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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