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24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline:
(727) 895-4912 | TTY: (727) 828-1269
Outside Pinellas County: (800) 500-1119 | TDD: (800) 621-4202

Working with Mental Health and Addiction Professionals

December 18, 2014 | Domestic violence advocates make sure that battered and formerly battered women can be employed by our programs.  We try to resist the temptation to require credentials like master’s or bachelor’s degrees to work for us. At CASA, most job descriptions say “bachelor’s degree or life equivalent”.

We have also resisted participating in some of the national credentialing programs like CARF(Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) or JCHO (Joint Commission: Accreditation, Health Care, Certification)  that set standards for mental health, social services and healthcare that require credentials for certain positions and extensive documentation. We do not take detailed case notes that could be subpoenaed by the court and used against survivors in divorce or custody matters. We also had to face down funders that required credentials in their contracts.

Without special credentials, it is frustrating that some courts of law did not recognize domestic violence experts with years of experience as experts.  An individual with a master’s degree in mental health and one class on domestic violence is sometimes considered as an “expert” instead. Mental health and addictions professionals themselves consider domestic violence workers as “para-professionals.”

Throughout the years, when a domestic violence advocate called a mental health or addiction professional for consultation or to gain admission into addiction or mental health services for a survivor, we were told that someone would “get back with us” after the professionals discussed the “case.”  Sometimes, weeks later, someone called confirm they were ready to consider the case we had presented.  For us, it was too late.  The survivor left our shelter for the streets or other unsafe location. We cannot locate her (unless she calls us), so we feel like we have lost an important opportunity to help a survivor.

Being good advocates, we had to find a solution. We offered training to mental health professionals about domestic violence.  We educated professionals about the behaviors of survivors that they found intractable or counter-intuitive. For example, when she missed her appointment, it was because her abuser took the car or did not show up to provide childcare.  When she “lost” her medications, it was not because she was irresponsible or selling them but because her abuser took them or sold them or forced her to sell them.  When they invited her abusive partner in for couples counseling, she didn’t talk while he took control of the session to tell the counselor she was a bad person. She knew that if she told the truth, the counselor could not keep her safe once she left the appointment.

We trained our addictions professionals that if they did not help her deal with the violence in her life, she was not going to become sober because her addiction gave her the only coping tool she had. Some addictions workers used the 12-step program that was designed by male addicts. She already knew she was powerless over her own life. In order for her to become whole, she needed to feel empowered!

Over many years of working together, domestic violence workers are now respected by most of their peers in mental health and addiction work. Some have changed their work with women significantly. When we call for mental health or addiction services for a survivor, we are offered those services without question, so we can ensure that the needs of survivors are met.

By Linda Osmundson, CASA's Executive Director

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