Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy (TILA) Project

The Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy (TILA) Project offers guidance on applying trauma-informed principles to working with survivors of domestic violence in the context of legal proceedings. Building on the accessibility, culturally relevant, domestic violence- and trauma-informed (ACDVTI) framework developed by NCDVTMH, the TILA Project offers strategies that make these principles relevant to the work of legal advocates as well as lawyers who represent survivors.

The TILA Project uses a scenario-based approach. Within each strategy, we practice applying an ACDVTI perspective, considering what might be happening from the perspective of the person we are working with, and what practical strategies might help.

We are grateful to those survivors, legal advocates, and lawyers who have provided us with their valuable insights, and asked questions that formed the basis of these scenarios. If you have comments, suggestions, or questions, or to request training or consultation, please contact Rachel White-Domain, JD, via email by clicking this link.

If you are involved in a legal case, please note that we cannot provide legal representation or legal advice. For information about the law or to find a lawyer in your area, please visit You can also click here for links to our resources for people who are experiencing abuse.



Webinar: A Trauma-Informed Approach: What Domestic Violence Court Professionals Need to Know

Moderator: Katie Crank, Center for Court Innovation

Faculty: Rachel White-Domain, JD, National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health

The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health was honored to present on a webinar hosted by the Center for Court Innovation. This webinar is now available online. For more information, or to watch the webinar, click here.


Module 1: Strategies for Connecting with Survivors Involved with Legal Proceedings

The legal system creates specific challenges for doing trauma-informed work. Module 1 addresses how we can take a trauma-informed approach, as well to maintain the role of an ally, as we provide support and legal representation to survivors of domestic violence involved in legal proceedings.

Scenario: Legal Interviews & Traumatic Triggers (PDF)

Scenario: Trauma, Memory & Trust-Building (PDF)

Scenario: Frustration & Anger: Reflective Practice Strategies (PDF)

Worksheet: Reflective Practice (Word)

Module 2: Preparing for Court: Emotional Safety Planning & Planning for Sobriety

Legal proceedings are often stressful for participants, whether or not they are survivors of trauma. Many survivors of domestic violence find the proceedings challenging in ways specific to the trauma they have experienced—ways that others may not be able to anticipate. At the same time, abusers may use legal proceedings as an opportunity to try and intimidate their partners. To assist legal advocates, lawyers, and survivors in preparing for court proceedings, the TILA Project has developed two scenarios, as well as a webinar, tipsheet, and worksheet on this topic.

Scenario: Emotional Safety Planning for Court (PDF)

Scenario: Planning for Court—Sobriety (PDF)

Webinar: Preparing for Court Proceedings with Survivors of Domestic Violence: Tips for Civil Lawyers and Legal Advocates (opens another page on the NCDVTMH website)

Tipsheet: Preparing for Court Proceedings with Survivors of Domestic Violence: Tips for Civil Lawyers and Legal Advocates (PDF)

Worksheet: Preparing for Court Proceedings: An Info & Work Sheet for Survivors, Legal Advocates & Lawyers (Word document)

Module 3: Advanced Skills for Legal Advocacy with Survivors Experiencing Mental Health Conditions

Scenario: “Staying on Track” (PDF)

This module was launched in April 2015 and is currently in development. Future topics to be addressed include recognizing and responding to emotional crises that arise in the context of legal advocacy, and working with survivors who are hearing voices that others do not hear or who have other experiences sometimes described as “symptoms of psychosis.” 

Module 4: Supporting Survivors Involved Contested Custody Cases: Trauma-Informed Strategies for Building on Parenting Strengths When Mental Health is a Factor

As legal advocates and lawyers, we may work with survivors whose abusers use their mental health history to discredit them as parents in custody cases. Working with survivors to build on their parenting strengths can reduce the chances that tactics that rely on mental health stigma will be successful. This document offers three practice scenarios in which a legal advocate or lawyer can use trauma-informed strategies to build on a survivor’s parenting strengths while a custody case is pending.

In each scenario, we will examine (1) which factors the court might consider important to deciding custody, (2) how knowledge of trauma, mental health, and domestic violence can help us understand what might be happening from the survivor’s perspective, and (3) how to use trauma-informed strategies to help survivors build on their strengths in areas that are relevant to the court’s decision.

Scenario Series: Supporting Survivors in Contested Custody Cases: Trauma-Informed Strategies for Building on Parenting Strengths When Mental Health is a Factor (PDF)

Additional Resources for Attorneys:

For lawyers who are representing survivors in custody cases, the following tools address mental health as a substantive issue in a case.

Denice Wolf Markham, JD, Mental Illness and Domestic Violence: Implications for Family Law Litigation, Journal of Poverty Law and Policy (2003).

Representing Domestic Violence Survivors Who Are Experiencing Trauma and Other Mental Health Challenges: A Handbook for Attorneys (written by Mary Malefyt Seighman, JD, Erika Sussman, JD, and Olga Trujillo, JD, on behalf of NCDVTMH).

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