Family Violence and Abuse

If you even suspect that your client is either the victim of family abuse or is an abuser, you have an ethical duty to protect victims and, depending on local laws, may have a legal duty to report the situation. Precautionary measures can include:

  • Carefully examining and thoroughly documenting all situations coming to your attention that might involve abuse.

  • Keeping any preconceived assumptions about abusers open. People of all socio-economic levels, races, ages, etc., assault or are assaulted.

  • Being particularly alert to any of your negative reactions to the abuser. If negative reactions continue to interfere with your objectivity, refer the case.

  • Attending to your rescue fantasies, always seeking consultation whenever you are in doubt of your motives or capacity to best help the client.

  • Knowing in detail, and adhering to, local laws and legal requirements regarding reporting abuse.

  • Getting consultation if you are not familiar with the family members' or the abuser's personality patterns and you are electing not to refer.

  • Preparing and documenting fully and sensitively the claims, your evaluation, and your course of action. Because the abuser or family members may pressure victims to recant or modify their statements, be certain to record verbatim the information offered to you about occurrences and sequences of circumstances.

Cervantes (1992) makes recommendations for specific steps therapists can take to respond to their ethical and legal responsibilities to protect a client and the client’s family members from abuse. The ethics of family therapy in cases of violence are reviewed in Willbach (1989).

NOTE: Every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided by is accurate and up-to-date, however, it is important to remember that laws vary from state to state and local legislation can add further variations. We strongly urge you to stay current with your state and local laws.