Domestic Violence Counselor

Domestic Violence counselors are counselors who specialize in helping victims of Domestic Violence (DV). Helping their clients overcome Domestic Violence and other forms of abuse, while maintaining confidentiality and ensuring safety of the client are the primary goals of a Domestic Violence counselor. The most important attributes of a Domestic Violence counselor are patience, healthy boundaries, dedication to self-care, compassion and empathy.

Having healthy boundaries and prioritizing self-care are especially important for Domestic Violence counselors due to the phenomena of vicarious trauma and also to prevent burnout while maintaining professional boundaries. Being a Domestic Violence counselor is an extremely laudable goal and is a profession that is literally life changing for the people the counselor works with. While very challenging, it is also phenomenally rewarding for those who have the right natural traits and acquired skill sets to perform the job at a high degree of competence.

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Domestic Violence Counseling is an Important Service for Human Beings

Domestic Violence counselors assess, counsel, advise and assist individuals who are suffering from DV to overcome the complex challenges that are faced by victims of DV. The DV counselor will begin by assessing the client and making sure a thorough evaluation of the client’s mental/emotional state and abuse history is recorded. Confidentiality is important in all counseling occupations, but is perhaps even more important in the case of DV where accessible information can directly endanger the DV client. By first ensuring the safety of the client and any children involved, the DV counselor can then move towards helping the client with coping strategies, strength based life choices, safety plans and evaluating whether leaving the current relationship is feasible or the right decision.

The needs of DV clients are many and many DV relationships have a large degree of complexity. DV victims often suffer a variety of forms of abuse from criminal abuse such as physical abuse, sexual abuse and stalking, to equally damaging non-criminal abuse such as mental/emotional/psychological abuse and financial abuse. Due to these complex factors the assessment period is crucial towards making sure the client’s specific needs are met and that safety is ensured. A good DV counselor can literally help save lives as more than 1,000 women per year die due to Domestic Violence.

Impact of the DV Counselor on Society

We are fortunate to live in a time where DV is being seriously addressed both in the legal system as well as the mental health field and society at large. As DV issues have become acknowledged by society laws have been crafted to criminalize aspects of DV such as physical and sexual assault along with some forms of stalking. In addition, DV counselors among others have helped to raise awareness of DV which in turn helps to marginalize this behavior, increase societal acceptance and support of victims and create a culture where DV is unacceptable regardless of its legal status.

DV counselors have been some of the biggest proponents of these societal sea changes that have changed the dialogue on DV forever. Gone are the days where DV is seen as acceptable or normal and the victims shunned. Today we have broad legal protections and increasing societal awareness thanks in no small part to the efforts of DV counselors to affect these changes.

Education Necessary to Join the Workforce

In most cases, employers are looking for those who have achieved at least a Master’s Degree in counseling and have gone on to become accredited DV counselors. Having a Doctorate will also give one additional knowledge and skills to have the greatest positive impacts on your client. Some occupations are also looking for those with doctorates to lead research or public policy efforts.

Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling

While not usually sufficient to enter the workforce in a counseling position, the Bachelor’s Degree is a key stepping stone in achieving advanced degrees. In most cases, you can get acceptance to a Master’s in counseling program with a Bachelor’s of Counseling or a closely related Bachelor’s such as Social Work, Psychology or Sociology. Having a Major or Minor in Counseling is generally preferred by most Master’s programs as is paid or volunteer experience in the field.

Master’s Degree in Counseling

In order to have licensure, a counselor must have at least a Master’s degree along with a varying amount of field experience depending on the state, but usually in the thousands of hours of practice. During your Master’s degree program, you can look at specialization in Domestic Violence. As you work on your Master’s degree you can gain the appropriate knowledge and skillset to best treat victims of Domestic Violence.

Certification in Domestic Violence Counseling

The National Association of Forensic Counselors offers certification at both the clinical and non-clinical levels. You can learn more about certification through the NAFC here.

Licensure in Counseling

Different states have different requirements for licensure to practice as a counselor. You will need to contact your state’s board of counselors for more information on the specifics of licensure in your state. Virtually all states require a minimum of a Master’s in Counseling along with thousands of hours of supervised paid field experience to gain licensure.

Earning Potential for Domestic Violence Counselors

In a broad classification for counseling professions that includes substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median salary to be $47,660. Those in the top ten percent earned more than $78,700.

The highest salaries went to counselors who work for government social services agencies, where the median was $54,070.

2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder and Mental Health Counselors reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed November 2021.