Strategies for Intervention
If you suspect that one of your clients is in an abusive relationship, approach them in a non-threatening way. Talking can spark a discussion about the current situation and give you a chance to help. It may also give an opportunity to share your thoughts and information about healthy non-violent relationships.
Actively listening and creating a safe space for adolescents to talk about relationships is a first step in helping to support adolescents. Let them know they do not deserve to be hurt. If an abusive relationship is identified, or there are “red flags,” validate the adolescent’s experience, believing what they say, and building on their strengths. Validating and empathizing using “ABCD” can be effective (Hobbins, 2004).
A – “You are not alone; many young people your age (at your school, in your neighborhood), experience dating abuse.”
Reassure the young person of your support and concern. Reinforce your wish to help do what is best for them. Taking the teen’s feelings seriously and acknowledging, validating their experience is important to making them feel heard and supported. Don’t tell a young person to “just get over it” or that they “don’t know what love is”.
Creating a safety plan is described in the next section. Role play with the adolescent what to do in different circumstances if things get violent.
Do your best to allow the young person as much control as possible, empowering them to make healthy decisions. Even though safety is your first concern, it is important to allow the teen to make decisions whenever it is safe because the abuser has taken away the teen’s power and control.
To jump start a conversation with an adolescent, the following questions are adapted from the Love Is Not Abuse initiative by Liz Clairborne (http://www.loveisnotabuse.com).
Using any variation of the above messages will help support the adolescent and make them feel heard. The goal of starting a conversation or intervening is not necessarily to have the adolescent leave the relationship right away. As an option to leaving, a safety planning model can be used to help the adolescent reduce their risk of continued abuse. Here is an example of some possible safety planning steps. These are suggestions, and should be modified to meet the needs of the adolescent and his or her unique situation.