As part of a recent seminar that I was giving I asked some other family law practitioners for their comments on pastoral care, and some helpful examples of pastoral care provided to their clients.  I could summarise their advice with two statements, encourage your friend to seek professional help, and let your friend know that you are going to support them while they go through this process.

I thought I might share those comments here for anyone who is trying to help someone who is leaving an abusive relationship.  Many of these comments would apply to someone in another difficult situation, for instance a victim of a crime, someone who is having insolvency issues, or someone who has been in a serious car accident.


What is pastoral care?

According to the University of Canberra:

"pastoral care is an ancient model of emotional and spiritual support that can be found in all cultures and traditions. It has been described in our modern context as individual and corporate patience in which trained pastoral carers support people in their pain, loss and anxiety, and their triumphs, joys and victories. ...

... pastoral carers are trained to relate gently and skilfully with the inner world of individuals from all walks of life, and the elements that go to make up that person's sense of self, their inner resources, resilience and capacity to cope.

They are not counsellors or therapists. They are personal relators ... "


According to the Pastoral Care Council of ACT:

"A pastoral or spiritual carer offers a friendship that is intentionally seeking to "walk with you along your path". Its focus is on emotional support and spiritual care.
In difficult and demanding times such as a critical illness or other traumas in life, we may experience high stress, reducing our ability to cope. At these times the help of others may be very valuable. Family members and friends are often a very important support, but sometimes the presence of a person who is more emotionally detached from the situation can be very helpful."

Pastoral care can be done even if you are not yourself religious, or if the victim is not religious.  You can provide emotional support, 'walk with' the person and support them through the difficult time.


Provide your friend with emotional support

Your friend has taken a big step telling you what is going on.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics says that amongst male victims, 55% have never told anyone about the abuse, and 70% have told someone but did not 'seek advice or support'.  Amongst female victims, 25% have never told anyone, and 38% have never sought advice or support.  What is interesting is that, for both men and women, about 13-15% of victims have told someone but this has not translated into any form of advice or support.

The bar they set for support and advice is pretty low, it is defined as:

‘Advice or support’ means listening to the respondent, being understanding, making suggestions, giving information, referring respondent to appropriate services, or offering further help of any kind. It includes contacting or visiting any source of help from a friend to a professional organisation, so long as the respondent perceived that they were seeking advice or support.'


When you look at that definition, listening and being understanding is a pretty low bar.  The fact that 13-15% of victims feel they told someone, but no one provided them with a listening ear or understanding is pretty awful.  You can do this, you can listen to your friend, be understanding, and give information about appropriate services.  You can assure them that you will continue to do this through their journey.  


Encourage your friend to seek professional help

Of course your friend needs the assistance of a good lawyer, but actually there is so much more help available.  

One professional who was asked about this pointed out that there are a surprising and varied number of services around, (group yoga, massage) but those services change frequently.  A good professional should be able to direct you to further services. 


Encourage your friend to seek help from:

  • Their pastor (if they are religious)
  • Their GP
  • A psychiatrist
  • A lawyer
  • The police (if the abuse if physical or sexual)
  • Government support services

There are some links at the bottom of this article with information about how to respond when they disclose, and how to direct them to services.

It is very important that the person providing the pastoral care remembers that, as important as their roll is, this roll is separate from and should not bleed into the roll of other helpers.  For instance:

  • A pastoral supporter is not a lawyer, do not give legal advice and if the person starts talking about the legal situation, send them to a lawyer
  • A pastoral supporter is not a psychiatrist, do not attempt to unpack the damage done or their analyse their feelings, be their friend, hear them and listen
  • A pastoral supporter is not a Police Officer, do not attempt to intervene, do not attempt to personally physically stop the abuser from visiting with or speaking to the victim
  • A pastoral supporter is not a Judge, you do not know the truth of the situation and you never will, do not attempt to fact find, again just listen
  • (For those providing religious pastoral support) - A pastoral supporter is not God, do not get caught up with who is to blame or what this means for the marriage long term. Only God knows whether the abuser will repent.
  • A pastoral supporter is not the victim, it is not your story to tell.  You think you are talking about the abuser, the victim is probably deeply ashamed and you are actually gossiping about them.
  • A pastoral supporter is not the victim, so don’t get stuck in their situation.  Seek your own help, talk to someone, get spiritual or pastoral support, do most of the things you are advising your friend to do.


What now?

So you understand that you should listen, be supportive, and encourage them to seek help.  What next?  Below are some other articles on being an effective helper, please read through some of them.  Please particularly read the article on 'leaving safely' and making a safety plan, even if you think your friend's abuse is 'only' verbal.




Want more information about domestic violence?

After many years of working in family law in 2015 Janis has cut back to working one day a week and is assisting the other lawyers at Coode & Corry, and working in special projects like talking with high schools and local community groups about domestic violence, including raising awareness of the issue and talking to groups about how to be more effective in helping the victims.  

If you would like to have Janis come and speak to your community group about domestic violence (free of charge) then please contact her on