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.

Don't Say

  • "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....”