for it, try someone else. It's not your job to educate them about domestic violence. On the other hand, if you have a therapist who has been helpful to you in other ways and with whom you already have a good relationship, you might decide that it's worth continuing with them. It's up to you.

If you have any questions about your current therapist or counselor and would like to talk to someone here, call on us.