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Counseling and social support

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Individual counseling of women in the shelter may support their resilience (i.e. outcomes related to self-esteem and coping) (Bennett et al., 2004; Garza, 2002; Tutty et al, 2006; McNamara et al., 1997; McNamara et al., 2008; Campbell et al., 1995; Berk et al, 1986; Lyon et al., 2008).

A small comparative pilot study in the United States found that an 8-week long shelter-based support group led to enhanced health outcomes (reduced psychological distress symptoms and greater improvement in perceived availability of social support) for participants compared with individuals who did not participate in the group (Constantino, et. al., 2005).

Outside of the immediate shelter setting, the role of individual and group counseling for both abused women and abusive men is mixed: 

  • There is insufficient evidence to support specific types of personal counseling, including low intensity telephone-based advocacy or prenatal counseling to reduce intimate partner violence or improve mental health (McFarlane et al., 2006; Tiwari et al., 2005, Tiwari et al., 2010).
  • Couples therapy is not safe for many abused women, particularly those experiencing coercive control, and evidence from trials among a military sample indicates there are no benefits of the intervention (Dunford, 2000; Wathen & MacMillan, 2003).
  • Although there is limited evidence available, better-designed studies on batterer intervention programmes generally indicate no benefit or potential harm (i.e. increased recidivism) of such interventions, and there remains a lack of consensus as to which methods deliver the best results (Babcock et al., 2004; Feder & Wilson, 2005; Minerson et. al., 2011).

There is an emerging interest in online service and information provision. While no online services have been rigorously evaluated, protocols are being developed to ensure appropriateness and safety alongside a growing collection of online strategies (Finn & Atkinson, 2009; VAWnet).