Training family doctors to better support domestic violence survivors

Women who are experiencing domestic violence feel better supported, more confident and less depressed when they are counselled by trained family doctors, according to new research.

The study by University of Melbourne researchers showed that undergoing a short training program can equip family doctors to respond appropriately to patients experiencing domestic violence.

Researchers analysed data from a randomised controlled trial of 272 female domestic violence survivors aged 16 to 50 years attending 52 Australian primary care clinics.

Doctors in the intervention group participated in a training program designed to help them deliver a brief counselling intervention to women fearful of a partner, while those in the comparison group received standard intimate partner violence information.

The study found that at six months, women whose doctors received specialist training to counsel women experiencing domestic violence felt more supported and less depressed than comparison patients.

At 12 months, their confidence was higher than comparison patients, promoting researchers to call for specialist domestic violence training for family doctors.

University of Melbourne researcher Jodie Valpied from the Department of General Practice said the role of family doctors in supporting survivors of domestic violence is often overlooked.

“There is currently no systematic training provided to doctors in this important area,” Dr Valpied said.

“Family doctors are often the first or only point of contact for women experiencing domestic violence. However, there has been limited research to help guide family doctors regarding the care they should offer women experiencing domestic violence.”

University of Melbourne and Royal Women’s Hospital Joint Chair in Family Violence Prevention Kelsey Hegarty said the study demonstrated the benefits of training family doctors to respond appropriately to patients experiencing domestic violence.

“Over time, feeling more supported, more confident and having greater hope could help those experiencing domestic violence feel more empowered to take further steps toward safety,” Professor Hegarty said.

Results from this and related studies have now been used to develop a Sustainable Primary Care Family Violence Model, which is currently being rolled out in a Primary Health Network in Victoria.

This research is published in the in the journal Family Practice by Oxford University Press.

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