How to become a domestic violence counsellor (Plus skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 4 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Domestic violence counselling can be a rewarding career suitable for those who are passionate about helping people and capable of listening to difficult stories from victims of domestic abuse. Those who are considering a career as a counsellor may be curious about how to specialise in domestic violence counselling. It's helpful to know the unique demands of this job and the specialist skills and personal qualities it takes to succeed before beginning this career path. In this article, we explain how to become a domestic violence counsellor and discuss what to expect from the role so you can decide if it's right for you.

What is a domestic violence counsellor?

A domestic violence counsellor provides emotional support to people who are victims of domestic violence and abuse. They're counsellors with training and qualifications that allow them to provide talking therapy to anyone who suffers from emotional or psychological issues, but they specialise in working with domestic abuse victims. They often help their clients to come to terms with what happened to them and repair their self-esteem and self-confidence. They may help clients recover or better manage mental health issues that came about as a result of the abuse they experienced.

Related: 14 types of counsellors (With primary duties and salaries)

How to become a domestic violence counsellor

Here's how to become a domestic violence counsellor:

1. Attain A levels or equivalent qualifications

Universities and training providers usually require course applicants to have at least two or three A levels, or equivalent qualifications, to gain entry. At least one relevant subject, such as psychology, is preferable but not essential. Equivalents to A levels include:

  • NVQs

  • BTECs

  • international baccalaureate

  • Cambridge Pre-U diploma

  • advanced apprenticeship

2. Study counselling at university

The academic route into counselling is via a degree in counselling or psychology with counselling. It's helpful if the degree has accreditation from a professional body, such as the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), as this serves as a testament to the quality of the course and allows you to register with the relevant professional bodies after qualification. There are a few different counselling degrees to choose from.

Foundation degrees are two-year courses that cover the core practitioner training that the BACP requires for qualification as a counsellor, but they don't offer a full bachelor's degree at the end. Counselling degrees are three-year courses that cover core training and result in a bachelor's degree. Psychology degrees with counselling tend not to provide as comprehensive a level of counselling training as counselling degrees but they can provide a basis to help graduates go on to complete a postgraduate counselling course.

Related: How to choose a university course in 5 simple steps

3. Complete counselling training

Many people go into counselling by completing a course that includes practical training and supervised placements. Often, people already have a relevant degree, such as in psychology, social work or nursing, or relevant work experience. The nature of the training varies depending on the training provider and the accrediting body, but it usually involves a combination of classroom-based learning and practical experience in a work placement.

Many colleges offer counselling qualifications at different levels and many people begin with a level 2 counselling skills course which outlines the basics of counselling. It's possible to work as a counsellor without more advanced training, but most employers come to expect candidates for counselling jobs to have full accredited training. This usually involves at least one year of full-time training or two years of part-time training and 100 hours of supervised work as a counsellor.

4. Register with a professional body

After completing an accredited counselling course, you can register with a professional body. For many, this is the BACP. Being a registered counsellor demonstrates your high standards of professionalism, ethics and proficiency in counselling. To register, a candidate requires to have been practising counselling within the last three years and have a BACP-accredited qualification. Those without an appropriate qualification can register after passing the BACP's Certificate of Proficiency which demonstrates you have the knowledge and professionalism clients and employers expect of BACP-registered counsellors.

5. Develop knowledge of domestic abuse

After training and qualifying, you can apply for jobs as a counsellor, and you may find roles specifically in domestic violence counselling right away. These could be with charities and non-profit organisations that provide support for victims of domestic abuse. Many people opt to complete further training in domestic violence so they can better understand the challenges victims face. This can give potential employers and clients reassurance that you have specialist expertise.

Related: How to write a counsellor CV (With definition and examples)

What to expect within a domestic violence counsellor role

Here's what to expect when working as a domestic abuse counsellor:

Employment

Counsellors may find employment at hospitals, GP surgeries, schools, colleges, universities and charity organisations. Those who specialise in domestic violence are likely to work for organisations that regularly offer support to victims, such as charities. Some become self-employed and source clients themselves, although they may provide some services free of charge or at a lower rate for charity referrals.

Work environment

Domestic violence counsellors tend to work in office environments where clients visit them for face-to-face counselling sessions. They may work in the community and travel to clients' homes or other venues, such as schools or GP surgeries. Sometimes they deliver counselling over the phone or via video calls. Self-employed counsellors may choose to work from home but usually, they create a dedicated office space from which to give counselling sessions.

Work hours are typically between 9 am and 5 pm, Monday to Friday. Some domestic abuse counsellors work outside these hours to provide emergency support to clients in vulnerable situations. Sometimes work hours are in shifts on-call duties are necessary. Part-time and flexible working opportunities are also available in this line of work.

Duties

Domestic abuse counsellors work with several different clients at any one time, usually with the aim of helping each client to improve their emotional well-being via weekly counselling sessions over eight or 12 weeks. They first build a rapport with the client, get to know their history and learn about the problems they're facing. They encourage the client to open up, offer sympathy and empathy and listen without bias or judgement. They often share strategies and coping mechanisms to help clients manage their emotions in a healthy manner.

Counsellors maintain thorough records of their interactions with clients and often write reports on client progress. They may liaise with other individuals and agencies, such as doctors, hospitals, mental health professionals, police officers or social workers to discuss client well-being. Depending on where they work, they may also provide group counselling sessions to help clients seek out peer support.

Important skills for domestic violence counsellors

If you're considering a career as a domestic abuse counsellor, you can benefit from possessing the following qualities:

Empathy and compassion

It's essential to be compassionate about the painful experiences of your clients and to have empathy for their emotions so you can help them to feel understood. When clients feel understood, they feel safer sharing their experiences and emotions which allows them to get more out of each counselling session. Patience is also important since it can take time for clients to feel comfortable enough to open up or to make changes to their circumstances which are contributing to their issues.

Related: Compassion vs empathy: what's the difference?

Communication skills

Verbal communication skills are important for counsellors since this is how they communicate with clients. Written communication skills are also important for maintaining records and creating reports. Some counsellors may also require presentation skills if they're likely to provide group counselling sessions.

Observation skills

Many victims of domestic abuse find it very difficult to talk about their experiences due to feelings of shame, low self-esteem or fear. Counsellors often learn about clients' feelings by observing small non-verbal responses to questions. To succeed in this role, try to be a keen observer to pick up on body language clues that give can give you more information about a situation.

Related: How to improve observation skills: a step-by-step guide

Organisation and time management skills

Counsellors manage multiple clients at one time and often have several appointments every day. Those who are well-organised find it easier to keep on top of the administrative side of the job and schedule their time appropriately. From time to time they may deal with emergency situations relating to their clients and good organisation skills can help them reschedule and reprioritise their workload appropriately.

Calm demeanour

Domestic abuse counsellors hear stories of their clients' abuse daily, and this can be challenging. It's vital to maintain a calm demeanour and not let your own emotions get in the way of delivering counselling. Those who can stay calm under pressure and maintain a stoic yet compassionate demeanour are typically best suited to this role.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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