Safety in numbers? Tackling domestic abuse in couples and network therapies


Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK. Tel: +44 121 414 2941; Fax: +44 121 414 5726; Mobile: +44 7884 007 222; E-mail:


Family, network or couples-based therapies have been helping to support people with substance problems for decades. Their value in supporting a person to change their alcohol or drug use is clear. However, as links between substance use and domestic abuse are increasingly recognised, these approaches need to reflect on the potential safety risks they present to people taking part. The prevalence of domestic abuse among people receiving drug and alcohol services is considerably higher than general population estimates, yet this does not appear to have been adequately addressed in network therapies. This article suggests that this needs to change and that safety of service users needs to be at least as important as the intervention itself. It offers for debate a number of potential safety issues raised by network therapies where there is evidence of domestic abuse; it provides examples of three approaches used to marshal social and network support in substance interventions; and offers a number of suggestions for how network therapies can ensure their use remains safe and supportive where there is domestic abuse.