Domestic Violence: The Psychiatrist’s Role in Detection and Intervention


Help the patient to create an escape plan.  This includes deciding where to go if he/she immediately needs to leave the abusive partner and packing a bag with belongings, including identification, important documents, medications if relevant, car keys, phone numbers, and clothing.3

Reassure undocumented immigrants that they will not be reported to the Department of Homeland Security if they seek help at a domestic abuse program or shelter.6

Treating Survivors of DV

Dr. Warshaw recommended several helpful interventions, including: psychoeducation about the causes and consequences of DV and its traumatic effects; attention to ongoing safety; cognitive and emotional skill development to address trauma-related symptoms and other life goals and concerns; and focus on survivors’ individual and cultural strengths.7


The clinical interaction itself is a profoundly therapeutic intervention, according to Warshaw. “Clinical interactions provide an opportunity for survivors to experience other people as trustworthy and safe.”

She added, “It is important not to pathologize your patient’s symptoms. Ask, ‘who are you? What is important to you? What are your strengths and sources of support?’ Part of what makes it safe for people to share their pain is knowing that they will not be judged or defined by it.”

Table 3

Resources for Professionals and Patients

National Domestic Violence Hotline
(800) 799-SAFE (7233). (Translation services available)

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
(800) 537-2238

National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health Help for abused men.

US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice
Documenting domestic violence: how health care providers can help victims.


  1. The White House. President Barack Obama. Presidential Proclamation—National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, 2015. Available at: Accessed: October 20, 2015.
  2. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). Statistics. Available at: Accessed: October 16, 2015.
  3. Zink T, Kiomento H. domestic violence: how to detect abuse in psychiatric patients. Current Psychiatry. 2003;2(9):53-65.
  4. Howard LM. Domestic violence: its relevance to psychiatry. Adv Psych Treatment. 2012;18:129-136.
  5. Yasgur BS. When a patient with a black eye claims everything in fine: detecting domestic violence.  (2015) Available at: Accessed: October 20, 2015.
  6. US Government Printing Office. 113th Congress of the United States of America. Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. Available at: Accessed: October 21, 2015.
  7. Warshaw C, Sullivan CM, Rivera EA. A systematic review of trauma-focused interventions for domestic violence survivors. The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health. (2013) Available at: Accessed: October 20, 2015.