What are Domestic Violence Counselors?
Domestic violence counselors support victims and help them develop the skills they need to walk away from abusive relationships and live successfully on their own. They also work to stop the cycle of violence. After all, many people who experience abuse in childhood become enablers, involving themselves in a series of relationships that escalate into abuse and violence. Others become perpetrators. Many more people carry scars from long ago violence. It affects their ability to function normally in the workplace and develop healthy relationships. Counselors help these individuals develop self esteem, identify relationship patterns and potential red flags, and behave with an appropriate level of assertiveness.
Many activities may fall under the job banner. A recent ad for Domestic Violence Counselor at the YWCA listed the following among the duties: conducting intakes and exit interviews, providing individual counseling, running support groups, and making referrals. Also included were administrative duties like maintaining records and coordinating grant-related documentation. Domestic violence counselors at the master’s level also provide outreach to the community and work with other professionals to expand services.
Domestic violence counselors may work at domestic violence crisis centers or social service organizations. They may also support survivors as part of a private practice. Those who work with perpetrators may operate within the justice system.
Becoming a Domestic Violence Counselor
If you are interested in becoming a domestic violence counselor, you will need to decide whether you are interested in working with victims or perpetrators. You will also need to decide what type of support you want to provide and how independently you want to work. The process will vary slightly depending on where you live. Professionals who provide counseling services are subject to the laws in their own state. The highest levels of credentialing require a master's or other graduate degree. In many jurisdictions, a person is permitted to work for an agency with a lower level of education than they would need to go into independent practice. Agency counseling positions may still be very competitive, though -- and they often go to highly educated individuals who are completing the requirements for supervised practice.
Capella University offers three online CACREP - accredited Master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy and School Counseling. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.
It is possible to break into the field by working with domestic violence survivors in a related position. Positions may have names like transitional shelter manager or residential counselor. If you are working in this capacity, you may help people in shelters meet day to day needs as well as talk with them and offer emotional support.
It is sometimes possible to begin as a volunteer. Again, you may work at a shelter. Expect to put in 40 hours of training. At this point, you may receive a certification. Organizations may prefer individuals who have degrees, or past experience, in related fields. Undergraduate degrees can be in a variety of areas whether it be counseling, psychology, social work, just to name a few.
Many people are drawn to domestic violence counseling because they are survivors themselves. If this is you, you may look to begin as a peer counselor. Organizations do want to ensure that volunteers and employees alike have an appropriate level of emotional stability and reflectivity.
To work your way up in the field, you may consider enrolling in a masters level degree program.
Already have a degree and licensing in a mental health field?
A license as a professional counselor or social worker will qualify you to offer support to victims of domestic violence, but you may want to pursue additional training and voluntary certifications.
Domestic Violence Counseling Certification
The National Association of Forensic Counselors offers clinical (master's level) and non clinical certifications.
The Forensic Training Institute offers the Certified Domestic Violence Counselor credential to master's level counselors, psychologists, social workers, and addiction professionals. Among the topics covered are relationship dynamics, subject abuse, intervention strategies, and the legal system.
Salary and Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed an average salary of $38,150 for mental health counselors in 2010. For substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors, who might have any level of education from GED to graduate degree, the average was $38,120.