Domestic violence negatively affects everyone in the family — the offender, the spouse, the children, and the next generation. Stopping and healing violence in the home will involve the whole family getting help, with or without the offender, whether reunification is antici¬pated or not. Children are often the silent victims of domestic vio¬lence. If reunification is planned, family therapy and safety plans are necessary.

The Offender
If your spouse has been violent toward you or other family members, he/she needs treatment to stop that behavior. This is not something person can stop on their own. If you want to stay with an abusive spouse, insist on treatment. Many offenders are court ordered to treatment and this helps maintain compliance. The spouse and children also need therapy because of the negative effects on their functioning.

If reunification is expected, family therapy is needed, once the safety issues have been addressed. It is important to change your family’s image of violent behavior from powerful and independent to immature and dependent. Causing harm to your loved ones does as much damage to the psyche and well being of the offender as the family. Helping offenders see this can be helpful. Psychotherapy can help an offender to look at his own childhood abuse and neglect issues in order to change attitudes toward family relationships. Whether the present family remains intact or not, changes are needed for him to function more appropriately in his next family.

The Spouse
If you are an abused spouse, you are negatively affected by violence in the home. If you are abused, you can become depressed or addicted. Your feelings of self-esteem and self-efficacy usually suffer, as well. You may feel locked into the situation because of a lack of financial independence. Additionally, the most dangerous time for you and your children is during or immediately following leaving the relationship. That is why many mates stay out in an abusive marriage, for fear of harm to themselves or their children. You may be codependent and stay because you believe that your partner “needs” you. You may think you can help your partner change. Only the abusive partner can change him/herself. They also have to see a reason to change. If you accept the abuse, he/she has no incentive to change.

Psychotherapy can help you look at your own family of origin issues. Anger management and assertiveness training may be needed. Support for employment and financial secu¬rity is often an issue. If reunification is planned, family therapy is in order. Parenting classes can also be used to increase family skills and provide support.

The Children
I call children the silent victims of domestic violence. We used to think that children are only damaged if they are the direct victims of abuse. Now we know that witnessing family violence can be just as damaging as experiencing it. Additionally, if the abused parent is emotionally unavailable to her young children because of depression or substance abuse, the children will likely have attachment problems. As the chil¬dren grow, they learn that violence is an acceptable way to solve prob¬lems. Then they may use violence or aggression to get their own needs met.

If the children withdraw into their own world, they may not develop accurate perceiving or understanding of the world. The level of arousal can be chronically high and their self-soothing skills weak, resulting in emotional over-reaction to problems and stress. Children learn what they see and they frequently replicate their families of origin when they are spouses or parents. If the pattern is violent, there is risk that the violent patterns will be repeated.

Therapy can include individual, family, and group modalities. Tech¬niques might be play, art, and story telling therapies. Cognitive-be¬havioral groups teach children problem solving, self-soothing, anger management, relationships, and communication. Some therapies in¬clude apology sessions. While this is controversial, it is a technique that is being used by some. The family dynamics need to change because there are usually scapegoats, poor familial boundaries, inappropriate discipline, and other problems.

The Next Generation
We can be sure that if we do not solve the problems of family violence in this generation, we will see them in the next. It is true that not all people raised in violence repeat those examples in their own families, but they may have other associated problems including attachment, substance abuse, criminality, isolation, education, work, and mental health problems. It is no longer sufficient to treat only the offender of domestic violence. The entire family will frequently need assistance. Emphasize the natural strengths of your family and empower family members to change. You can enlist the help of extended family, as well. It is Ok to ask for professional help.

Prevention is important and often neglected. Providing home visiting nurses (Olds and Rumsey, 1998), parent aides, or family mentors to “at risk families” can be very helpful. They can provide support, edu¬cation, and modeling to help the parent develop good family skills. Neglect and attachment are important issues. Childhood neglect is as¬sociated with attachment problems, ADHD, poor school performance,

violence, and behavior problems (Levy and Orlans, 1998). When you address these issues in a family, you are preventing the next generation of abusive family members. Increasing communication, social, and problem solving skills of all family members has the potential to reduce the risk of violence in the home. Providing services in the of¬fice may not be sufficient to intervene in a family at risk for violence. Services in the home and community are needed.

Action Steps
1. Families: Create family safety plans. Know how to get to your local shelter.
2. Families: Hold weekly family problem solving sessions to try to find solutions to family problems.
3. Parents: Access therapy for everyone in a violent family.
4. Parents and Treatment Provider: If reunification is planned, use family therapy with extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles) involvement when possible.
5. Someone living with a violent spouse and children: Get therapy and get out. Domestic violence harms your children. It teaches them that violence is a valid way to cope with problems.
6. Child: If you are a youth living in domestic violence, call social services or the police for help, or tell a teacher what’s going on.
7. Teacher, minister, friend: Talk to the family about getting help. If someone has been injured, report it to the police or social services.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Seifert has had over 30 years experience in mental health, addictions, and criminal justice work. In addition to creating the Juvenile CARE2 (Chronic Violent Behavior Risk and Needs Assessment), Dr. Seifert has authored articles and lectured nationally and internationally on family violence and trauma. She founded Eastern Shore Psychological Services, a multidisciplinary private practice that specializes in working with high-risk youth and their families. She lectures nationally and internationally on the topics of violence, risk assessment, suicide prevention, and stress management.

Her latest book is “How Children Become Violent: Keeping Your Kids Out of Gangs, Terrorist Organizations, and Cults.” In her book, she describes her theory of risk and resiliency factors interacting with childhood development, which ultimately lead to appropriate or inappropriate interpersonal behaviors. She outlines assessment, prevention and assessment strategies to prevent future violence. Her latest assessment is the “CARE-2, Chronic Violent Behavior Risk and Needs Assessment.” You may visit her website at

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