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What Do Professionals Need to Know?

Mental Health

Screening for Domestic Violence in Mental Health Settings

Every mental health service provider works with victims of intimate partner violence, whether they know it or not.  Even if you don’t work in specialized domestic violence services, knowing about your clients’ experiences of victimization will help you provide them with the best possible services. 

Many victims will not talk about the abuse they experience unless you ask them about it directly. Asking about IPV will enable you to:

  • Better understand your clients’ choices, feelings, and safety issues.

  • Understand what experiences are contributing to their health problems, mental health problems, or substance abuse.

  • Help them access services for themselves and their children.

Safe delivery of mental health services to victims of domestic violence depends on identifying victims as early as possible and addressing any safety issues they face in using your services, such as the need to keep their partner from knowing they have contacted your agency, or to be contacted at an address other than their home address.

Screening must be done in absolute privacy, to reduce the danger that the client’s partner will learn of the disclosure and retaliate.  Postpone screening if you can’t provide privacy, or if a needed interpreter is not available.  Never use anyone accompanying the client as an interpreter, including children.

All new or returning clients should be screened for domestic violence before a treatment plan is made, regardless of the client’s age, economic status, sexual orientation or presenting problem.  It is particularly critical to screen for domestic violence when a couple requests couple counseling, or family therapy. These interventions should usually be avoided when there is battering in a relationship.  The client’s safety must take priority over fixing the relationship. 

Next:  How to Ask about Domestic Violence Victimization