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Advocates for survivors of domestic violence join forces

on October 27, 2015

Advocates for survivors of domestic violence and mental health practitioners convened in Oakland for the National Conference on Domestic Violence, Mental Health, and Trauma. Hosted by Oakland-based shelter A Safe Place and sponsored by the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community and the Ethnic Health Institute at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, the packed conference aimed to build bridges between caregivers.

“We want to build partnerships between domestic violence and mental health organizations, and take the opportunity to educate those in mental health about some of the challenges we face as domestic violence organizations,” said Carolyn Russell, executive director of A Safe Place, at the Friday gathering. “It’s really about making a connection.”

“We are often working with the same vulnerable people, and we do sometimes feel siloed,” said Frances Raeside, the clinical director of La Cheim Behavioral Health Services, during a panel on domestic violence and mental health. La Cheim’s clinic is a community mental health center based in Oakland, serving clients with an array of conditions including depression, psychosis and chemical dependency.

La Cheim and A Safe Place have established a partnership in an effort to break down the separation between domestic violence and mental health service providers in Oakland. Both organizations have dedicated resources to cross training staff members. For example, La Cheim therapists trains staffers at A Safe Place to work with clients with psychiatric disorders, while A Safe Place trains La Cheim therapists on safety planning for victims of domestic violence.

“It’s about combining the strengths of clinical perspectives and advocacy,” said Kathleen Cha, vice chair of A Safe Place’s board of directors, in her opening remarks. “One solution doesn’t solve it. Working together is how we are going to get there.”

“[Taking] into account knowledge about trauma into all aspects of service delivery,” is essential, according to the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services website. This method, known as a “trauma-informed care approach,” seeks to understand triggers of trauma survivors so that service providers can be more supportive and avoid re-traumatizing the individuals seeking their help, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“We have to focus on treating the whole person, because you can’t separate anything out,” said Karyn Tribble, deputy director of Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services during a conference panel. “We have to deal with the cause of the trauma or you miss the boat.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in her welcome note Carolyn Russell of A Safe Place called the conference “an opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives due to domestic violence.”

“Despite our best efforts,” Russell wrote, “the pervasive problem of domestic violence persists. This occasion is meant to improve awareness and convene providers, survivors and community. It takes a united effort to address this crime.”

For people living in a domestic violence situation and looking for resources in Oakland, there are a number of agencies that can help:

A Safe Place offers a 24-hour crisis line (510) 536-7233. It also provides an emergency shelter as well as counseling, support groups, household establishment assistance, court and social services advocacy, and community outreach and education. Website:

Alameda County Family Justice Center provides shelter and housing assistance, counseling for adults and children, criminal justice information and assistance, and connections to a number of agencies and programs. Telephone: (510) 267-8800. Website:

Shalom Bayit provides safety planning, phone and individual counseling, support groups, healing rituals, and court accompaniment for Jewish women who are victims of domestic violence. Telephone: (866) SHALOM-7. Website:

Safe Passages offers a continuum of services for vulnerable children and youth to help them succeed. Telephone: (510) 238-6368. Website:

Family Violence Law Center provides a 24-hour crisis hotline at (800) 947-8301, as well as an array of legal services, crisis intervention, safety planning, and a mobile response team that offers on-site response and emergency relocation assistance for survivors in immediate danger. Website:

The greater Bay Area has many more organizations working for survivors of domestic violence. For a comprehensive list, visit


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