This paper explores ideas of symbolic violence inherent in the research encounter (Bourdieu 1996). After defining symbolic violence and how the concept enters into domestic violence and abuse (DVA) research, we discuss the challenges arising from a (DVA) survivor taking on the role of interviewer in a qualitative study nested within a UK primary care based trial: IRIS (Identification and Referral to Improve Safety). KS, a survivor of DVA, conducted interviews with 12 women who had been referred to a domestic violence agency by primary care clinicians taking part in the IRIS trial in two UK cities (Bristol and east London) during 2009. Fieldnotes were kept during all of the research meetings with KS and these were included in analysis. Our analysis maps the research pathway of ‘non-violent communication’ and discusses the role of social symmetry and proximity in the research encounter. We conclude that while a welcoming disposition, empathy and active listening are all generic skills to qualitative research; if a researcher can enter fieldwork with a claim of social proximity and symmetry, their use of these generic skills is enhanced through a process of shared objectification and empowerment talk. We explore the limitations of social proximity, its relationship to feminist and anthropological theories of ‘insider’ research and its relevance to primary care research.