Batterer Intervention- Program Approaches and Criminal Justice
The Causes of Domestic Violence:
From Theory to Intervention
The origins of domestic violence
are the subject of active debate among victim advocates, social workers,
researchers, and psychologists concerned with batterer intervention. More than
in most fields, the theoretical debate affects practice. Over the last two
decades, a number of practitioners representing divergent theoretical camps have
begun to move toward a more integrated "multidimensional" model of
batterer intervention in order to better address the complexity of a problem
that has psychological, interpersonal, social, cultural, and legal aspects. Two
practitioners who advocate an eclectic approach to batterer intervention
describe the dilemma of practitioners looking for a single explanation for
battering as follows:
During a recent conversation, a respected colleague of ours suggested that
marital aggression was rooted in a need for control. "Men," he said,
"use aggression to control their female partners." We agreed. Control
is certainly an important factor in the dynamics of marital violence. His
treatment approach, well known and effective, focused on helping abusers
relinquish control and share power with their spouses. Several weeks later, we
discussed the same topic with the director of a treatment program for wife
abusers, who stated that "poor impulse control" and "defective
self-concept" were the critical factors. We agreed. Abusers are certainly
impulsive and often have poor self-esteem. Her treatment program, which focused
on these factors was, she claimed, very successful. Sometime later, one of our
graduate students, well aware of these previous conversations, reported on a
workshop she had attended. The model presented at the workshop conceptualized
marital violence as a couples' problem and suggested that communication between
spouses was the critical factor. Conjoint couples' counseling was suggested as
an effective intervention for violent couples. Again, we could agree. The safest
conclusion would appear to be that there are numerous routes by which husbands
come to be wife abusers and a multitude of variables that increase the
likelihood of violence.
In practice, few batterer programs represent a "pure" expression of
one theory of domestic violence; the majority of programs contacted for this
report combine elements of different theoretical models. As a result, when
discussing program theory with batterer intervention providers, criminal justice
professionals need to understand not only the primary theory the program
espouses but also the program's content, because programs may identify with one
theory but draw on or two more theories in their work. Experts caution criminal
justice agencies against accepting an eclectic curriculum uncritically: program
components borrowed from different theoretical perspectives should be
thoughtfully chosen to create a coherent approach, not a scattershot attempt
hoping to hit some technique that works.
Criminal justice professionals are likely to encounter programs based on one or
more of the following theories of domestic violence. Each theory locates the
cause of the violence differently:
o Society and culture -- Social theories of domestic violence attribute the
problem to social structures and cultural norms and values that endorse or
tolerate the use of violence by men against women partners. For example, the
feminist model of intervention educates men concerning the impact of these
social and cultural norms and attempts to resocialize them emphasizing
nonviolence and equality in relationships.
o The family -- Some sociologists locate the cause of domestic violence in the
structure of the family, the interpersonal interactions of families, and the
social isolation of families. For example, family systems theory attributes the
cause to communication problems and conflict within intimate relationships and
teaches communication skills to help partners avoid violence. As noted below,
couples counseling, an intervention based on family systems theory, is
controversial because of its failure to assign blame for the abuse to one person
and to identify a victim. Couples counseling is also considered dangerous to the
victim because it encourages the victim to discuss openly issues that may spark
later retaliation by the batterer.
o The individual -- Psychological theories attribute domestic violence to the
individual batterer's predispositions and experiences. Battering may be
attributed to personality disorders and biological dispositions to violence or,
as social learning theory suggests, to the role of the batterer's social
environment during childhood. Attachment theory, a form of social learning
theory, focuses on the interaction of caregivers with their children and the
impact of that first attachment on an individual's ability to establish safe and
healthy relationships later in life. Batterer interventions based on this theory
attempt to facilitate secure attachments between batterers and loved ones
(intimate partners, children, and parents). Psychodynamic approaches target the
underlying psychological cause of the violence, while cognitive behavioral
approaches teach batterers new patterns of nonviolent thinking and behavior.
It is important for criminal justice professionals to understand the assumptions
and goals of service providers whose interventions have divergent theoretical
bases, because not all intervention approaches employ techniques that are
equally compatible with the goals of the criminal justice system -- protecting
the victim as well as rehabilitating the offender.
Overview of Theories and Related Interventions
Feminist (or profeminist; see box, "The Language of Batterer
Intervention"), family systems, and psychotherapeutic theories of domestic
violence offer divergent explanations of the root causes of battering and lead
to distinct intervention models. The following section outlines the basic tenets
of each theory, illustrates how these assumptions influence the choice of
intervention strategies, and notes the advantages and disadvantages of each
theoretical and treatment approach. As noted previously, however, examples of
programming based exclusively on one theory are becoming increasingly rare.
Feminist Approaches: The Social Problem Approach
Batterer intervention programs originated in the early 1970's, as feminists and
others brought to public attention the victimization of women and spawned grass
roots services such as rape hot lines and battered women's shelters.
According to Anne Ganley of Seattle's Veteran Administration Medical Center and
David Adams of EMERGE in Boston, providers of services to battered women felt
that victims who had received services either returned home to face the same
destructive environment or left the relationship -- and the batterer found a new
victim. To help victims, advocates realized, it was also necessary to address
the root cause of their problems -- the perpetrators of violence. Profeminist
men concerned with sexism in themselves and society felt a particular
responsibility for working with male abusers. As a result, some of the first
systematic interventions for batterers developed from a profeminist perspective.
What Is a Feminist Model of Battering?
Central to the feminist perspective on battering is a gender analysis of
power. According to this view, domestic violence in intimate relationships
mirrors the patriarchal organization of society in which men play a dominant
role in most social institutions. Along with verbal, emotional, and economic
abuse, violence is a means of maintaining male power in the family when men feel
their dominance is being threatened. Economic roles have left women dependent on
men and unable to escape abusive situations. Men's superior physical strength
may enable them to dominate women through violence.
Feminists argue that a consequence of the social arrangement in which men hold
the positions of respect and power is that men and women alike devalue the
feminine and over-value the masculine. To the batterer, women are childlike and
incompetent. It is not uncommon for batterers to convince their wives that they
are not capable of adult activities, such as driving a car or holding a job.
For example, a former victim reported that her husband had convinced her that
she could not turn on the washing machine without breaking it, so she had to
wait until he returned from work before she could do the laundry for their seven
children. Similarly, in disputed custody cases when a batterer and partner
separate, the husband often contends that his wife is incapable of taking care
of the children.
In the feminist view, batterers feel that they should be in charge of the
family: making decisions, laying down rules, disciplining disobedient wives and
children, and correcting unsatisfactory performance of duties. Batterers may
typically exercise control over the family in nonviolent, coercive ways and only
sometimes resort to violence. As men, batterers feel entitled to gender-based
respect and obedience; therefore, what they perceive to be disrespect and
disobedience infuriates them. Batterers often rationalize their violence on the
grounds that it was necessitated by their partner's actions: she provoked or
caused it, and they simply reacted as any man would.
Feminist programs attempt to raise consciousness about sex role conditioning and
how it constrains men's emotions and behavior (through education around sexism,
male privilege, male socialization). Programs with a feminist philosophy present
a model of egalitarian relationships along with the benefits of nonviolence and
of building relationships based on trust instead of fear (see exhibit 2-1,
"Equality Wheel"). Most feminist approaches support confronting men
over their power and control tactics in all domains of the relationship,
including verbal and psychological abuse, social isolation, the undermining of
the victim's self- confidence, and sexual coercion (see exhibit 1-1, "The
Power and Control Wheel"). A particular concern of profeminist male group
facilitators is the constant risk and temptation of colluding with batterers.
For example, a male facilitator at Family Services of Seattle reported that when
his female cofacilitator was absent at one session, the men in the group
expected him to drop his profeminist "guise" and participate in or
agree with their negative characterizations of women.
Advantages and Criticisms of the Feminist Model
Perhaps because work with batterers was originated by battered women's advocates
and feminists, the feminist perspective has influenced most programs. A national
survey conducted in 1986 found that 80 percent of programs attempt to change sex
role attitudes, stop violence, and increase self- esteem. Even programs
adopting a family systems model (see below) may advocate an egalitarian and
democratic relationship to couples in treatment. Support for the feminist
analysis of the role of power in domestic violence comes from the observation
that most batterers are able to control their anger and avoid resorting to
violence when "provoked" by someone more powerful than they, such as
their work supervisors, police officers, or judges. Further support for the
feminist analysis comes from research showing that batterers are less secure in
their masculinity than nonbatterers -- the theory being that men who do not
feel masculine will need to assert their masculinity more forcefully to
compensate for their sense of inadequacy. Other studies have documented the
sense of entitlement batterers feel in controlling their partners' behavior and
in justifying violence if these women deviate from the female sex role.
Critics have claimed that the feminist perspective overemphasizes sociocultural
factors, such as patriarchal values, to the exclusion of individual factors like
growing up abused. Men's behavior in intimate relationships varies across
individuals, and broad cultural factors cannot explain this variability.
Feminist theory predicts that all men in our society will be abusive, claim its
critics, adding that besides being untrue, this theory makes it impossible to
predict which men will be violent. To make individual predictions, a model must
assign a role to other factors including, but not limited to, psychological
Other criticisms center not on the validity of feminist explanations of
battering but on the translation of that theory into programming. For example,
some observers argue that feminist educational interventions are too
confrontational in tone and, as a result, are ultimately self- defeating,
alienating batterers, increasing their hostility, and making them less likely to
become engaged in treatment. It is possible that the goal of the feminist model
-- to rebuild the batterer's belief system in order to achieve nonviolence --
may be unnecessarily ambitious and adversarial. Batterers' existing value
systems may be more easily fine-tuned to emphasize nonviolence (e.g., building
on religious convictions or humanism) without a feminist overlay.
Another concern is that educational programs may effectively transmit
information without deterring violent behavior. A 1991 evaluation of three
short-term psychoeducational batterer programs in Baltimore found that while
batterers considered the curriculum helpful, they recidivated at a higher rate
than batterers who did not receive treatment. A study of graduates of
Duluth's Domestic Abuse Intervention Project found that completion of the
feminist educational intervention had no impact on recidivism after five
years. Outcomes such as these point to the need for broader evaluations that
examine the impact of systemic factors -- arrest and prosecution policies, court
procedures, and probation supervision -- on intervention effectiveness, as well
as a clarification of the goals of feminist-based interventions. If deterrence
is not a likely outcome of an intervention, other goals, such as punishment,
education, behavioral monitoring, or social change, must be explicitly advanced.
(A few practitioners are in fact shifting their primary focus away from
individual change in batterers in favor of social change through a coordinated
community response. See chapter 5, "Criminal Justice Response").
The Family Systems Model
The family systems model regards individual problem behaviors as a manifestation
of a dysfunctional family unit, with each family member contributing to the
problem. Rather than identifying one individual as the cause of the violence and
removing that person from the home or singling that person out for treatment,
the model advocates working with the family or couple together, providing
support with the goal of keeping the family intact.
According to the family systems (or "interactional") model, both
partners may contribute to the escalation of conflict, with each striving to
dominate the other. Family systems theorists believe that most abuse is verbal
and emotional, but as the conflict escalates, either partner may resort to
violence. Because, from this perspective, interactions produce violence, no one
is considered to be the perpetrator or victim, even if only one person is
physically violent. Family systems theory also suggests that interactions may
permit or facilitate abusive behaviors in one person, such as a nonabusive
parent's failure to intervene in child abuse or a family member's failure to
establish appropriate personal boundaries, thus setting the stage for their own
victimization. Family systems therapists criticize psychological approaches that
focus on individual deficits (low self-esteem, dependence, anger) while
neglecting to teach interpersonal skills that could promote safety. Family
systems theory leads to treatment that involves improving communication and
conflict resolution skills. Both members of the couple can develop these skills
through "solution-focused brief therapy" that:
o locates the problem in the interaction rather than in the pathology of one
o focuses on solving the problem, rather than looking for causes; and
o accentuates the positive -- for example, examining occasions when the couple
Advantages and Criticisms of the Family Systems Model
Advocates of the family systems approach note that many violent couples would
like to remain together and that there may be positive aspects to the
relationship that counseling can build on. However, while some observers report
that over half of domestic violence couples remain together, a study of
abused wives whose husbands did become nonviolent found that most of the women
subsequently terminated the marriage because of other marital problems that
became apparent after the violence ended.
Both feminist and cognitive-behavioral approaches agree that partner abuse does
not involve shared responsibility. Both approaches firmly hold that batterers
bear full responsibility for the violence, victims play no causal role, and no
one incites violence. Of particular concern to both feminist and
cognitive-behavioral proponents is the format of couples counseling: encouraging
each partner to discuss problems openly with the other partner can put the
victim at risk after the session if the woman expresses complaints. Furthermore,
no frank exchange between counselor and victim concerning the abuse is likely to
be possible in the presence of the batterer. Moreover, the format is conducive
to victim- blaming. Finally, if the court prohibits the batterer from contacting
the victim, the family systems approach will violate the court order. For these
reasons, couples counseling is expressly prohibited in 20 State standards and
guidelines (see box, "Controversial Approaches to Batterer
Intervention" and appendix A.3). Judges involved with partner abuse cases
that also involve child abuse need to pay particular attention to safety issues
raised by family systems interventions, which may be the treatment approach
recommended by child welfare workers who are working toward a goal of family
reunification. In such cases, issues of victim and child safety must be weighed
carefully, and if a family systems approach is chosen, close monitoring is
Psychological Approaches: A Focus on Individual Problems
Psychological perspectives hold that personality disorders or early experiences
of trauma predispose some individuals to violence. Being physically abusive
is seen as a symptom of an underlying emotional problem. Parental abuse,
rejection, and failure to meet a child's dependence needs can be the
psychological source of battering. People with these underlying problems may
choose partners with whom they can reenact the dysfunctional relationship they
had with their parents. Two forms of batterer intervention have evolved from
this perspective: individual and group psychodynamic therapy and
cognitive-behavioral group therapy.
Individual and Group Psychodynamic Counseling
Psychoanalysis can be undertaken not only in individual counseling but also in
unstructured batterer groups that allow members to explore their life
experiences. Psychodynamic therapies involve uncovering the batterer's
unconscious problem and resolving it consciously. Proponents of psychodynamic
therapy for batterers believe that other interventions are superficial: since
other therapies are unable to eliminate the abuser's deep-rooted and unconscious
motive for aggression, they cannot end violence but only suppress it
temporarily. Long-term change requires exposing and resolving the root cause of
the violent behavior.
Advantages and Criticisms of Psychodynamic Approaches
Browne and Saunders recently conducted a study comparing a "process
psychodynamic treatment model" with a feminist/cognitive-behavioral
intervention and found no difference in recidivism rates based on partners'
reports. Nevertheless, they argue:
[T]here were two advantages to the process- psychodynamic model. It retained a
significantly higher percentage of men in treatment and it was more successful
with men who had dependent personality disorders. Regardless of the treatment
approach used, more self-disclosure and less lecturing were related to greater
group cohesion, which in turn was related to lower recidivism rates.
Critics argue that psychodynamic therapy merely assigns a psychiatric label to
people who batter (e.g., insecure, narcissistic, dependent, compulsive, or
suffering from intermittent explosive disorder) without explaining how they got
that way or what can be done about it. The psychodynamic approach has also
been criticized for allowing batterers to continue the behavior until the
underlying psychological problem is resolved. David Adams, director of
EMERGE, gives the example of a batterer mandated to treatment who had already
learned in individual psychotherapy that he battered because he was insecure. At
the intake interview for the batterer program, the counselor asked the man
whether he was going to continue to choose to be violent until he resolved his
insecurity. The man said that he had never thought of battering as a choice, but
now he would reconsider the notion. Feminists argue that labeling batterers
as having psychological problems not only exonerates them in their own eyes but
also ignores the cultural acceptability of male dominance in the family and how
it serves to keep the batterer in control of his partner. The approach pays
attention to internal psychological functions of abuse for the batterer but
ignores the interpersonal function of controlling the other person's behavior.
In practice, many psychologically oriented programs have moved away from the
original stance that battering is caused primarily by psychological disorder and
always indicates an emotional problem. Instead, they have integrated social
explanations with psychological explanations. For example, some psychologically
oriented theorists propose that it is the combination of a man's low self-esteem
and a cultural expectation that men should be dominant and successful that
produces a batterer.
Cognitive-Behavioral Model of Change
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used in the treatment of violent offenders.
Whereas the psychoanalytic tradition focuses on psychological disorders based in
the unconscious and early childhood experiences, the cognitive-behavioral model
focuses on conscious material in the present: therapy is intended to help
individuals function better by modifying how they think and behave in current
situations. The theory behind cognitive-behavioral batterer interventions
maintains that behaviors are learned as a result of positive and negative
reinforcements (rewards and punishments) for engaging in particular behaviors
under particular circumstances (e.g., parental pride or praise for aggressive
behavior). Behavior is also influenced by how people mentally construct and
interpret their environment and experiences -- that is, the way they think about
themselves,other people, and their relationships. The cognitive-behavioral
theory postulates that men batter because:
o they are imitating examples of abuse they have witnessed during childhood or
in the media;
o abuse is rewarded;
o it enables the batterer to get what he wants; and
o abuse is reinforced through victim compliance and submission.
Cognitive-behavioral interventions focus on "cognitive restructuring"
and skill building. Counselors focus on identifying the chain of events that
lead each batterer to violence, starting with beliefs and "self-talk"
-- the way we talk to ourselves in our minds (see exhibit 2- 2, "A
Cognitive Model of Woman Abuse"). For example, a batterer whose partner is
ten minutes late may tell himself, "She's out with her boyfriend" or
"She can't be trusted." The programs attempt to restructure the
beliefs and "self-talk" that lead to violence; for example, "I
don't know why she's late, but I'm sure she's trying to get here." The
programs help batterers to analyze the thought patterns underlying violent
reactions (e.g., "Dinner isn't ready because my wife doesn't respect
me") and learn new ways of understanding situations that trigger violence
(e.g., "Dinner isn't ready because my wife had a busy day"). The
program teaches nonviolent alternative behaviors, such as conflict-resolution
tactics, relaxation techniques, and communication skills.
Advantages and Criticism of the Cognitive- Behavioral Models
One advantage of the cognitive-behavioral model is that its analysis of
battering and its intervention strategy are compatible with a criminal justice
response to domestic violence. The approach holds the batterer fully responsible
for his violence and fully responsible for learning and adopting nonviolent
alternatives. Without trying to solve larger issues of social inequality on the
one hand, or delving into deep- seated psychological issues on the other, the
cognitive-behavioral approach simply focuses on the violent acts themselves and
attempts to change them. The model also offers a straightforward intervention
that can be implemented in a limited period of time.
The feminist perspective criticizes the cognitive- behavioral approach for
failing to explain why many men with thought patterns or skills deficits that
allegedly explain their domestic violence are not violent in other
relationships, how culture or subcultures influence patterns of violence, and
why some men continue to abuse women even when the behavior is not rewarded.
These criticisms are usually moot because most cognitive-behavioral programs
integrate the feminist analysis of domestic violence, both in the cognitive
component (for example, by examining thoughts that encourage wife-beating, such
as "She should obey me. I'm the man of the household.") and the social
learning aspects (for example, by discussing how sexism in the media and in
society provides models of social support for abusing and degrading women). (See
exhibit 2-3, "Example of an Integrated Feminist/Cognitive-Behavioral
Compatibility of the Models With Criminal Justice Goals
The feminist educational approach to batterer intervention is theoretically more
compatible with a criminal justice perspective than either the family systems or
psychotherapeutic approaches in several respects.
o The feminist educational view of domestic violence is that the behavior is
criminal, not just the result of faulty couple interactions or mental illness.
o The feminist educational view is that consequences are appropriate. By
contrast, the psychotherapeutic explanation results in a treatment approach that
is designed to modify the inner emotional life of the batterer through insight
and possibly medication. Changing the inner person and prescribing medication to
alter behavior may be considered by some to be beyond the scope of a criminal
o The primary goal of feminist educational programs is to hold batterers
responsible for their violence. While most psychological programs also make this
claim, feminists believe that the psychotherapeutic view of batterers as victims
of childhood trauma or other mistreatment undercuts a program's ability to hold
batterers responsible. The family systems approach -- unlike the criminal
justice system -- holds the victim as well as the batterer accountable.
o The explicit goal of feminist educational approaches is to end the abusive
behavior rather than to heal the batterer (the psychotherapeutic goal) or to
improve relationships (the family systems goal).
A case can be made, however, that psychological interventions can also meet the
needs of the criminal justice system. The aim of the criminal justice system in
sending men to batterer programs is to reduce recidivism; for this to happen,
the intervention has to be effective. While advocates of the feminist
educational model criticize the psychotherapeutic model for failing to hold
batterers responsible for their behavior, advocates of the psychotherapeutic
approach respond that educational interventions are not successful in deterring
or rehabilitating batterers because they are too short and superficial and do
not address the needs of batterers with severe mental illness, who may comprise
up to 25 percent of all batterers. Indeed, the "confrontational"
and didactic process of the feminist model -- as well as the feminist rhetoric
in which it is framed -- may alienate the batterer and increase his hostility
and resistance. For example, an assistant group facilitator for the Compassion
Workshop in Silver Spring, Maryland, reported that, when he was in treatment,
feminist interventions had only increased his anger and denial, while
subsequent, nonconfrontational, compassion-based treatment had helped him become
nonviolent. His wife, a cofacilitator of the group whose role was to give the
perspective of the victim, agreed that the feminist education model had
exacerbated her husband's abuse but that after psychologically oriented
counseling, he was now violence free.
While the narrow treatment goals of the strictly educational feminist programs
are compatible with the criminal justice view -- simply stopping the abusive
behavior as expeditiously as possible and holding the batterer responsible --
the feminist theory of domestic violence also has broad social goals that may be
seen as going beyond the purview of the criminal justice system. Because
feminist theory locates the cause of domestic violence in social structures and
the organization of society, social change may be seen as the ultimate goal of
the curriculums. In a sense, though, even this broad goal is consistent with a
criminal justice agenda in that it suggests that broad-based community education
and a coordinated community response are necessary for preventing domestic
violence. In contrast, it is difficult to identify a broad prevention strategy
that follows from either the individualistic psychotherapeutic theory of
domestic violence or the family systems model.
Finally, some practitioners and criminal justice professionals are beginning to
regard any form of batterer intervention as a proxy for intensive probation.
While the curriculum may not deter reoffenses over time, at least during program
participation batterers are being monitored closely, and their victims are
receiving at least minimal attention and referrals. This heightened vigilance
with regard to the batterer's behavior and the victim's welfare is compatible
with criminal justice goals.
As will be seen in the following chapters, however, theoretical compatibility
with the criminal justice system is not the only important factor in selecting a
batterer intervention. On a practical level, interventions must be able to
retain batterers in treatment and address any obstacles to program
Conclusion: Multidimensional Models Dominate the Field
Many practitioners accept that there are compelling features in more than one
theoretical model. In practice, regardless of their primary perspective, most
programs have adopted some tenets of the feminist model. For example, they view
sexual inequality and masculine role expectations of dominance as core issues to
address -- along with cognitive-behavioral techniques for modifying behavior --
and they teach batterers to use "time-outs" (a behavioral technique
for controlling emotional outbursts). Longer-term programs may progress through
the feminist and cognitive models in stages, and some even progress to a
psychotherapeutic group process model for aftercare. These programs have a brief
initial phase using a feminist educational model to tackle denial of
responsibility, a longer second phase teaching cognitive-behavioral techniques
for skill-building, and a third phase delving into individual psychological
issues in an unstructured format for those men identified as having
psychological problems contributing to battering. (See chapter 3, "Pioneers
in Batterer Intervention: Program Models," for a detailed description of
various program models.) Other programs blend treatment modalities and
approaches by combining individual, group, and couples treatment sequentially
over an extended period of two to three years.
Programs may also use different models or materials to accommodate the special
needs of specific types of batterers, most commonly substance abusers, African
Americans, Asians, Latinos, recent immigrants, female offenders, gay and lesbian
batterers, or batterers with poor literacy skills. (See chapter 4, "Current
Trends in Batterer Intervention," for a discussion of culturally specific
Some practitioners may resist incorporating consideration of individual
psychology and cultural differences in interventions because they are concerned
that the individual approach will eclipse consideration of the sociological
factors emphasized by the prevailing feminist model. However, the critical issue
from a criminal justice perspective is simply "what works"; if
mixed-model interventions that incorporate psychotherapeutic elements or
cultural competence are shown to be more effective in retaining and engaging
batterers in treatment, questions of theory are likely to become secondary.
Discussions such as these are rapidly being translated into experiments in
practice. Chapter 4, "Current Trends in Batterer Intervention,"
discusses a range of innovations in batterer treatment that attempt to link
individual characteristics of batterers to specific interventions or
combinations of interventions in order to increase program retention and
1. Rosenbaum, A. and R.D. Maiuro, "Eclectic Approaches in Working With Men
Who Batter," in Treating Men Who Batter: Theory, Practice, and Programs,
ed. P.L. Caesar and K.L. Hamberger, New York: Springer, 1989: 65-195.
2. Mary Russell, for example, justifies her use of the expression "wife
assault" on the grounds that "domestic violence" and "family
violence" ignore the "male to female direction" of most violence
between partners. See Russell, M., "Wife Assault Theory, Research, and
Treatment: A Literature Review," Journal of Family Violence, 3 (3) (1988):
3. Schechter, S., Women and Male Violence: The Visions and Struggles of the
Battered Women's Movement, Boston: South End Press, 1982.
4. Pence, E. and M. Paymar, Education Groups for Men Who Batter: The Duluth
Model, New York: Springer, 1993.
5. In support of the point that women may remain with men who abuse them because
of economic dependence, Ida Johnson found in a study of 426 battered women
leaving a Central Florida battered women's shelter that a woman was more likely
to return home if the batterer had a high income and the woman was unemployed;
if she had an independent income and his income was insufficient to support a
family, the woman was unlikely to return home. Johnson, I. M., "Economic,
Situational, and Psychological Correlates of the Decision-making Process of
Battered Women," Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human
Services, (March 1992): 168-176.
6. There is disagreement over whether batterers actually believe that women are
incompetent or whether promoting that notion merely serves their needs to
control their wives in order to restrict their activities. Rusbult and Martz, in
a study of women leaving a domestic violence shelter in Lexington, Kentucky,
found that the strongest predictor of whether women would return to the batterer
was whether they had a driver's license and access to a car. Rusbult, C.E. and
J. M. Martz, "Remaining in an Abusive Relationship: An Investment Model
Analysis of Nonvoluntary Dependence," Personality and Social Psychology
Bulletin, 21 (1995): 558-571.
7. O'Sullivan, C. and B. Birns, Contested Custody Cases When Violent Marriages
End, Paper presented at the First National Conference on Children Exposed to
Family Violence, Austin, Texas, June 1996.
8. Browne, K., D.G. Saunders, and K.M. Staecker, "Process-Psychodynamic
Groups for Men Who Batter: Description of a Brief Treatment Model,"
University of Michigan, January 26, 1996.
9. Gondolf, E. W. and J. Hanneken, "The Gender Warrior: Reformed Batterers
on Abuse, Treatment, and Change," Journal of Family Violence, 2 (2) (1987):
10. Gondolf and Hanneken, "The Gender Warrior." The measure is Bem's
Sex Role Inventory.
11. Browne, Saunders, and Staecker, "Process- Psychodynamic Groups for Men
12. Dutton, D., "Patriarchy and Wife Assault: The Ecological Fallacy,"
Violence and Victims, 9 (2) (1994): 167-182.
13. Harrell, A., "Evaluation of Court Ordered Treatment for Domestic
Violence Offenders," Final Report, Washington, DC: The Urban Institute,
14. A 1990 evaluation of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP)
found that program participation had no impact on recidivism. She, M.,
"Predicting Batterer Recidivism Five Years After Community
Intervention," Report, Duluth, Minnesota, 1990.
15. Giles-Sims, J., Wife-battering: A Systems Theory Approach, New York:
16. While it is true that many victims who seek services want to maintain the
relationship while eliminating the abuse, and that most programs report that 30
to 40 percent of the men in treatment are separated, no long-term data show what
percent of relationships in which there has been battery last. See Sirles, E.A.,
S. Lipchik, and K. Kowalski, "A Consumer's Perspective on Domestic Violence
Interventions," Journal of Family Violence, 8 (3) (1993): 267.
17. Bowker, L., Ending the Violence: A Guidebook Based on the Experience of
1,000 Battered Wives, Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications, 1986.
18. Russell, "Wife Assault Theory."
19. Specific disorders that have been found in batterers are post-traumatic
stress disorder (probably due to childhood trauma), depression, low self-esteem,
and personality disorders. Personality disorders usually mentioned by therapists
who work with batterers are antisocial personality disorder, narcissism, and
borderline personality disorder. In addition, passive- aggression, paranoia,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, and intermittent explosive disorder have been
said to foster aggression. A psychotherapeutic reference describes the
personality disorders as follows: People with antisocial personality disorder
are irresponsible, irritable, and aggressive; they are not sadistic but are
reckless and have no remorse; they are unable to maintain friendships or
romantic relationships. Narcissists are hypersensitive but lack empathy; they
have difficulty with relationships because they expect others to meet their
special needs. Borderline personalities are characterized by instability of
identity, self- image, and relationships; they want to be alone but fear
abandonment; they are often moody and depressed and, in severe cases,
self-destructive and suicidal. Reid, W.H. and M.G. Weise, The DSM- III-R
Training Guide, New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1989. See also Dutton, D., "Trauma
Symptoms and PTSD-like Profiles in Perpetrators of Intimate Abuse," Journal
of Traumatic Stress, 8 (2)(1995): 299-316; and Maiuro, R., T.S. Cahn, P.P.
Vitaliano, B.C. Wagner, and J.B. Zegree, "Anger, Hostility, and Depression
in Domestically Violent Versus Generally Assaultive and Nonviolent Control
Subjects," Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56 (1) (1988):
20. Browne, Saunders, and Straecker, "Process- Psychodynamic Groups for Men
21. See Dutton, "Patriarchy and Wife Assault."
22. Adams, D., "Treatment Models for Men Who Batter: A Profeminist
Analysis," in Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse, ed. K. Yllo and M.
Bograd, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1988: 176-199.
23. Adams, "Treatment Models for Men Who Batter," 176-177.
24. Hamberger, K.L. and J. E. Hastings, "Recidivism Following Spouse Abuse
Abatement Counseling: Treatment Program Implications," Violence and
Victims, 5 (3) (1990): 160.
25. Information provided by Roland Mauiro.
26. Hamberger, K.L. and J. E. Hastings, "Court- Mandated Treatment of Men
Who Assault Their Partner: Issues, Controversies, and Outcomes," in Legal
Responses to Wife Assault, ed. Z. Hilton, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications,
1993: 188- 229.
27. Tolman, R. M. and D. G. Saunders, "The Case for the Cautious Use of
Anger Control With Men Who Batter," Response, 11 (2) (1988): 15-20.
28. Tolman and Saunders articulate this concern, while accepting anger
management as part of a cognitive-behavioral intervention: "The use of
anger control techniques with batterers is problematic when battering is framed
exclusively as an anger problem, when the issues of dominance and control of
women by men are ignored in treatment, and when practitioners fail to address
societal reinforcements for battering." Tolman and Saunders, "The Case
for the Cautious Use of Anger Control With Men Who Batter," 19. See also
Ptacek, J., "The Clinical Literature on Men Who Batter, A Review and
Critiques," in Family Abuse and Its Consequences: New Directions in
Research, ed. B.T. Hotaling, D. Finkelhor, J.T. Kirkpatrick, and M.A. Straus,
Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1986: 149-162.
29. Dutton, D., The Domestic Assault of Women: Psychological and Criminal
Justice Perspectives (revised), Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1995.
30. Two studies showing a recurrence of violence among program participants who
said they used anger management to reduce their violence are: Gondolf, E.,
"Men Who Batter: How They Stop Their Abuse," Paper presented at the
Second National Conference for Family Violence Researchers, Durham, NC, 1984;
and Kelso, D. and L. Personette, Domestic Violence and Treatment Services for
Victims and Abusers, Anchorage: Altam, 1985.
31. Daniel O'Leary's studies comparing single-sex group and couples-group
interventions were unable to retain couples when the batterer had a history of
severe violence. Rosenbaum, A. and K. D. O'Leary, "The Treatment of Marital
Violence," in Clinical Handbook of Marital Therapy, ed. N.S. Jacobsen and
A.S. Gurman, New York: Guilford, 1986. Gondolf studied 12 men who had been
through a men's group program and were deemed to be fully reformed (versus 38
who were not). Several of these highly motivated men had sought professional
help before coming to the batterer program but they had found no improvement
after individual or couples therapy. According to their self-reports, the
batterer group they subsequently attended gave them what they needed to stop
battering. Gondolf and Hanneken, "The Gender Warrior."
32. Edelson, J. L. and M. Syers, "Relative Effectiveness of Group
Treatments for Men Who Batter," Social Work Research and Abstracts, (June
33. According to social learning theory, a retaliatory attack should decrease
future abuse. However, two national surveys found that when women resist
violently, the batterer's violence usually increases in severity. This result is
consistent with the feminist view that the intent of physical abuse is to punish
resistance and disobedience. Bowker, L., Ending the Violence: A Guidebook Based
on the Experience of 1,000 Battered Wives, Holmes Beach, FL: Learning
Publications, 1986; Feld, S. L. and M.A. Straus, "Escalation and Desistance
From Wife Assault in Marriage," in Physical Violence in American Families,
ed. M.A. Straus, and R.J. Gelles, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1990: 489-505.
34. Edelson and Syers, "Relative Effectiveness of Group Treatments for Men
Who Batter." This article reports an experiment in which all comers to a
program were assigned to a brief or intense intervention and to one of three
models: the Duluth "educational" model, a self-help group, and a
combined group process-educational model. The results showed no difference
between the brief and intense programs, except for the few men of color who were
less likely to recidivate if they completed the long program; the structured
feminist educational model was found to be most effective.
35. Gondolf, E., "Multi-Site Evaluation of Batterer Intervention Systems: A
Summary of Preliminary Findings," Working Paper, Mid-Atlantic Addiction
Training Institute, October 24, 1996.
o Most interventions employ a mixture of theories in their curriculums, the most
common of which is a psychoeducational model that encourages profeminist
attitude change while building interpersonal skills using cognitive-behavioral
o Three categories of theories of domestic violence dominate the field. Each
locates the cause of domestic violence differently, and each theory leads
practitioners to employ different approaches to batterer intervention:
-- Society and Culture. Social and cultural theories attribute the problem to
social structure and cultural norms and values that endorse or tolerate the use
of violence by men against women partners. The feminist model of intervention
educates men concerning the impact of these social and cultural norms and
attempts to resocialize them emphasizing nonviolence and equality in
-- The Family. Family-based theories of domestic violence focus on the structure
of the family, interpersonal interactions within the family, and the social
isolation of families. The family systems model of intervention focuses on
developing healthy communication skills with a goal of family preservation and
may use couples therapy, a treatment approach prohibited by 20 State standards
and -- guidelines regulating batterer intervention (to protect the safety of the
-- The Individual. Psychological theories attribute domestic violence to
personality disorders, the batterer's social environment during childhood,
biological disposition, or attachment disorders. Psychotherapeutic interventions
target individual problems and/or build cognitive skills to help the batterer
control violent behaviors.
o Both feminist educational and cognitive- behavioral interventions can be
compatible with the goals of the criminal justice system -- protecting the
victim as well as rehabilitating the offender. However, feminist educational
programs offer some advantages. By contrast, family systems interventions
conflict with criminal justice goals by failing to identify a victim and a
perpetrator, an identification the law requires.
The Language of Batterer Intervention
The shift in providers of help to batterers and their partners from
psychotherapists to feminist social activists to professional mental health
providers has created tensions in the field that are exhibited in the language
of batterer interventions. Criminal justice professionals need to be aware of
the connotations of various terms so that they can communicate effectively with
For example, the term "domestic violence" itself has a gender-neutral
connotation. A number of feminists, seeing a link with other violence against
women and noting the severity of injuries inflicted on women by male partners,
prefer such terms as "wife abuse" and "woman abuse."2
Programs based on feminist theories of battering are often described as
"profeminist," indicating male support for feminist goals. Mental
health professionals may talk about "counselors" or
"therapists" providing "treatment" to "clients,"
while profeminist "facilitators" or "teachers" provide an
"intervention" to "batterers" using a didactic format
described as "classes." Feminist- based programs object especially to
the word "treatment" and may not consider rehabilitation the program's
primary goal, as Red Crowley of Atlanta's Men Stopping Violence program
Let's start with the word treatment. We do not see our work as therapy.
Battering is the natural outgrowth of patriarchal values. We want to change
those values. Batterers' intervention classes serve a number of purposes: they,
like shelters, make visible what has been systematically concealed, that is, the
horrendous problem of violence against women; create an opportunity to engage
the community and the criminal justice system in the effort to stop the
violence; and contribute to research. Giving men who want to change the
opportunity to do so is just one purpose of the intervention.
The three most widely used intervention approaches -- "educational" or
"psychoeducational classes," "couples therapy," and
"group process" -- are each associated with a theory of the cause of
domestic violence. Thus, "educational programs" are most often based
on feminist theory; "couples therapy" may suggest a link with family
systems theory; and "group process" programs base their work on either
psychodynamic or cognitive behavioral theories. Some practitioners -- especially
those with eclectic programming -- may use terms interchangeably; others harbor
strong objections to mislabeling their approach and consider some terms to have
great symbolic meaning. Criminal justice professionals need to be sensitive to
the language used by intervention providers and to ask practitioners to explain
the importance of unfamiliar terminology.
A small number of practitioners base batterer interventions on psychological
theories of attachment, affect, and individuation. These interventions consider
battering to be "attachment abuse" -- that is, abusive behaviors
toward intimates arising from the individual's insecure attachment to his or her
caregivers as a child. Attachment theory describes two broad categories of
attachment relationships: secure attachments that result from the caregiver's
responsiveness to the child's emotional and physical needs, and a range of
insecure attachment patterns that may develop if a child's emotional and
physical needs are not met by caregivers. Insecure attachments in childhood may
lead, in adult relationships, to emotional distress, anxiety, anger, depression,
and emotional detachment when the specter of loss or separation arises in an
intimate relationship. These feelings may lead to attachment abuse.
Batterer interventions based on theories of attachment, such as the Compassion
Workshop (see chapter 4), seek to enhance the batterers' ability to regulate
their own emotions and to stimulate a sense of "compassion" for both
themselves and their intimates (partners, children, and elders) using cognitive
behavior techniques that are designed to interrupt the batterers' violent
emotional response to guilt, shame, and fear of abandonment.
Controversial Approaches to Batterer Intervention
The following approaches, although commonly used, are controversial. Criminal
justice professionals referring batterers to programs that feature these
techniques must be careful to learn how these approaches are being integrated
into the programs and be wary of programs using these methods as their primary
While some researchers have suggested that a small percentage of battering may
be attributable to a psychological disorder involving uncontrollable rage,
the "anger management" model attributes battering to out-of-control
(rather than uncontrollable) anger. Anger management programs offer a short-term
intervention that teaches batterers to recognize the physiological signs of
anger and to then implement relaxation techniques to defuse the anger. The
intervention may also teach stress management and communication skills. Many
batterer treatment providers disavow the single-focus "anger
management" treatment, instead incorporating anger management as one
component of their intervention, sometimes under another name.
Critics have raised several concerns about the anger management approach -- even
as a component of more comprehensive treatment:
o Anger management programs address a single cause of battering, ignoring other,
perhaps -- more profound, causes.
o According to the feminist model, although they may claim to feel out of
control, batterers -- are not out of control: battering is a decision, a choice.
The social learning model adds that -- batterers choose to use or threaten
violence because of its effectiveness in controlling their -- partners. The
violence persists because it is rewarded.
o Anger management programs teach batterers nonviolent ways to control their
partners. If -- the underlying issue of batterer control of the victim is not
addressed, critics maintain, men-- will misuse the techniques used to
"control" anger -- stress management and communication skills -- to
continue to control the victim. For example, a batterer could refuse his --
childcare responsibilities on the grounds that it is stressful.
o According to "misattribution of arousal" theory, men learn to label
all strong emotional states -- as anger when they are, in fact, experiencing
feelings of betrayal or hurt.
o Interventions therefore need to focus on identifying the underlying emotion
men are feeling -- in situations in which they batter rather than on means of
controlling the mislabeled anger.
o Two studies of anger management interventions that were parts of comprehensive
batterer treatment programs found that men who completed the programs but whose
violence continued reported that they had used anger management techniques to
attempt to control their violence, whereas men who were successful in avoiding
violence after the program said they ended their abuse through empathy, a
redefinition of manhood, and cooperative decisionmaking.
Finally, some practitioners are concerned that any short-term, single-focus
approach can be dangerous because it gives victims, judges, and batterers the
illusion that the problem has been solved. Some practitioners feel that the
availability of brief, inexpensive anger management programs even undermines the
credibility of the more difficult, lengthy, and expensive treatments other
programs provide. One-time "Saturday Afternoon Special"- style anger
management programs arouse particular concern among practitioners who feel that
such short-term programs trivialize the severity of the problem in the eyes of
the batterer and are unlikely to have any deterrent effect.
Individual and Couples Counseling
Many practitioners disapprove of -- and at least 20 State standards and
guidelines expressly prohibit -- couples counseling for batterers. In addition,
a number of program directors disapprove of individual counseling as the sole
intervention for battering. Group work is considered important in helping
abusers to overcome their denial by hearing other men acknowledge and deal with
their behavior, and to break the isolation that is considered part of the
syndrome of abuse.
Although systematic research comparing couples and group interventions has not
been conducted, anecdotal evidence and the beliefs of providers (many of
whom serve on committees to draft or approve State standards or guidelines) have
limited the utilization of couples therapy for domestic violence. The
practitioners' disapproval is based on a belief that victims of abuse are
intimidated and cannot fully participate in therapy in the presence of their
abusers. If victims do reveal the batterer's violence or disclose other
problems, they face the threat of reprisal. Restrictions on couples therapy and
individual psychotherapy for battering are a point of contention between
feminist-oriented batterer intervention providers and mental health providers in
Self-Help Groups: Batterers Anonymous
Self-help batterer groups are modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous and Parents
Anonymous. Member-run support groups are facilitated by former batterers who
have been nonviolent for at least a year. Although there are some ground
rules and facilitators may introduce specific topics, the approach is
unstructured, with members setting the agenda, usually addressing their personal
Self-help or support groups are an accepted model of follow-up for batterers who
have completed a program and want continued support to prevent relapse, to
continue the change process, or to have a place to address ongoing problems.
Self- help groups are controversial as an initial intervention, however, because
it is questionable whether former batterers -- especially those who have been
nonviolent for only a year -- are qualified to conduct groups, unless they have
been extensively involved with a program, have been trained, and are supervised.
In addition, facilitators tend to use an aggressive, even belligerent, style of
confrontation that more traditional programs view as inappropriate modeling of
antagonistic behavior that borders on abuse. By contrast, other professionals
are concerned that support groups run by former batterers may be insufficiently
confrontational about members' excuses for violence and too supportive of
batterers' hostility toward women.
Batterer Intervention- Program Approaches and Criminal Justice