The Importance Of Domestic Violence Therapy

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated May 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Domestic violence and intimate partner violence occur worldwide. In the United States, nearly 20 people per minute are abused by a domestic partner—more than 10 million people annually. Though you're not alone, domestic abuse can feel isolating and scary. 

Through mental health services like domestic violence therapy, you can receive guidance for your unique situation from a compassionate professional. It is not so much about how domestic violence therapy can help you as it is about what it can provide you to help you overcome the trauma of an abusive relationship. Through services like domestic violence therapy, you can take steps toward increased safety and address potential mental health challenges arising out of a violent situation.

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What is domestic abuse? 

Domestic abuse is a type of abuse that involves those within a domestic setting. The forms it takes are varied, including (but not limited to) sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and/or physical violence.

According tothe United Nations, "abuse is a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control."

Domestic abuse can be carried out by a family member, domestic partner, or roommate. Often, domestic violence inflicted by a partner is called intimate partner violence. It is estimated that 12 million people experience intimate partner violence in the United States. There are various categories of abusive behavior, including the following:

Physical abuse 

Physical abuse involves using physical force that injures another person or puts them at risk of injury. Although the action is physical, the abuse can be emotionally rooted and may negatively impact the survivor's emotions, at times leading to mental health challenges, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Although physical violence is often considered first when discussing domestic violence, other forms can be as impactful. Physical abuse may not be present in all abusive relationships. 

Verbal abuse 

Using words or vocal volume to insult, disrespect, embarrass, or hurt another person in non-public or public can be considered verbal abuse. It can be challenging to determine whether someone is being unkind or if abusive behavior is occurring, so many people could struggle to know when to seek counseling for this behavior. 

Often, verbal abuse involves consistent patterns of yelling, name-calling, or putting someone down with words. This can have lasting impacts on a person’s mental health and self esteem. As these patterns involve into a power dynamic, they are considered abusive. According to the Office on Women's Health (OWH), verbal and emotional abuse often lead to physical abuse. 

Sexual abuse 

It can be challenging to identify when sexual abuse has occurred in an intimate relationship. Some partners may feel they can't experience abuse because they have previously had or currently have consensual sexual intercourse. However, sexual abuse and sexual violence can happen to anyone, including those within a marriage or relationship. Sexual abuse involves coercing or forcing another person to partake in sexual activities, regardless of the nature. 

If an action is unwanted and that has been communicated, or consent has not been given, it could be sexual assault or a form of sexual violence. Consent involves an enthusiastic "yes" by both parties and continued check-ins and enjoyment throughout sexual activity. Sexual abuse can also involve being exposed to unwanted sexual activity, being asked to ignore sexual abuse in a domestic setting, or experiencing pressure and manipulation around the topic of sex.

Emotional abuse 

Emotional abuse can involve an abusive power dynamic that targets one's emotional well-being. Emotional abuse may reduce one's self-confidence or make one question their reality, creating an imbalance that is not present in a healthy relationship. The individual acting abusively may use manipulative tactics that may cause the other person to feel guilty or as though they deserve what is happening. Emotional abuse can and often does occur alongside other types of abuse, including intimate partner violence. 

Financial abuse 

Financial or economic abuse can involve emotionally abusive tactics regarding finances. For example, an individual might withhold money from their partner or use that person's name or personal statistics to spend their money and accrue debt. These actions may cause the survivor to feel powerless or that they must rely on the other individual for financial support. If the survivor doesn't believe they can support themselves, the person acting abusively may feel they have power over the situation.

What are some signs of domestic abuse?

From an outside perspective, it can be difficult to notice if someone is experiencing domestic abuse. At times, someone experiencing abuse may not realize that the behavior of their partner or family is abusive. While every situation can be different, certain warning signs may indicate that you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship or at risk for domestic violence. Healthy relationships do not involve certain behaviors, including but not limited to the following:


Someone acting abusively may want to keep the person they abuse isolated from others, including close friends and family. Similarly to financial abuse, this behavior can keep the person more dependent on them, as they become the primary support system in their life. Isolating behaviors might be used to reduce jealousy or hide unhealthy behavior patterns from an individual's support system, as well. 

Critical behavior 

Someone acting abusively may put down the person they abuse to lower their self-confidence and make them feel powerless. It may start as backhanded comments that slowly make the survivor feel more self-conscious and reliant on the person acting abusively. Over time, the critical behavior may escalate and can take the form of emotional abuse. 

Invasion of space

Someone partaking in abusive behavioral patterns may try to remove another person's sense of secrecy or identity. They may read their texts and emails or listen to phone calls. They might also go through the person's diary or ask them to reveal their location on their phone when they go out with friends. 

Other signs of abuse 

There are many other warning signs of abuse; certain isolated instances of these behaviors may not point to a domestic violence case. However, if a partner demonstrates a pattern of this kind of behavior, it can indicate current or future domestic violence, physical abuse, or emotional abuse. If you have noticed these behaviors in your intimate partner or notice signs of them in a friend or loved one's relationship, it may be a sign to reach out for support. 

Besides domestic violence therapy, online domestic violence resources by organizations and agencies, such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, can also provide support.

Asking for support or bringing up the topic of domestic violence to someone you care about can be brave. Abuse is not your fault, and having a healthy support system can help you seek help. 

What is the cycle of domestic violence?

Every domestic violence case can differ and is unique. However, experts have found that many abusive situations among partners tend to follow a similar cycle. The standard cycle of domestic violence includes the following stages. 

The tension building phase 

During this initial phase of the domestic violence cycle, tension begins to build, and a person may feel as though they need to "walk on eggshells" around their intimate partner. Depending on the situation, the tension-building phase may last a few hours or several months. The longer the phase lasts, the more anxious a person may feel, as they know that a "blowup" could be inevitable but are not sure when it is coming.

This stage often occurs later in a relationship. At the beginning of a relationship, before abuse is present, there may be more behaviors like love bombing, which involves playing up one's personality, moving quickly through the stages of love, and offering more than might be regularly expected at the beginning of a relationship. 

Abusive incident 

The abusive incident occurs when the tension phase reaches its breaking point, and the individual inflicts violence or abuse upon the other person. Depending on the type of abuse, the incident may involve physical violence, sexual abuse, or harmful words or threats. Financial abuse may involve restricting a partner's finances or using their identity to steal or spend money on their accounts.

Honeymoon phase 

After the abusive incidents, the individual who inflicted the abuse may try to "make up" for their violent or abusive behavior. To do this, they may buy the person gifts, act caring and thoughtful towards them, or otherwise try to show that they are "sorry" for the abuse, trying to get the person to trust them and view them favorably again. The behavior might follow empty promises that domestic violence will never happen again or that they have changed.

The relationship may experience relative peace and stability following the apologies or gifts, and the survivor may believe that the individual has changed. They might start to feel safer. However, the honeymoon phase is typically followed by another tension-building phase, and the domestic violence cycle may begin again.

Not all abusive relationships have a honeymoon phase. In addition, the honeymoon phase may get shorter and more volatile as time goes on in the cycle. The individual experiencing the abuse may start feeling they must try everything they can to get it back. They might blame themselves if the honeymoon phase disappears, believing they aren't worthy of love. Often, this is accompanied by verbally abusive messages from the individual abusing them. 

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How can you end the cycle of abuse?

Going through the cycle of abuse can be scary and often escalates over time. If you are experiencing this pattern in your relationship, know you're not alone. Although many survivors may hope that a person will change their behaviors, the safest way to leave the cycle of abuse is to leave the relationship. Often, these patterns repeat themselves for long periods and may pose a real life-threatening danger to those experiencing abuse. One way to try to leave a relationship can be through domestic abuse counseling. 

The value of domestic abuse counseling

Abusive relationships are often challenging to leave. When survivors leave these relationships, many struggle with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health challenges. According to studies, many survivors are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) connected to psychological abuse. Without treatment or support, it can be challenging for these individuals to form healthy relationships in the future. Domestic violence counseling can help survivors of domestic violence with safety planning and other practical means of support. A safety plan is a course of action that can help survivors protect themselves from further harm. Counseling can also help participants learn about the trauma response and how they can process their feelings.

Domestic violence therapy sessions can also play an invaluable role in helping individuals decide to leave a relationship. These readily available services can allow individuals in abusive relationships to feel more confident about leaving their partner. The validation of knowing they are experiencing abuse can help them realize they're not lying to themselves. In addition, they may learn how to cope with their current situation, build self-esteem, and identify healthy relationship behaviors. 

If you suspect a friend or loved one may be in an abusive relationship, do not hesitate to discuss it with them or a counselor. However, if you bring this up with them, do so in a safe environment, and try to do so verbally instead of over text so that the individual's partner does not see. Try not to shame the individual or cause them to feel the abuse is their fault. Leaving a relationship with this dynamic can be challenging, and compassion and empathy may be more effective than further isolation. 

If you are experiencing domestic violence, start by calling a domestic violence advocacy group like the National Domestic Violence Hotline before reaching out to a mental health provider like a counselor. Taking the first step to leave an abusive relationship and start moving forward can be scary. However, as you start to see your life without abuse, you can continue counseling and build yourself up for healthier experiences. 

Types of domestic violence services

Different people experiencing domestic violence may benefit from different types of support to leave an abusive situation. From therapy to support groups, multiple types of domestic violence services are available that can help someone who has lived or is living with domestic abuse. These include the following:

Safe houses 

In complex domestic violence cases, a person may choose or be instructed to spend time living in a safe house. Safe houses have policies to save survivors and their children as they escape an abusive situation. The location of these safe houses is often kept secret to prevent those who inflicted the abuse from finding the house. 

In addition, these houses often have a "no substance use" policy and may offer free counseling and case management as individuals restructure their lives. If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Domestic violence hotlines 

Hotlines are not a long-term solution for someone living with domestic abuse, but they can be a valuable first step and offer immediate crisis intervention. Domestic violence advocacy groups, like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline and their operators, can direct a person to the services they need, provide short-term advice, or support them in leaving acute situations. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which accepts calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their number is 800-799-SAFE (7233). At the National Domestic Violence Hotline webpage, you can find additional information that may help you identify domestic violence and abuse and start taking steps to plan your departure from a relationship safely. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is also toll-free, meaning all survivors can take the first step to get support without financial burden. They also have a live chat option on their website if you can't call or text. Many local libraries offer free computer use if you do not have a computer in your house. 

Support groups 

In addition to resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, you can join free support groups to connect with other survivors. Support groups act as a safe space to meet others who have experienced similar challenges. Your domestic violence experiences are unique to you, but having other people around who are in or have been in similar situations can give you a sense of solidarity and encouragement to tell your story. 


Counseling is a tool that can be used by anyone, regardless of diagnostic status or life experience. Many therapists specialize in supporting individuals with challenges related to abuse violence, sexual assault, and other situations in which domestic violence counseling can be helpful. If you are experiencing domestic abuse, you can find a mental health provider in your area, search for "domestic violence therapy near me", or utilize online counseling services.

Like in-person therapy, online counseling is conducted by licensed therapists and counselors accredited by their state board. Unlike traditional therapy, you can have the freedom to message your therapist at any time of the day rather than having to wait for a set appointment time. In addition, online therapy can be discreet for those still working on leaving an unhealthy relationship. You can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with your provider. 

In a comprehensive article published by the World Psychiatric Association, the effectiveness of internet-based therapy was examined. The study included several trials, finding that online therapy was valuable for treating symptoms of mental health concerns like PTSD. The study focused on internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helped participants reframe unwanted thoughts associated with events and beliefs.  

Counselor reviews

“I have been working with Terra for close to a month. I have seen therapists before and my past trauma had been hard for them to handle. I found myself having to water down my past which delayed my healing and working through my past. Terra lets me vent however much I’m comfortable and doesn’t seem to be offended or disturbed by the things I’ve been through. This has helped me to recognize and see that maybe I will be able to work through my traumas and be able to not have them affect my future the way they have been! I’m grateful for her and her very caring and listening nature. She also isn’t just a “that sounds hard!” Type therapist, I like that she gives me tips and tricks to better work through my issues in and out of sessions!” 

“Larry was great at holding space for me to talk about the trauma I experienced from domestic violence and stalking. He was also sensitive to the fact that it was an LGBTQ relationship. I highly recommend Larry to anyone who needs to work through trauma or abusive relationships.” 


For those who are angry, confused, scared, or experiencing other emotions related to domestic abuse, online therapy may provide relief and serve as a safe space for recovery. Still, you can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone—far from it, especially if you are seeking therapy for emotional abuse. If you or a loved one needs immediate help, free resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline are available. If you want to speak to an online therapist, consider a platform like BetterHelp, which offers individualized support, unique resources, and over 30,000 licensed providers. Abuse is not your fault; support is available as you navigate these challenging experiences. 

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