Choosing a DV Counselor or Attorney

Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

By Carol L.

How to Choose A DV Counselor

The awareness may have been a long time coming. The intimate dynamics of marriage or family pain may have gone unrecognized, unresolved, and unhealed. But all at once, the timing seems crucial and even desperate. How does one choose a domestic counselor? This list of “must have’s” are for safety, for help, and most of all, for peace of mind.

Not all counselors understand domestic violence, even if they advertise that they counsel domestic violence survivors. This is what you will need to hear from a counselor when choosing a domestic violence counselor:

  • Your counselor must have an understanding of abuse in all its forms. This is not taught in graduate schools or seminaries in any comprehensive form. It takes a counselor who intentionally has learned about the subject.
  • Your counselor should know about the effects of trauma psychologically and the body mind response of long-term abuse. Again, intentional study must be applied to this subject.
  • Your counselor helps you get some relational tools as quickly as possible since the safety of you and your family depends on it. The counselor’s offer of relationship education for the survivor will help mitigate the day to day challenges until help is forthcoming.
  • Your counselor knows and refers you to resources in a timely manner. The help you need is multifaceted. Legal advocacy and representation, housing if needed and even medical support are some of the resources that often are immediately essential.
  • Your counselor should be aware that traumatized survivors will need stabilizing and use grounding exercises to help with emotional regulation in a safe and healing environment. Women and children have often survived tremendous pain and even terror which has had the effect of damaging the body system.

So, have a list of questions prepared beforehand.


  • Ask the counselor if he/she has ever worked with a domestic violence survivor.
  • Ask the counselor if he/she has had domestic violence training.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable working with the counselor. Is the counselor someone with whom you feel you can tell the most intimate details of your life?
  • Listen and pay heed to any “still small voice” within you that is trying to tell you something about the counselor.
  • Marriage and family therapy counselors are rarely trained in domestic violence.
  • Marriage counseling is NOT domestic violence counseling.
  • DO NOT participate in counseling with the abuser present.
  • It is rarely advisable for the domestic violence survivor and the abuser to have the same counselor.

Choosing a DV Attorney

A lawyer who doesn’t show concern about your situation, mentally, physically, or financially won’t do you any good. Try to open up to your lawyer and see how he/she responds. If his/her reaction does not inspire confidence, then look for someone else.

From my own experience and working with many women, here are some important tips I’ve learned:

  • You want someone who will not only listen to you but who believes your side of the story.
  • It is highly advisable to interview several attorneys before selecting one to represent you.
  • An attorney who specializes in traffic injuries, as an example, is probably not experienced working with domestic violence cases.
  • And not all attorneys understand domestic violence, even if they advertise that they handle domestic violence cases. And some have their own bias.
  • Ask people you know who recently divorced about their attorney; do they recommend this person and why.
  • Ask for a 30-minute free initial meet-and-greet.
  • Have a list of questions prepared beforehand.
  • Be clear and concise about what you present to the attorney at your meetings. Use your time with the attorney wisely as you are “on the clock”. 
  • Ask the attorney if he/she has ever worked with a domestic violence survivor.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable working with the attorney.
  • Listen and pay heed to any “still small voice” within you that is trying to tell you something about the attorney.
  • Ask about the cost of the retainer. Ask if there is a payment plan.
  • Do not make your decision immediately. Think about it. Continue to interview if necessary.
  • Make your decision carefully. Attorneys are not impressed if they know that a client has hired and fired several attorneys.
  • When available, check an attorney’s AVVO rating. AVVO, founded in Seattle, is a free website that rates and profiles licensed attorneys. Rating includes client reviews, lawyer disciplinary histories and peer recommendations. AVVO is not conclusive as some attorney’s do not complete the AVVO profile. However, when available it does provide additional information about an attorney.

©2020 Christian Coalition for Safe Families

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