Domestic Violence Counselor

Domestic violence counselors work with victims of domestic violence to help them leave abusive relationships and overcome the effects of trauma. They work in shelters, social service agencies, mental health facilities, schools, and protective service agencies to help individuals experiencing (or who have experienced). These counselors may also work with perpetrators to break the cycle of violence.

You need a minimum of a bachelor's degree to work as a counselor in the domestic violence field. Professionals with a master's degree work with clients in a variety of roles and settings. Entry-level opportunities are also available for those with a high school diploma. Finally, community shelters and helplines offer volunteer opportunities.

The mental healthcare field is growing rapidly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment to increase 23% by 2026. Currently, the domestic violence counselor makes an average of $40,000 per year. This guide provides information for those who wish to become domestic violence counselors.

How to Become a Domestic Violence Counselor

Degree Requirements

To become a domestic violence counselor, you need at least a bachelor's degree. Many domestic violence counselors also have a master's degree in related fields such as social work or marriage and family therapy.

Working in domestic violence services can be demanding and requires extensive training in trauma response and counseling skills. Graduates with a bachelor's degree work in non-clinical settings, often as victim advocates. Advocates may choose to earn a master's degree to provide clinical counseling services to victims and perpetrators. Professionals with a master's degree also work in executive leadership and program development.

Both bachelor's and master's programs in domestic violence counseling are available online. Most programs require in-person supervised internships. Individual states and organizations have additional training requirements.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Domestic violence counselors may be licensed as clinical social workers or mental health counselors. Requirements for licensure include a master's degree, internships, and the successful completion of a licensing exam. The required curriculum, number of supervision hours, and testing requirements may vary by state. Licensure is required for clinical practice.

All states require domestic violence counselor certification. Non-clinical domestic violence counselors complete a minimum of 40 hours of training to receive certification; most states provide training at no cost.

Counselors who work with domestic violence perpetrators may apply for a Certified Domestic Violence Counselor (CDVS). For this credential, applicants must have a minimum of 180 hours of training and 4,000 hours (or two years) of experience. The CDVS offers two levels of certification: education services (CDVS-I) and treatment services (CDVS-II). The CDVS-I requires a bachelor's degree and 12 hours of training while the CDVS-II requires state licensure as a mental health provider and an additional 40 hours of training.

Bachelor's Degree vs. Master's Degree for Domestic Violence Counselors

A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for domestic violence counselors in community organization settings. But earning a master's degree offers a number of advantages, including increased employment opportunities and earning potential. The table below illustrates the average salary with a bachelor's degree vs. master's degree. Read on for more advantages.

Average Reported Salary for Counselors by Degree Level

Degree Level Average Salary
Bachelor's in Counseling $42,269
Master's in Counseling $51,788

Source: PayScale

Bachelor's Degree

It generally takes four years to earn a bachelor's degree in counseling. Both online and traditional programs may require internships, which may be completed in the middle and at the end of the program. Students in their senior year often complete a capstone course that includes a paper and presentation.

Counseling programs offer many specializations: substance abuse, child development, and crisis counseling. Domestic violence counseling programs are not offered as individual degrees. To this end, students may earn a bachelor's in counseling or psychology with a specialization in domestic violence counseling.

Earning a bachelor's degree is the entry point to working in clinical domestic violence services. A domestic violence counselor bachelor's degree will enable you to work in non-clinical services, provide victim advocacy, and supervised peer counseling. In some places in the U.S., earning a master's degree will increase your earning potential by at least $10,000 per year and open up possibilities in clinical services and individual counseling.

Sample Courses

  • Interpersonal Violence: Students examine the causes of violence -- including social, personal, and societal factors -- with an emphasis on intimate partner violence. Issues of social policy are also considered.
  • Career Counseling: Students explore vocational rehabilitation and career development as it applies to domestic violence victims. They also develop traditional and nontraditional assessment techniques.
  • Group Counseling: This course explores group dynamics in domestic violence counseling along with methods of group therapies. Students develop intervention techniques in group settings and participate in group study.
  • Social Psychology: Coursework here examines how society impacts behavior and psychological development, including the social influence of violence. Students discuss social diversity and cultural influences on behavior.
  • Contemporary Issues in Psychology: Students may focus on contemporary issues affecting domestic violence, and may complete research and policy studies. Coursework emphasizes discussion of current topics.

Master's Degree

A master's degree in counseling opens up opportunities for domestic violence counselors. Earning a master's degree takes 2-3 years, including internships. Specializations require an additional year of supervised work experience. A bachelor's degree in counseling will benefit your studies in the master's program, but some schools accept degrees in related fields.

Master's programs frequently require a research project as a part of the curriculum. The project may be completed in a research methods course or during an internship. Students complete at least 700 hours in supervised practicums and internships during the master's program. This combination of learning and hands-on experience prepares students for licensure as counselors. Licensed counselors may provide therapeutic services in clinical settings, whereas bachelor's degree graduates may only provide non-clinical services. Licensed counselors are also eligible to open a private practice.

Master's degree graduates may work as program administrators and executives in private and public agencies. There are also opportunities to present at conferences and teach in some educational programs, especially if you choose to specialize as a licensed domestic violence counselor.

Sample Courses

  • Grief and Crisis Counseling: The course addresses intervention during times of crisis. Students review the theory and practice of grief counseling and develop methods to prevent ongoing psychological problems.
  • Clinical Assessment: Students learn advanced clinical and personality assessments. This course prepares students for their practicum experience in clinical settings and provides tools to use in private practice.
  • Solution-Focused Counseling: This coursework explores the provision of time-sensitive, outcome-based counseling. Counselor and client collaborate to find effective solutions to address immediate issues, such as leaving an abusive relationship.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Students are introduced to the theory and practice of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), including current trends in the field. Students explore applications across the lifespan and the use of the CBT manual.
  • Treatment of Sexual Offending: Students learn how to apply counseling interventions and concepts in the treatment of people who sexually offend. They also examine modalities and management for adult and juvenile offenders.

Employment and Salary Outlook for Domestic Violence Counselors

Since the field of psychology is experiencing growth, prospects for employment are good. Awareness of the connections between trauma and mental and physical health is increasing; more individuals are seeking counseling and organizations are hiring licensed counselors. Employment in the field is projected to grow 14% by 2026, 7% higher than other occupations. The BLS projects that 21,000 new jobs will be available for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists.

Median annual wages for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists were $75,090 in 2017. But keep in mind that domestic violence counselor salaries may vary depending upon where you are employed. Offices of health practitioners pay the highest annual mean wages. The tables below show the industries with the highest number of psychologists and the highest concentration of psychologists. Schools employ the highest number but the lowest concentration of psychologists. Psychologists are most likely to be employed in offices of health practitioners, which includes private practice.

Industries with the Highest Levels of Employment for Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Industry Employment Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Elementary and Secondary Schools 43,570 0.51% $77,430
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 16,300 1.86% $92,130
Individual and Family Services 7,100 0.31% $81,160
Outpatient Care Centers 5,840 0.66% $82,700
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 5,510 0.10% $85,090

Source: BLS

Industries with the Highest Concentration of Employment for Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Industry Employment Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 16,300 1.86% $92,130
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals 3,500 1.46% $82,420
Educational Support Services 2,420 1.36% $74,250
Outpatient Care Centers 5,840 0.66% $82,700
Elementary and Secondary Schools 43,570 0.51% $77,43

Source: BLS

How Much Do Domestic Violence Counselors Make?

Job title and years of experience primarily influence wages of domestic violence counselors. Salaries also vary by city and state, and they may depend upon funding. Additionally, funding sources affect industry rates of pay; the annual mean wage changes slightly depending on the industry. Counselors may increase their earning potential by earning an advanced degree or certification.

The tables below introduce further salary details. The first lists domestic violence counselor salaries according to job title and years of experience. Counselors can expect an increase in salaries as they progress in their careers. The second table lists the industries with the highest annual mean wage for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists. Psychologists earn the highest mean wages in home health care. Local government services rank fifth in the list with a mean wage that is $3,460 lower.

Salaries for Licensed Domestic Violence Counselors by Experience

  Entry-Level (0-5 Years) Mid-Career (5-10 Years) Experienced (10-20 Years) Late-Career (>20 Years)
Case Manager $35,927 $40,689 $44,648 $60,275
Victim Advocate $33,586 $37,483 $38,583 $38,000
Care Coordinator $38,510 $44,619 $50,022 $53,309
Case Manager, Social Services $35,530 $38,744 $40,723 $45,733
Clinical Supervisor $52,141 $56,305 $58,959 $63,082

Source: PayScale

Top-Paying Industries for Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Home Health Care Services 270 $93,910
Specialty (Except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals) 520 $93,710
Management of Companies and Enterprises 350 $92,640
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 16,300 $92,130
Local Government 3,270 $90,450

Source: BLS

Related Careers for Domestic Violence Counselors

During their studies, domestic violence counselors gain experiences that can lead to related careers. Students can expand their career options by earning a specialization with their degree or pursuing certifications following graduation. Additional opportunities for career advancement can be pursued by engaging with several training opportunities. Skills in counseling, intervention, and problem solving can be applied in other social service occupations. A few of these occupations are listed in the table below, along with a description of how they relate to a domestic violence counselor, the expected salary, and education required for employment.

Occupation Description Salary Degree Level Required
School and Career Counselors Counselors work with students in public and private schools to develop skills for academic and social success. They may provide resources for child and adult victims of domestic violence. $55,410 Master's
Forensic Psychologist Forensic psychologists apply psychological principles in the criminal justice system. They may work with legal specialists in domestic violence cases and provide expert testimony in court. $62,981 Bachelor's
School Psychologists School psychologists address the behavioral and mental health needs of students. They may work with families experiencing domestic violence to develop a behavior plan. $75,090 Doctoral
Social Worker Social workers identify problems and provide solutions. They often provide support and intervention in cases of domestic violence. They also work in domestic violence policy and social change. $47,980 Master's
Rehabilitation Counselors Rehabilitation counselors work with people with disabilities. They help disabled people live independently by addressing the effects disability has on employment and daily living. $34,860 Master's

Source: BLS/PayScale

How to Find a Job as a Domestic Violence Counselor

Finding a job as a domestic violence counselor begins in college. At this time, students should enhance their resumes through internships and volunteer work. School career centers also usually offer resources for students to practice the interview process and build their resumes. Graduates may pursue additional certifications or areas of specialization.

Students should also network in preparation for employment. For example, conferences introduce students to emerging trends and discussions beyond the college setting. In addition, job fairs -- located on college campuses, in the community, and through social service agencies -- offer information about employment opportunities. Three organizations that offer resources and opportunities for domestic violence counselor professionals are listed below.

  • State Coalitions: Each state has its own coalition of community domestic violence programs. State coalitions create job boards and training opportunities, and they connect counselors with resources.
  • National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence: This organization maintains a nationwide job board, provides training for program staff and consulting services for agencies, and advocates national reform.
  • Idealist connects individuals and organizations for volunteer and employment opportunities. The site primarily serves not-for-profit organizations and social service agencies.

Professional Organizations for Domestic Violence Counselors

  • National Network to End Domestic Violence: This active organization provides resources and technical assistance to programs, advocates for policy change, and hosts large conferences and training opportunities.
  • Futures Without Violence: This organization offers programs and training opportunities for allied professionals and counselors by emphasizing healing from abuse and addressing root causes of violence with an international perspective.
  • National Center for Victims of Crime: The center offers membership to crime victim advocates. Benefits include discounted training opportunities, policy updates, and roundtable discussions. It hosts an online resource library and a directory of organizations.
  • Batterer Intervention Services Coalition: This Michigan-based coalition of batterer intervention providers offers a membership program to counselors that includes opportunities to earn continuing education units.
  • Battered Women's Justice Project: This organization focuses on advocacy and development of civil and criminal legal interventions. It also provides training opportunities and research for legal advocates and counselors.
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