Behavior in Group Therapy and Recidivism Among Violent Men

Individuals who commit intimate partner violence often face criminal charges. Many men who have been charged with violent acts against their partners will be referred to court-mandated group therapy. The goal of this type of therapy is to help men become motivated to change their behavior. Unfortunately, recidivism rates are high, even for men who participate in group counseling. Therefore, it is essential to isolate conditions that contribute to and predict positive change in partner-violent men. Joshua N. Semiatin of the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland recently led a study that examined willingness to change, homework adherence, and working alliance among 82 men undergoing group counseling for partner violence.

Semiatin used videotapes to evaluate the type of language the men used and the degree of change language within the group. He also assessed how the group members described their counseling experience. The female victims of the participants submitted their accounts of relationship violence prior to the therapy, at therapy completion, and six months post-treatment. Semiatin discovered that one of the strongest predictors of positive change was the evidence of pro-therapeutic language and behavior. Specifically, the men who were in favor of the therapy and the change it afforded had the lowest rates of recidivism after treatment. Additionally, the men who reported the most willingness to change their violent behaviors and who took responsibility for their acts were the most supportive of the therapy and least likely to offend again. Homework completion was not predictive of outcome.

The findings of this study underscore the importance of clinician motivation and how strong group alliance can impact pro-therapeutic behavior throughout the process. Semiatin understands that his sample was not diverse, as it included only suburban white and African-American, court-mandated men. He also realizes that men with post-traumatic stress may have comprised some of the sample and could have distorted the results because PTSD has been shown to increase a person’s willingness to change. Although these areas should be examined further, Semiatin believes his findings provide important insight into the mechanisms that predict change for partner-violent men. “Specifically, pro-therapeutic behaviors observed late in treatment predicted lower rates of physical and psychological aggression during the six months following treatment, controlling for pretreatment assault rates,” Semiatin said.

Semiatin, J. N., Murphy, C. M., Elliott, J. D. (2012). Observed behavior during group treatment for partner-violent men: Acceptance of responsibility and promotion of change. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029846

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  • Chuck

    September 18th, 2012 at 6:32 PM

    I joined a family violence program voluntarily after seeing my emotional abuse of my wife grow progressively worse over the course of our seven year marriage. It was not the first venue for personal growth I sought and attended over the years, but it has been by far my least successful. I carried on for three years in the follow-up group and yet I see myself still having difficulty adopting a non-violent, cooperative approach in all of my relationships.

  • Chuck

    September 18th, 2012 at 7:27 PM

    I wish I fit your statistical model, but after three years of family violence project plus several years prior in 12 step groups, I still find myself reacting just as angrily.

  • trav

    September 19th, 2012 at 4:02 AM

    Many times I think that you will find while someone will do fine in agroup setting such as modeled here or in a progran that is court mandated, once those things are over, if some real change has not been made then they will revert to the same old behavior that they exhinited before. I think that many of these programs do a great job addressing the issues that are on the surface but rarely are they able to penetrate to the deepest levels of hurt and anger and unfortunately if these are not addressed too then eventually they will rise back to the surface. I realize that many of these programs are facing hardships like time and budgetary constraints but that has to be addressed too otherwise we will continue to see recidivism and repeat offenses as something that will continue to plague them.

  • gary

    September 19th, 2012 at 5:24 AM

    partner violence is just horrible.but it is nice to see that therapy mandated to violent men has shown to be effective at what it is prescribed for.and to have the signs of improvement show in therapy is a great thing because predicting how much of a positive effect the therapy is going to have on a particular individual is priceless.that could eventually lead to understand which of the individuals need follow up and maybe even more sessions of therapy.

  • darla

    September 19th, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    As a victim of spousal abuse, maybe I am not the best person to make this judgement, but I don’t think that men who ever carry out this kind of behavior can ever truly change how they are.

    I think that for so many of these men, and my ex is included in this group, this is the kind of behavior that is so embedded in them, that while they might can control it for a while, it is never going to be something that they can totally do away with. And I do hate that because there are some men who unfortunately are probably pretty good guys until their temper gets stoked and then they just lose it.

    You can put them thru any program that you want, but if the tendency to act out in this way is there, then I think that this is something that you are going to see in them time and time again, and nothing can ever make that habit comletely disappear.

  • Hannah

    September 19th, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    ^^Thats right.Once a wolf always a wolf.And while they may force themselves to remain calm and not indulge in such violent acts,it cannot last for long.And moreover that desire should not come from a forced program but rather from within them,and I’m very uncertain about how many people get it from within them.

    So it looks like a balancing act but alas, something is better than nothing I guess.So such programs should continue no doubt and punishments should be stern.

  • brittany d

    September 19th, 2012 at 11:42 PM

    if the results of the study are anything to go by then it is indeed encouraging to see that the true results match the perceived results as seen in group therapy sessions.and they should really get behind those that are not doing great in the therapy sessions.

  • Austin

    September 20th, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    A big part of success when it comes to changing your behavior is to take the therapy sessions seriously and to do what the group leader is asking you to do both while you are a part of the group as well as at home.
    Sometimes we think that just talking the talk and doing the work while in group will cause us to change. but like anything else, this is going to take a lot of time and effort on your part to make this real change that will allow you to face reality and behave in a way that is not threatening and allows you to feel better about yourself and life as a whole.

  • Conrad S

    September 20th, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    If therapy behavior is a true reflection of change that is just great.Because then those that show signs of improvement can cheer on and encourage the others and also speak of what to do and what not to do to help those who have not shown improvement yet!

  • Blake L

    September 21st, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Sadly for so many guys that I know this just becomes a way of life and they honestly don’t know how to break free of it. I am not citing this as an excuse, but I think that for a lot of them this was how they were raised, and they have a hard time moving forward and realizing that hitting a woman doesn’t make them strong, it just makes them look weak to the rest of us. That’s why I’m not sure that anything short of a lifetime of therapy will help, because in the group setting they are going to say what they think everyone wants to hear, but then it’s back to reality and they forget the things that they are supposed to do. The bad thing is that most of the women are going to stay with them because they are too scared to leave, too afraid of what will happen to them if they dare to speak up or walk away.

  • Carey

    September 22nd, 2012 at 6:31 AM

    Has it been found that group therapy is more effective for men like this, because to me it seems like one on one therapy or even couples therapy would be more practical and beneficial to them. I just know how I am when I am in a group. Depending on who I am with I amy or may not feel like I am able to be myself or feel like I can share everything with them so these men may feel the same way. they could hold back something critical for the therapist that they could have beena little more willing to divulge had they not been with a group of relative strangers. Of course then you start to run into accessibility and affordability, and that becomes an issue, but if they are forced to do it then we would have to find a way to make this a more readily available option for them.

  • carter

    September 24th, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    I don’t know whay it concerns me that some of the study group had PTSD but it does. I am even surprised to learn that those in therapy who also exhibit the most desire to change are those who have PTSD. I am curious about this, because I guess I have always thought that people with PTSD might be more unwilling to go to therapy and go through a therapeutic process either because they don’t think that anything is wrong or that this is something that they think that they can handle for themselves.

  • The Bridge

    November 17th, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    I agree – group therapy is a great way to find support and realize that you aren’t alone in your pain. It’s important to seek out group therapy sessions. Here at The Bridge, we do group therapy as well and it’s proven to be quite successful.

  • Jennifer

    November 20th, 2016 at 12:21 PM

    As a victim of abuse, I believe that the abuser has to actually want to change. In order for this to happen they must learn empathy. Walk in the other person’s shoes and say “how would I want to be treated? Do I want to be yelled at, called names, accused of things, threatened, beaten, etc. Do I want someone to control me, make me do things that I don’t want to? Everything we do is a choice. I think that it needs to start with accountability and consequences then move to education and treatment and then after all that is completed maybe some couples therapy, but only if the abuser has made significant progress in treatment first.

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