Module 4: Support services of the social sector

Please note that this module is currently under construction.

1. Help in a crisis
2. Counselling
3. Therapy

Spotlight on the school sector: Documentation & legal aspects


– To follow –

Learning objectives
– To follow –

Of note, the learning materials are not tailored to the needs of every country; they include generic cases that will need local adaptation.

Social professionals are often confronted with individuals experiencing crises in their lives. Recognising the signs and understanding how to provide support is crucial in these situations.

Social professionals should be aware that various factors can contribute to someone entering a state of crisis. These factors might include past traumatic events, sudden unexpected occurrences, or ongoing stress.

Domestic violence can evoke shock reactions and mental crises. Often, several stressful incidents come together and lead to a crisis. Apart from experiences of violence, factors such as bereavement, illness, accidents, or other traumatic events can also contribute. Moreover, enduring stress like mental illness, social isolation, pressure, and interpersonal conflicts can overwhelm individuals, causing mental distress.

It is important to note that anyone can potentially experience a mental crisis, but individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions may find it particularly challenging to navigate such situations on their own. Additionally, when several stressful events come together, the likelihood of experiencing a crisis increases. Even positive events, like pregnancy or a new relationship, can trigger intense emotions that lead to a crisis, especially for victims of domestic violence.

Social professionals should be attentive for signs indicating an acute crisis in individuals they support. Recognising these signs can facilitate timely intervention and support.

Common indicators of an acute crisis include a sense of inner imbalance and a perceived loss of coping mechanisms that typically help navigate difficult situations. Individuals may find themselves unable to manage the situation on their own.

In addition to these cognitive and behavioural changes, there may also be notable shifts in thought patterns and emotions. Some individuals may become fixated on a single thought, while others experience rapid fluctuations in their thinking. Similarly, emotional responses vary widely, from emotional numbness to overwhelming. Some may struggle to control intense emotions such as fear, or anger, while others may feel completely hopeless, lonely and sad.

In more severe cases, individuals may think about self-harm, suicide, or engage in excessive substance use as a way to cope with their distress. There is also the possibility that individuals may perceive the crisis as so overwhelming that they leave their usual environment, seeking refuge elsewhere or even stay in a hospital.

The intensity and duration of these symptoms can vary, lasting from days to weeks. Early recognition and appropriate intervention are important in supporting individuals experiencing acute crises.

Crises in children and adolescents

Crises are not exclusive to adults, children and adolescents can also experience them. Often, their reactions to these experiences involve regressive behaviours they had previously outgrown. For instance, children might revert to thumb-sucking, bedwetting, or seeking comfort by sleeping with their parents. Similarly, adolescents may react by changing their behaviour, such as becoming withdrawn or isolating themselves, or they may develop impulsive or aggressive behaviour, either directed towards themselves or others.

While behavioural changes can stem from various causes, if domestic violence is suspected, it is crucial to act promptly.

People deal with crises in different ways

People deal with a crisis in different ways and also experience the consequences of stress in different ways. Not everyone needs professional help to process their experiences. While some can deal with crises on their own or with the support of a person they trusted, others may require professional help to process their experiences.

It is important to recognise when coping mechanisms prove insufficient. If someone is struggling to manage a crisis alone, professional support can be immensely helpful.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Address their concerns: Listen attentively and assure them that they can trust and talk to you whenever they need to.
  • Stay calm: Stay calm and convey a sense of safety. Avoid being frantic, as this could make the situation worse and upset the person even more.
  • Show empathy: Try to understand the person’s distress and validate their feelings. Minimise expressing your own stress and worries, focuse instead on empathising with theirs.
  • Explore coping mechanisms: Inquire about activities or strategies that have helped them in the past. Encourage them to engage in activities that promote well-being, such as going for a walk, enjoying a cup of tea, exercising, tidying up, or listening to music.
  • Refrain from giving unsolicited advice: Avoid phrases like “Why don’t you just…” or “If I were you…” Instead, focus on empathetic listening and refrain from offering advice unless explicitly asked for.
  • Encourage seeking psychological support: If the stress becomes overwhelming, suggest seeking help from a psychologist or psychotherapist. Offer your support in finding appropriate resources or making arrangements.
  • Maintain personal boundaries: While providing support, remember to prioritise your own well-being. Only make commitments you can fulfill, and seek help from a trusted person or support services if needed.

The following video shows different strategies that can improve your listening skills to become a better listener:

Psychological support

It is advisable to consider encouraging a victim to seek psychological support when he or she is struggling to manage the crisis on their own or with the support of loved ones.

Make it clear to the victim that seeking psychological support is a right that everyone has, without any stigma attached. It is neither shameful nor are there any minimum requirements regarding the extent to which someone suffer or experience a crisis. The primary goal of professional intervention, often termed crisis intervention or psychological first aid, is to relieve stress and stabilise the victim during the crisis. The main focus is on psychosocial care and treatment.

Support services differ both in how accessible they are, and with regard to the type of support they provide. Here is an overview of the main support services:

Crisis services and social psychiatric services
  • Crisis services offer support for individuals experiencing acute mental health issues. While typically providing short-term assistance, they may offer longer-term support in exceptional cases. Services can be provided either on an outpatient basis or through mobile crisis teams that visit those affected at home.
  • Social psychiatric services of health authorities provide advice and support for individuals facing mental and social challenges, as well as their loved ones. They offer easy-to-access support, including crisis intervention. In cases of acute crisis, risk of suicide, or high risk of violent behaviour, victims and helpers can contact the mobile emergency service at any time. They assess the situation, provide on-the-spot help and initiate further steps.
Phone services
  • Helplines provide accessible support during crises for adults, as well as for children and adolescents.
  • They link information, counselling, and support services for victims experiencing domestic violence.
  • They operate separate to, but alongside, law enforcement and other emergency helplines.
Online services
  • Many people find it easier to write about their situation. Online support can also be helpful in a crisis.
  • There are many online services for people in a crisis, such as email support services, or online pastoral care.
  • Many local advice and counselling centres also offer confidential advice online.
Psychosocial services and counselling centres
  • Psychosocial services and counselling centres offer crisis intervention and support.
  • Their websites or phone lines can provide information about their services and areas of expertise, including specialised support for victims of domestic violence.
Medical help and psychotherapy
  • Specialists in psychiatry and psychotherapy, and child and youth psychiatry, and psychotherapy offer support during office hours. They give advice, medication if necessary, and provide acute treatment.
  • Family doctors serve as an important initial point of contact for many victims of domestic violence, treating injuries and providing guidance on further steps.
Outpatient clinics

Various outpatient clinics, including trauma, violence protection, child protection, and psychiatric outpatient clinics, offer immediate supprt in emergencies.

  • Trauma outpatient clinics mainly offer psychotherapy support for traumatised people. There are trauma outpatient clinics for children and adolescents, as well as for adults.
  • Violence protection outpatient clinics offer victims of violence the opportunity to have their injuries examined and documented by a forensic medicine specialist. This can be done without the crime having been reported to the police.
  • Child protection outpatient clinics focus on the medical protection of children. They investigate acute and chronic cases of physical or psychological violence, neglect and sexual violence against children and initiate further help where necessary.
  • Psychiatric outpatient clinics and outpatient clinics for child and adolescent psychiatry are part of the local psychiatric hospital and come into play when other psychiatric or psychotherapy treatment is not available.
  • Shelters provide refuge for victims of domestic violence, especially if there is an acute risk of violence.
  • There are separate shelters for women, men, girls and boys. Some shelters are also open to people who feel they are neither a woman nor a man, or who have changed their gender identity.
  • Admission and stay in a shelter happens on a voluntary basis. The shelter’s address is generally not publicly known.
  • People can usually call the facilities at any time of the day or night and ask for refuge. Some regions have offices that coordinate places in shelters in that region.
  • Shelters are a safe place for victims to find stability, where they can take their time to consider what to do next.

The following video shows the procedure in women’s shelters in cases of domestic violence:


In case of an emergency, call the emergency service. The social psychiatric services and the police also help in an emergency.

Victims can be admitted to a psychiatry and psychotherapy clinic at any time. Here, medical and therapeutic professionals are equipped to provide necessary support, including therapy sessions and medication if required. Psychiatric outpatient clinics are also available for support during such situations.

Counselling centres offer valuable support to individuals in need, whether they are dealing with general challenges or specific issues such as domestic violence. These centres may specialise in various areas of support. Individuals can reach out to them if they have experienced domestic violence themselves or suspect someone else may be experiencing it, seeking practical support and information.

Counselling sessions at these centres are typically provided free of charge, with voluntary donations occasionally requested. Confidentiality is assured, and individuals can choose to remain anonymous if they prefer.

Professionals at these centers should dedicate time to listen attentively, whether individuals are directly affected or are seeking help for someone else. Individuals should be encouraged to share their situations and suspicions, and to ask any questions they may have, even if they are uncertain.

Organising thoughts and planning next steps

In the initial stages, counsellors should discuss the situation with the persons seeking advice, allowing them to express their feelings and articulate their challenges. Together, they should explore available options and plan the next steps, empowering victims to make informed decisions. This may include determining the need for further support and identifying suitable resources. Additionally, counselling centres often have extensive networks within the region and can facilitate connections with medical, therapy, or legal professionals as needed.

In case of suspicion

For those with suspicions, counsellors should provide guidance on the appropriate next steps. They should assist in contacting public authorities and can even accompany individuals to meetings, ensuring support throughout the process. This is particularly helpful when individuals need to engage with entities such as the youth welfare office or the police. For immediate support, individuals can reach out to specialised helplines.

Trust your instincts and do not hesitate to call a helpline – even if you have doubts.

Specialised domestic violence counselling centres and general counselling centres can provide advice on domestic violence as well as many other topics.

Specialised counselling centres offer specialised support

There are specialised counselling centres that focus on domestic violence. These centres may employ counsellors who themselves have experienced domestic violence, applying a victim-controlled approach to support. Victims can seek support from specialised centres regardless of when the violence happened, as counsellors should understand the lasting impact and offer appropriate support.

For many victims of domestic violence and their support networks, reaching out to specialised centres marks a crucial first step. These centres offer a safe space to share experiences, receive validation, and access support services. Therefore, counsellors at specialised centres should prioritise providing a supportive environment where individuals feel heard and understood.

General counselling centres

General counselling centres also play an important role in supporting victims of domestic violence. While they may not specialise exclusively in domestic violence, these centres can also work closely with affected individuals and their support networks. Operating as privately or publicly funded entities, these centres serve as essential resources, particularly in rural areas where specialised services may be limited. Although their expertise covers a broad spectrum of topics, some general centres have staff members with specialised knowledge in domestic violence.

Most counselling centres offer support to anyone seeking advice – whether they are or have been affected by domestic violence, want to help someone in their social environment who is or was affected by it, or suspect a person is a victim of domestic violence. Their websites usually have sections on “Help for people affected“, “Help for family members” and “Help for professionals“.

Many counselling centres specialise in specific target groups. These can include:

Gender and age

Many counselling centres are tailored to the needs of women or men, girls or boys who have experienced domestic violence. These services are typically inclusive of transgender and non-binary individuals. Additionally, there are counselling centres for everyone, regardless of age or gender.

People with a migration or refugee background

Certain centres specialise in providing support to victims with migration and/or refugee backgrounds. These centres often have access to interpreters and may offer services in multiple languages.

People with disabilities

Some services are tailored to meet the needs of victims with physical or cognitive disabilities, such as learning difficulties. These centres consider the unique life circumstances of people with disabilities, providing wheelchair-accessible facilities and offering support in easily understandable language or sign language. There are also peer counselling services available, allowing victims with disabilities to support each other and share experiences.

Catchment area

Many centres operate within specific regional catchment areas, offering services to residents of particular towns or districts based on their funding arrangements. Visiting a centre’s website or contacting them directly can clarify whether they can provide support within your locality. Many cenres are willing to find solutions for victims who may not have a suitable alternative nearby.

Confidentiality and data protection

Counselling centres work confidentially and usually also anonymously, if required. Furthermore, counselling centres are not obligated to report information to law enforcement agencies or youth welfare offices. This means victims can freely discuss any concerns or issues without fear of mandatory reporting. If victims share information about an acute risk to a child’s well-being, counsellors should collaborate with them to determine necessary steps to ensure the child’s safety.

Therapy at counselling centres

Counselling centres provide a range of support services tailored to the needs of individuals affected by domestic violence. Clients receive personalised guidance on the most suitable form of support, which can vary widely, ranging from occasional counselling sessions to regular therapy sessions.

Many victims of domestic violence choose to engage in therapy as part of their healing journey. Counsellors at these centres should know about various therapeutic modalities and explain the different approaches to clients. They should help clients in finding a therapist that aligns with their needs and preferences.

In addition to external therapy options, some counselling centres offer their own therapy sessions to clients. This ensures continuity of care and support during the waiting period for placement with an external therapist.

Information on domestic violence

Counselling centres often serve as valuable resources for seeking information on domestic violence. Specialised counselling centres, in particular, offer a wide range of information on this topic. They provide helpful tips on how to protect children and offer guidance on what steps to take if there are suspicions of domestic violence.

Moreover, many counselling centres organise training workshops specifically addressing domestic violence. These sessions are particularly relevant for institutions working closely with children and adolescents. They aim to equip professionals with the knowledge and skills to recognise signs of domestic violence and ensure the safety of vulnerable individuals.

First contact to counselling centres

Contacting a counselling centre is an important step for victims of domestic violence in accessing support. Usually, victims reach out to the centre by phone or email to schedule an appointment. This initial contact should allow them to get a sense of the counsellors and to provide them with a specific date to mentally prepare for their visit. Additionally, many centres offer online advice services and have open office hours, allowing victims to drop in without an appointment. While this option may suit many people, it can sometimes involve a waiting period.

When reaching out to a local counselling centre, victims should be able to:

  • inquire whether their concern aligns with the centre’s expertise and whether the centre can help them.
  • have the option to choose whether they prefer to speak with a female or male counsellor.
  • have the option to change the counsellor.
  • feel being taken seriously, understood and protected.
  • feel that the atmosphere is calm, confidential and that they interact as equals.
  • feel that their boundaries are respected.

Feeling supported and understood at a counselling centre is a significant step forward for victims of domestic violence.

Psychotherapy plays a crucial role in addressing the impact and consequences of domestic violence. It is important for social professionals to be well-informed about therapy options, useful points of contact, and how to guide victims in finding the appropriate support.

Domestic violence can have profound and lasting impacts on victims, affecting them both physically and emotionally. Social professionals should understand these consequences to provide appropriate support.

Definition of trauma

In psychology, trauma is defined as an experience that exposes an individual to an overwhelming threat, either directly or through observation. Victims typically experience intense fear, helplessness, or terror during such events. Besides domestic violence and other forms of violence, natural disasters or accidents can also be traumatic.

Physical and psychological consequences

Victims of domestic violence often struggle to process their experiences, leading to immediate or long-term stress, psychological issues, or illnesses. A significant number of affected individuals develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD include sleep disorders and flashbacks, which are vivid re-experiences of the traumatic event, often beyond the individual’s control. PTSD can also result in depression, anxiety, personality disorders, sexual problems, and addiction.

Subtle consequences

Some consequences are less visible, such as social withdrawal or low self-confidence. These less noticeable effects do not diminish the trauma’s severity. Traumatic experiences can hinder victims’ ability to maintain healthy relationships or achieve their full potential in education or work.

Severe cases and dissociative disorders

In extreme cases of domestic violence, victims may develop dissociative disorders. Dissociation is a natural psychological response to avoid feeling overwhelmed during trauma, allowing the person to “disconnect” from the event. However, severe or prolonged trauma can lead to persistent dissociative experiences, such as feeling detached from one’s thoughts, feelings, or body, or experiencing memory gaps about certain periods.

Dissociative identity disorder

In the most severe cases, a person may develop dissociative identity disorder (DID), where multiple identities or personality states emerge as a result of extreme and prolonged trauma. This is often linked to very severe forms of violence.

Understanding the wide range of physical and psychological consequences can help social professionals in recognising the signs of trauma and facilitating early interventions.

Psychotherapy is a treatment approach for mental illnesses and physical conditions with significant psychological components, including the psychological consequences of domestic violence. It is grounded in scientifically recognised methods. Unlike psychiatrists, who are medical doctors and can prescribe medications, (psychological) psychotherapists focus on therapeutic conversations and interventions. These sessions involve one-on-one interactions between the patient and the psychotherapist and may include various exercises or games, especially when working with children.

Types of therapy

Psychotherapists usually specialise in one specific method. These include:

  • Behavioural therapy focuses on changing negative behaviours and thought patterns.
  • Depth psychology-based psychotherapy explores underlying psychological processes.
  • Analytical psychotherapy involves in-depth exploration of past experiences and unconscious processes.
  • Systemic therapy for adults looks at individual issues within the context of relationships and systems.

These therapies can be conducted in individual or group settings. Specific therapy methods for trauma patients, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), are also available. EMDR supports the processing of traumatic experiences through guided eye movements. Other therapy types include conversational psychotherapy, Gestalt therapy, and body-oriented therapy.

An initial psychotherapy consultation can help determine if psychotherapy is needed, which type of therapy is best, and how costs can be covered. Specialised counselling centres often employ professionals with psychotherapy skills who can provide psychological support. These services are usually free and may be more accessible than psychotherapy. Victims can find their way to psychotherapy through these centres, or sometimes counselling sessions may be sufficient.

Spotlight on the school sector: Documentation & legal aspects


Compile your observations and keep records. Systematic documentation of a child’s or adolescent’s behaviour, expressions and actions are an important source of information for assessing the suspicion and planning further action. Possible causes for the child´s or adolescent’s behaviour and further action steps for the specific child or adolescent could be discussed with a team at work and/or by speaking with a colleague. The observations and documentation could also serve as a basis when communicating with the parents and with other institutions/organisations, e.g., the youth welfare office.

Who can I turn to?

The help that a child or adolescent affected by domestic violence and his or her family need is usually very complex and time-consuming. They cannot be provided by one person or institution alone. Cooperation with other support institutions is necessary.

You have the following options; whereby anonymous counselling is possible for all of the following offers.

  • Stay in contact with your colleagues and superiors, especially in phases when you feel insecure. Conduct case conferences with your colleagues (possibly including the contact person of the youth welfare office).
  • Take advantage of telephone or personal counselling by the police. However, you should note that the police are obliged to prosecute criminal offences. If the police become aware of a child’s or adolescent´s well-being being endangered by abuse or neglect, criminal measures must be taken.
  • Contact the youth welfare office if there are indications that the child or adolescent is at risk in the family and the persons concerned cannot or do not want to seek help of their own accord. Here, too, you can first take advantage of counselling by telephone or in person. Youth welfare offices are not obliged to report such offences or to inform the police. Priority is given to the protection of the best interests of the child. In the case of adolescents this is often perceived in consultation with Social Services and counselling centres in such a way that individual help and protection concepts are developed with the adolescent’s support.
  • Authorities or counselling facilities of independent institutions should always be informed with the the child’s or adolescent’s and the legal guardians’ consent. However, authorities can also be involved without this consent if the child’s or adolescent’s well-being is at high risk. Making the case anonymous is a way of obtaining competent advice without breaching confidentiality. Facilities in the field of youth welfare such as child and youth emergency services, child protection centres, educational counselling centres and a partner, marriage, family and life counselling service offer advice and help.
  • School psychological counselling centres can also be involved in conflict management. They advise those seeking advice and can establish contacts with other specialised counselling centres.
  • Health care facilities such as public health offices, paediatricians and general practitioners, children’s hospitals and child and youth psychiatric facilities have the important task of investigating the causes of health hazards and eliminating harmful factors. The opportunity to do this is particularly offered within the framework of school health care, especially during school enrolment examinations.
  • Take the respective cultural background and the question of residence status into account in every offer of help.
What are the legal obligations for teachers?
Do I have to inform the youth welfare office if I have a suspicion?

Teachers are obliged to inform parents about indications of a risk to the child’s or young person’s well-being, as long as this does not jeopardise his/her protection. It may therefore be necessary to seek outside expertise to assess the risk situation before considering further steps. If there is a well-founded suspicion of neglect or maltreatment, a decision should be made in consultation with the school management whether to file a criminal complaint. In individual cases, however, it may make more sense to involve competent authorities such as the youth welfare office and to take other appropriate measures to help the pupil.

What should I do if I suspect that a pupil is being abused or neglected at home?

There is no standard guidance how the pupil can be helped best: e.g., other agencies could be involved or a report could be sent to the youth welfare office. Some countries have a mandatory obligation to help included in their laws. Some schools have included the obligation to intervene in case of signs of child abuse or neglect in their statutes or in the school programme.

Whether parents are to be informed of a suspicion depends very much on the individual case and the relevant country regulations. In principle, parents have a right to be informed, as they are also responsible for protecting children from danger for their own good. If it can be assumed that the parents or other guardians may be the perpetrators or accomplices, the parents should not be approached at first. In this individual case, the parents are also not informed that, for example, the school has passed on the suspicion to the youth welfare office.

Do I have to take any action at all?

Yes. The duty to act follows directly from the school’s, and thus the teachers’, duty of care. It must also be taken into account that teachers and school management may be liable to prosecution under the Criminal Code if they do nothing at all despite clear signs of abuse and neglect of a pupil.

May I act on my own authority?

Teachers must observe the official channels and, in particular, coordinate every external action with the head of the school. However, the official channels do not have to be adhered to when, for example, discussions are held with parents or informal advice is sought from other institutions (e.g., the youth welfare office).

Do I have a duty to report to the police?

In Germany for example, there is no statutory obligation to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the police or any other competent authority. However, this may be different in other countries.

Assuming that the suspicion turns out to be false, do I have to fear charges from the falsely suspected parents myself?

Only if the teacher or the school disregard objective facts, it can happen that the wrongfully filed report of possible child abuse has detrimental consequences.

Do I have to cooperate if I am asked for help by the youth welfare office or the police when there is a suspicion of child abuse?

Yes, you would be a witness in such preliminary proceedings. Further obligations may arise from the respective country civil service regulations.

Does the school have to notify the parents of the child or adolescent concerned if it has decided to inform the police or the youth welfare office of its suspicions?

In principle, the parents must first be informed of the indications and, if necessary, asked to seek help from the youth welfare office. If the effective protection of the child or adolescent would be called into question by the parents’ involvement, the school is authorised to inform the youth welfare office directly. The youth welfare office then has the task of fulfilling the protection mandate in order to avert a risk to the child’s or young person’s well-being. The task of hearing witnesses or possible suspects is the police’s and the judiciary’s responsibility. In this case, informing the parents could jeopardise the investigation if they had to be included in the circle of possible suspects.

Case study: Victim-oriented perpetrator work

Mr F., 34 years old, has been supervised by the probation service for 4 months. The arrangement was made in the course of a court order. Mr. F. was sentenced to 4 months’ imprisonment and 3 years’ probation due to a dangerous threat against his partner Ms. W. After the incident, he was expelled from their shared flat and a prohibition to approach was imposed. In addition, the police informed the victim protection agency. Ms. W. did not subsequently apply for a restraining order.

The partner, who was two months pregnant at the time, testified truthfully at the main hearing, but did not want to end the relationship because of the threat he made while drunk in the argument. She also stated in court that he apologised to her and that he is now also the future father of her child.

For a fortnight now, the probation officer in charge has noticed that Mr. F. has been coming to the appointments increasingly tense. He recently reported that his partner, who is now six months pregnant, is currently on maternity leave and is at home a lot, but still does little in the household. He had also been looking for work for some time. He often quarreled with his mother, who no longer took care of him and only told him that he now had a wife of his own to take care of him.


a) What can the probation officer do to clarify the current risk?
b) What forms of domestic violence can be involved in this case?
c) What risk factors are present? What other factors could be involved?
d) Which institutions can the probation officer contact for victim-oriented offender work?
e) Consider possible scenarios of multi-professional cooperation and risk assessment and the possibility of implementing them in your work environment.

Case study: Domestic violence in persons with learning disabilities
Case study: Older male victims of domestic violence


  1. Hilfe-Portal Sexueller Missbrauch. 2024. Help in a crisis. ↩︎
  2. Hilfe-Portal Sexueller Missbrauch. 2024. Counselling. ↩︎
  3. Hilfe-Portal Sexueller Missbrauch. 2024. Therapy. ↩︎