Helping domestic violence survivors make a safety plan
Understanding mental health

Helping domestic violence survivors make a safety plan

As a therapist, you can help your client create a safety plan during your therapy sessions

A safety plan can help your client stay safe while in an abusive relationship or when planning to leave the relationship. Safety can look different for different people, but ultimately it’s about developing a personalized plan that can help them. It’s important to remember that if a woman is asserting herself in the relationship, or trying to leave, the risk of violence may increase. Parallelly, It might be necessary to address the guilt and shame that victims of abuse often have, and to reaffirm to the client that it’s not their fault.

Here are some options you can help them consider while helping your client draw up a safety plan:

  1. Encourage them to identify supportive people around them. A caring presence such as a trusted friend or family member can help create a calm atmosphere to think through difficult situations and discuss potential options.

  2. Help them assess the risk of danger before it occurs by helping them identify triggers and potential levels of abuse. Ask them when the abuse occurs, and listen to them to try and identify what triggers the abuse.

  3. Help them identify safe areas of the house where there are no weapons. If there is an argument, they can go to these safe areas. Help them find ways to escape the home if necessary. Keeping contacts of trusted friends, police, women’s organisations on speed dial can be useful.

  4. If the physical violence is unavoidable, teach them how to make themselves a small target by diving into a corner and curling up into a ball. If they avoid wearing dupattas or long jewelry, and tying their hair, it can’t be used to hurt them. They must try to avoid running to where their children are, as the abuser can hurt them too.

  5. Advise them to talk to trusted friends and neighbors about their situation and develop a plan and visual signals for when they need help. They could also decide on a code word to use in times of danger. It should be something that both of them identify easily, but that the abuser doesn't necessarily recognize such as the name of a particular flower, or even a movie.

  6. If your client has children, encourage them to talk to their children about what is happening. They can tell their children that it is not their fault and that they didn’t cause it. She can reassure them by saying that she wants to protect them and for that, they have to come up with a plan to use in case of emergencies. Teaching children about how to get help can be useful.

  7. Prepare them to leave the house anytime violence happens. Be prepared about the place they are going to—it could be a friend, a relative or if needed, a shelter home.

  8. Encourage them to store all essential belongings - documents, money, phone, clothes, medicines - in one safe place which can be taken while leaving.

  9. After leaving the relationship, advise your client to be careful not to give their new contact/address to everybody.

Q

How do I help my client make a decision which is in their interest?

A

As a professional providing emotional support to the client, acknowledge that everyone has a capacity to solve problems and provide direction to the client to achieve that. An important thing to keep in mind is to proceed at the client’s pace - don’t push them to describe/discuss more than what they are ready for. Help the client emotionally distance from the problem and analyse it rationally. To enable them to see the pattern of abuse in their relationship, drawing the cycle of abuse on paper might be helpful.

Help them think of alternative ways to solve the problem by drawing up a pros and cons list for each solution. Through your engagement with the client, help them in deciding which is the best option for them, give them the confidence to try it out and rehearse it before implementing it, and to revisit other options if what is chosen doesn’t work as expected. Helping your client form a support system, enabling them to identify people they can trust, can ensure that they stay safe.

Remember to restore her confidence and self-esteem by pointing out all the times she struggled but was able to cope because of her courage and resilience.

Handling abuse-related trauma in therapy is a series by White Swan Foundation in collaboration with Shakti. This series is a guide for mental health practitioners to help survivors of abuse heal with therapy. This series refers to survivors as women, however, we acknowledge that survivors can belong to any identity. The usage of the word "women" has been used to reflect laws that are focused on women as survivors of domestic violence, and other guidelines that are framed keeping women in mind.

Written by Bhumika Sahani, journalist and social worker by training; consultant at Shakti; and Dr Parul Mathur, resident doctor, Department of Psychiatry, NIMHANS

White Swan Foundation
www.whiteswanfoundation.org