Domestic Violence: Does Treatment Work?

In the past, Domestic Violence was looked upon as a “family issue” and hence nobody’s business but the people directly involved. The implementation of laws protecting victims of Domestic Violence has resulted in an increase in the number of arrests, orders of protection and mandated treatment.

However, there are serious questions about the effectiveness of the help that is provided to perpetrators in particular. This blog post will focus on their treatment options. In a future post, I will discuss the help that is available for victims.

Unfortunately, it is rare that an individual will be “self-referred” to counseling, meaning that he/she realizes there are serious problems including violence in the relationship and wants to get help. More typically, the perpetrator or both parties will be arrested, following a call to 911. If charges are pressed, the former will be taken to jail and either held or released and given a court date. The judge involved in the case, depending upon the severity and/or frequency of the violence and whether or not children are present in the home, may sentence the perpetrator to jail time and/or “mandated” treatment.

Mandated treatment means you have to successfully complete the program or you go back to jail.

Needless to say, mandated clients are typically resentful, angry and even confused about why they are there in the first place. Typical excuses for their behavior include: “she/he started it”, “I didn’t really cause any terrible damage”; “the kids were in the other room” “she/he provoked me” and “this never happened before.”

Mandated clients are sentenced to group sessions, lasting as short as 12 weeks and as long as 52. In those groups they are held accountable for their behavior and taught new ways to manage their feelings (techniques taken from the field of Anger Management). They are taught how to replace faulty thought patterns with healthier ones, deal with childhood experiences of abuse and abandonment and how shame can lead to violent behavior. The approach is primarily cognitive behavioral (meaning it focuses on changing dysfunctional thought patterns and replacing them with healthier ones).

The focus of this type of treatment is on deficits – something is wrong, lacking, needing to be fixed.

Does this work?

Recidivism rates, including drop-outs, repeat offenders, repeat arrests and so on, are grim. Numerous studies report that anywhere from 30 – 50% of court-mandated offenders are rearrested. Studies also show that it is rare than an offender will change his/her behaviors, attitudes and beliefs.

Two questions emerge from these results.

1. Why are we still doing the “same ol’ same ol” when it is so ineffective?

2. What are some more effective options?

Tomorrow I will discuss what appears to be a more effective approach, based on some of the literature I’ve read.

With regard to question number 1, my guess is that the nature of mandated treatment of any sort, especially when it isn’t working, is that it is mired in politics and lethargy. It takes time, money and effort to do things differently and there are no guarantees. There are many people involved in perpetuating the system, including law enforcement, the court system and providers. Change implies uncertainty. Change implies adapting to new ways of thinking and doing. Change implies undoing the status quo.

Ironically, there are a lot of people who would feel very threatened.

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