Allison Bressler ’00 MA is more than a relationship expert. She is a passionate advocate for healthy intimate relationships, where all involved are empowered and safe. She has worked with victims of abuse since 1999 and is qualified as an expert witness in domestic violence cases. Her article on domestic violence in affluent communities was published by Scientific American Mind magazine, and she has been interviewed on ABC’s World News Tonight and ABC News Radio as an expert in the field.
In 2007, Bressler co-founded A Partnership for Change to fill the gap in the availability of domestic violence education, awareness and prevention programs in New Jersey.
But as a new graduate of SUNY Buffalo with a bachelor’s degree in public communications, Bressler fully expected to launch a career in advertising. “It turned out that I didn’t like agency work at all,” she recalls.
Instead, Bressler returned to her summer employer, a dating service, to work full-time. It wasn’t long before she founded her own dating service, which she owned for about five years. Later, Bressler joined a national dating service as regional manager.
“I grew more and more interested in the relationship piece of the business and began thinking about how my career might develop,” she says. “After eight years in the dating industry, I enrolled in Montclair’s master’s program in Counseling and Human Development.”
“I was on track to become a marriage counselor,” she continues. “When it was time to look for an internship, I thought I would explore domestic violence services as a way to inform what I was learning in my marriage counseling courses. Of course, the first lesson I got was never to try to do marriage counseling in a domestic violence situation.”
“When violence is part of a relationship, your goal isn’t to mend the fence,” Bressler explains. “You never focus on trying to make the relationship better because the likelihood of an abuser changing his or her behavior is so low. The goal, instead, is to help victims become empowered and to keep them safe until they are strong enough to leave their abuser.”
The experience was transformational for Bressler. “I knew that I had found my calling, and that I would spend the rest of my career working to break the cycle of domestic violence,” she says.
Bressler’s first role in her new field was as director of Non-Residential Services for Hope’s Door (formerly The Northern Westchester Shelter), where she expanded the agency’s counseling and community education programs, appeared on local radio and television programs, and directed Westchester County’s premier annual teen dating abuse symposium. She moved to The Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation as the director of Programs where she played a pivotal role in developing and implementing the organization’s strongest initiatives. By 2006 Bressler was the director of the Non-Residential Counseling program at the YWCA of Union County where she also supervised the Union County Domestic Violence Response Teams.
As she gained experience and perspective, Bressler began to see a gap in the field’s response to domestic violence. “The agencies I worked for and interacted with provide emergency shelter, transitional housing, support groups, and similar services,” she says. “I felt that more could be done to prepare the broader community to respond more effectively.”
“A Partnership for Change was created to provide training for first responders – EMTs, police, teachers, prosecutors, victim advocates, and others in the community – to help them better understand the issues when dealing with domestic violence,” she says.
The organization’s approach is rooted in what she learned at Montclair. “My graduate education prepared me to respond empathetically and taught me how to attend to someone who is being victimized,” she says.
“I loved the Counseling and Human Development program,” Bressler continues. “One of the assignments involved researching social services agencies. I learned so much about the agencies providing services in New Jersey, and about what goes into building a coordinated community response.”
A Partnership for Change has grown exponentially. “We are now a staff of nine, and demand for our training programs is high,” she says.
Co-founding and co-leading a growing nonprofit organization make for a demanding schedule, but Bressler likes to keep an eye on what is happening at Montclair.
“I have always appreciated that Montclair is diverse in its offerings, and that it provides so many opportunities to expand your horizons and to try different things,” she says.
When asked what’s next for her own career, Bressler turns again toward educating the community. “I hope someday to write a book,” she says. “I have worked with more than 1,000 survivors. It would be great to share what I have learned, the insights that I have gained, in doing this work.”