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Assessment tool helps counselors work more effectively with victims of domestic violence

A new assessment tool has been developed for use with women who disclose intimate partner violence through screening or by seeking counseling or shelter. Counselors can use the new tool to pinpoint how a victim of abuse perceives the abusive relationship and help her move forward to end the violence. The tool was developed by researchers at Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington, Tacoma, and Oregon Health Sciences University. Their work was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10731).

According to the researchers, a woman typically goes through five stages before finally establishing a new life without abuse. First, she is confused when violence begins but remains committed to the relationship, minimizes the violence, and focuses on her partner's good qualities. Second, she remains committed but begins to recognize she is abused. Third, she seeks support and help, seriously considers her options, and resolves to end the violence despite opposition by her partner. Fourth, she makes and acts on plans for her own safety, either by leaving the partner or forcing him (for example, with police intervention) to curtail the abuse. Finally, in stage five, she establishes a new life without the partner or with the partner who no longer abuses her, and she works to become more self-sufficient. These stages do not always progress in a linear fashion, and times away often are followed by a return to the abusive partner.

Family violence counselors can use the Domestic Violence Survivor Assessment (DVSA) to help clients define their domestic situations and take the necessary steps to move forward to lives that are free of abuse, explains Jacqueline Dienemann, Ph.D., of Georgetown University. Dr. Dienemann and her colleagues worked with domestic violence counselors at three Maryland family violence centers to develop the DVSA, which is a grid broken down into the five stages that a woman may experience on 11 issues at the personal, relationship, and social context levels. The DVSA is simple to use and quick for counselors to complete, yet it still reflects the complexity of women's lives.

See "The domestic violence survivor assessment: A tool for counseling women in intimate partner violence relationships," by Dr. Dienemann, Jacquelyn Campbell, Ph.D., R.N., Karen Landenburger, Ph.D., R.N., and Mary Ann Curry, Ph.D., R.N., in the March 2002 Patient Education and Counseling 46, pp. 221-228.

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