Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Mental Health

Screening for Domestic Violence in Mental Health Settings

How to Ask about Domestic Violence Victimization

Screening is a process that may take place over several sessions. It is not enough to just ask, “Are you a victim of domestic violence?” Many victims are afraid to talk about it or don’t define what happens to them as abusive.

Put the question in context: “Many of the people we work with have experienced violence or abuse at the hands of their partner or someone else in their family. We ask everyone about it so that we can try to help. I’m going to ask you some questions about the kinds of things many people who abuse their partners do.”

Ask behavioral questions that reflect a range of controlling behaviors. For instance, does your partner (or any significant person in your life)…

Use the Power and Control Wheel or the LGBT Power and Control Wheel as a tool for asking about different tactics of abuse, or to prompt yourself to ask alternative behavioral questions.1

Pay attention to red flags for victimization.  As you talk with the individual, you might see physical injuries that seem non-accidental, repeated, or inconsistent with the reason the individual gives for them.  You might hear about:

If domestic violence is disclosed, first listen to the person’s story. 

Ask for examples of incidents– the first one, the worst one, and the most recent one. This gives you an overall picture of the client’s experience, and also tells you how bad it has gotten. If the worst incident was also the most recent one, safety must be your first concern.

Asking clients to describe what each partner actually did and said in one or more incidents is particularly important if the person says the abuse was mutual.  It can help you distinguish battering from “just a fight.”

LGBTQ Victims

Remember that domestic violence is not just a heterosexual phenomenon. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) clients may also be abused, and will more easily disclose if they perceive you as accepting of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Use inclusive language in your screening. For instance, avoid gender-specific pronouns and say ‘partner’ until you know how the client refers to their partner.

When asking LGBTQ clients about IPV:

Screening tool for LGBT victims can be found at National Center for Victims of Crime

Follow-up

Don’t drop the subject of domestic violence after screening, but follow the client’s lead as far as what kind of help is wanted.  Ask about it again whenever clients:

Helping victims access domestic violence services

Clients who disclose victimization should be offered a referral to local domestic violence services.  They client may or may not take the referral. This is up to them – but you should make sure they have the information to use if they wish. Consult NYSCADV’s county by county list of providers to find the program nearest to your client.

If you’re not sure how well the local domestic violence program is equipped to serve an LGTBQ victim – or a victim who is male or disabled, or belongs to a specific cultural community – contact the program on your client’s behalf.  Ask for copies of their brochures.  Look for whether people like your client are featured in agency materials. Ask whether they have targeted services for that community, and talk with the person responsible for those services.

For LGBTQ clients, for example, you should ask some specific questions and convey the information to the client

Next: Asking about Abusiveness

  1. The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence has many additional power and control wheels for specific populations.