Being a survivor of domestic abuse is emotionally difficult, whether the abuse you endured was physical, psychological, sexual, financial, spiritual or otherwise. Having support in the form of professional counseling, advice from other survivors or even just someone to listen to your story can help you heal. Fortunately, you can get help without going far.
Benefits of Virtual Support
For many reasons, not the least of which is safety, it can be difficult for victims and survivors of domestic violence to visit a therapist, go to a support group or even meet up with a friend to talk. That’s why many survivors are turning to online resources.
“Online support can absolutely be helpful, especially during vulnerable times, or if the survivor lives in a more rural area where in-person support may not be as readily available,” says Nicole Arzt, licensed marriage and family therapist and mental health content expert for invigormedical.com. “Likewise, it can be beneficial for survivors who lack access to reliable transportation and/or have busy schedules that can’t accommodate traditional means of support.”
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Another benefit of virtual support is that it’s easy to access from nearly anywhere.
“If a survivor does not feel like their home is a safe environment to participate in an online support group, there are other options,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Tomko, LCSW, owner of Clarity Health Solutions in Florida. “If the person is afraid their abuser is tracking where they go, the victim should go to a place that is not suspicious, a place that they go to regularly.
Some public libraries have complimentary private study rooms. Going to a friend’s or family member’s home, a private office or conference room in your place of work, or even sitting in your car [and using your phone to find support] may be options as well.”
When Should Domestic Violence Victims Get Support?
Survivors should reach out for support whenever they feel they need it and when it’s safe to do so. For some, that may include covertly asking for help while they’re still in a relationship with an abuser. Other survivors might not feel comfortable reaching out until after they’ve escaped.
Yvette Lozano, director of intervention and emergency services with the nonprofit Peace Over Violence says she sees abuse survivors seek out counseling most often after they leave the relationship and are in a safe place, with their children safe as well.
“What I’ve noticed is many women have post-traumatic stress disorder,” Lozano says. The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as anxiety that develops in people after extremely traumatic events, such as abuse, combat, an accident or a natural disaster. Memories of the trauma can trigger extreme fear to a point where it almost immobilizes the survivor. There can also be nightmares, concentration problems, irritability, guilt and depression.”
Seeking support can help survivors deal with PTSD, anxiety, depression as well as feelings of guilt, shame, low self-esteem and more. It can also, according to the Mayo Clinic, help you to:
- Feel less lonely or isolated
- Gain a sense of empowerment and control
- Improve coping skills
- Get practical advice and information about your options
Where to Find Online Support
There are several options when it comes to online support, each with its own pros and cons.
Telehealth/Virtual Doctor Visits
Pros: One-on-one help from a medical professional.
Cons: Can be costly, depending on your insurance coverage.
Bottom line: Definitely worth it if symptoms of anxiety or depression are interfering with your daily life.
Online One-On-One Counseling Sessions
Pros: Individualized counseling from a licensed therapist through text, chat or video sessions.
Cons: Typically not covered by insurance and isn’t cheap.
Bottom line: May be worth the investment in order to get immediate and professional support for trauma. Just make sure to search for a counselor with experience in domestic violence.
Live Chats With Advocates
Examples: A shelter near you, the National Domestic Violence Hotline Live Chat, LoveIsRespect.org
Pros: Get advice, support and help with safety planning in real time from domestic abuse experts. You don’t need to be seeking shelter to call and speak with an advocate, and by speaking to one in your ZIP code, you may find out about other local resources that can help you, like support groups, financial assistance or lay legal help.
Cons: It’s likely you’ll speak with a different advocate each session, but most hotlines will keep notes of your previous calls so you won’t need to reexplain your situation each time.
Bottom line: This is a great option for personalized and professional help if you need to speak with someone urgently.
Online Group Therapy
Pros: Access to sound advice from a professional for little to no-cost.
Cons: Sessions are generally moderated and steered toward a specific topic, which may or may not be helpful to you.
Bottom line: Look for a group that’s led by a licensed social worker or mental health professional.
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Online Peer Support Groups
Pros: Anonymity and the ability to talk with a lot of people who have been in your shoes.
Cons: Without moderation from a licensed professional, these groups run the risk of disseminating poor advice and victim-shaming.
Bottom line: Look for a group that uplifts you, and always discuss safety-related matters with an advocate.
Social Media Communities
Example: DomesticShelters.org Victims and Survivors
Pros: May be more accessible than other options since most people already use social media platforms.
Cons: Not anonymous if your social media account is under your real name.
Bottom line: Can be good places to find people who are facing similar experiences.
Also see this list of Domestic Violence Forums and Chats for additional options.
Staying Safe Online
If you choose to participate in an online support group or community forum, keep the following safety tips in mind. Also, see our page on using the internet more safely.
- Be careful never to share details about your current location (home, place of work, city/state, etc.)
- Ask questions without divulging personally identifying information or getting overly specific about your situation until you’re confident you’re speaking with people you can trust
- If an abuser tracks your digital usage, access online support through a work, public or loved one’s computer
- Follow any rules established by the group for keeping your information and others’ safe
- If you wish to connect with an individual on a deeper level, consider asking to video chat so you can be certain who you’re talking to
Looking for a supportive community that “gets you”? Start by joining the DomesticShelters.org Victims and Survivors Community on Facebook.
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