Working with different types of Domestic Violence: Assessment & Intervention

By Kacy Mixon, M.S., LMFT

In a previous post, we discussed the different types of domestic violence and how important it is for professionals working with families to know these differences. Our focus will now evolve to assessing what type of domestic violence is occurring with the couple and how to focus interventions.

Questions to consider when distinguishing between types of partner violence:

Has someone been violent to their partner?

Does that violence stem from power and control?

Was the partner violent back?

Was the partner’s retaliation to the violence rooted in the context of power and control?

 “Coercive control is the key to understanding the differences among the basic types of partner violence.” [1]

How to assess for coercive control:

Does the individual use a wide variety of tactics to control their partner. If yes, then it is likely that  coercive control is taking place. Details about the control tactics used throughout the relationship are then necessary to gain more insight into the severity of the violence resulting from tactics of coercive control.

I’ve determined what type of domestic violence is occurring…now what?!?

For situational couple violence the interpersonal dynamics of conflict management are at the root of the issues experienced by the couple. In addition to focusing on safety, looking at the sources of conflict within the relationship that lead to escalation and violence can be a helpful treatment strategy. Additionally, exploring couple communication patterns and individual backgrounds and personality factors help paint a broader picture of the dynamics the couple are involved in [1]. The image below provides more detail into these three areas (sources of conflict, communication patterns, background & personality factors).

Situational Couple Violence
Johnson, M.P. (2008). A typology of domestic violence: Intimate terrorism, violence resistance, and situational couple violence. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press.

Types of domestic violence involving coercive control (Intimate terrorism, Violent resistance, Mutual violence resistance) may have various treatment options. Treatment focused on safety, trauma-informed care, and  batterer accountability can prove useful. Many services providing couples counseling choose to not include intimate terrorists in efforts to not put victims in further danger. Depending on the type and severity of domestic violence occurring within the relationship, it may be unsafe to include a coercive, controlling batterer into combined services with their partner. Careful consideration of the danger, lethality, risk, frequency, and type of domestic violence is necessary when deciding the best strategy for intervention.


[1] Johnson, M.P. (2008). A typology of domestic violence: Intimate terrorism, violence resistance, and situational couple violence. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press.

This post was written by Kacy Mixon, M.S., LMFT, Social Media Specialist.  She is a member of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.

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