How to Respond
Remember – you may be the first person your patient has ever had the courage to tell about past or present abuse. How you respond can be very important for her/his future ability to trust others and move on with her/his life.
Be non-judgmental and supportive as you respond. Here are a few suggestions to try out:
- Thank you for telling me – I know it was difficult to do.
- I’m very glad you told me. I care. I’m concerned about the health and safety of you and your children.
- I believe you.
- You are not alone.
- There are people who can help you.
- This is against the law.
- I'm sorry you have been hurt.
- It's not your fault. You are not to blame.
- No one deserves to be treated this way.
- I understand how difficult it is to change this situation. It may take some time to figure out what to do.
- I will support you no matter what you decide to do.
Health professionals who are themselves abuse survivors may experience a variety of feelings and behaviors:
- Withdrawal/avoidance of discussing topic with patient
- Denial of there being a problem
- “Rescue” attempts which may be intrusive and not in the patient's best interest
- Boundary violations of the health professional/patient relationship
Do you have other biases about these type of situations? Stereotypes? Consider discussing how you feel with a social worker, so that you are more comfortable when this comes up with a patient.
- "What did you do to make him hit you?”
- “If it were me, I wouldn't put up with this."
- “Why don't you just leave? Why do you stay with someone like that?”
- “Why did you wait so long to say something?”
- “Have you tried marriage counseling?”
- “Let me give you something for your nerves.”
- “Why don’t you....”