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Therapy can end cycle of violence

Domestic violence or abuse is a term used to refer to any physically aggressive act that is perpetrated within the context of a relationship between two members of a couple. U.S. Department of Justice statistics indicate that the vast majority (m...

Domestic violence or abuse is a term used to refer to any physically aggressive act that is perpetrated within the context of a relationship between two members of a couple. U.S. Department of Justice statistics indicate that the vast majority (more than 95 percent) of the victims identified found in domestic violence arrests are women.

These criminal acts involve a range of behaviors including punching, beating, choking, restraining, burning, stabbing or other life-threatening offenses. Weapons are often used with assaults often involving homicidal threats, sex offenses, and sometimes even murder. Domestic violence will often be associated as well with patterns of psychological abuse in the form of recurrent ridicule, humiliation, destruction of property, and threats to loved ones and pets.

Family violence

on the rise?

It has been hard to determine whether domestic violence has been on the rise in recent decades, but the attention of social activists, legal authorities and behavioral scientists has increased in recent years. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one out of six families experience domestic violence annually with perhaps 6 percent of families experiencing recurrent couple aggression (more than 2 million adults). Special concern has been raised regarding the potential adverse effects of domestic violence on innocent children who witness these confusing and disturbing family events. Compounding the concern, child physical abuse has been estimated to occur in about 40 percent of families where mothers seek protective shelter from their husbands.


Relationship violence is often, but not always, perpetrated by younger, less educated men who grew up in dysfunction families and presently have high job dissatisfaction. Abusers often grow up in homes where they were physically abused and/or were exposed to domestic violence and parental alcoholism. They often rationalize and justify their use of physical force as a legitimate method to control others. They tend to blame others for personal shortcomings with high awareness of who possesses and exerts power and control in relationship, family and work settings. Aggressive patterns of relating to others are often associated with low self-esteem, substance abuse, jealousy, poor communication skills, high life stress, and a disintegrating social support network.

Cycle of violenceDespite these negative attributes, many domestic violence perpetrators feel shame and guilt for their past actions. They often resolve to end the cycle of violence that they recognize and trace to their own upbringing. While repentance and self-examination are essential elements of recovery, mental health professionals express concern that these moments of reflection and contrition often invite victims back into harms way. Over time, a pattern of violence, contrition and reconciliation can serve to normalize what comes to be viewed as periodic crises in the relationship. Experts encourage perpetrators and victims to instead rely on professional counselors to assure an effective disruption of the cycle. Counselors can assure client exposure to anger management skills that serve to dampen rage reactions before they develop. More importantly, therapy for the victim can assist in the monitoring of these efforts to protect victims and family members from future victimization. Thus, intervention should be done formally with attention give to both the perpetrator and victims.


strategiesDomestic abusers often face the consequences of their actions only after legal and community intervention which often includes child protection evaluations. Within this window of opportunity, a subset of abusers become receptive to therapy that could potentially turn their lives around. Psychotherapy interventions can occur via individual, group or preferably a combination of these two modalities. Individual psychotherapy often begins by tracing the developmental events and role models who cultivated violent tendencies. Cognitive-behavior therapists shift their focus to the role of environmental and situational factors that trigger and maintain the maladaptive and violent ways that the individual attempts unsuccessfully to control his or her world. Cognitive-behavior therapy or CBT avoids attributing the aggressive tendencies to irreversible personality traits and other motivations. CBT focuses instead on practical and immediate steps that can be taken to avoid high-risk situations that lead to aggression and to teach skills that serve to dampen anger once aroused. This often requires challenging the perpetrator to focus on the sequences of events that occurs when they grow angry. This approach also challenges the perpetrator to communicate more effectively and constructively with others (as an adult rather than a child) when trying to cope with life frustrations. The perpetrator often sees his or her emotions as automatic and reflexive. CBT teaches the individual to slow down and analyze how step-by-step overreactions to minor events leads to less rather than more control over the situation. A common trigger for anger is a perception by the individual that his relationship partner is intentionally trying to frustrate or humiliate him. This sort of assumption is referred to as personalization and it often leads to defensive reaction that are high in physical arousal. In this context of miscommunication and physical arousal, minor conflicts can escalate into irreversible events. Individual CBT can be supplemented as well by other interventions focused on related problems such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse that serve to diminish the self-control of the client.

Legal implicationsIncidents of domestic violence are sometimes so severe that legal authorities mandate an even more compelling intervention in the form of group therapy. Domestic violence group therapy is often conducted by county agencies under the mandate of the court. Domestic violence group treatment can be particularly challenging to the perpetrator since the therapy is based largely on the premise that change can only occur when the perpetrator accepts responsibility for his or her actions and recognizes his or her use of violence to intimidate, control and overpower others. Group therapy challenges the client to instead share control and power in relationships even though this balance may often require personal sacrifice for the sake of loved ones. Group therapy also challenges the individual to complete a thorough and honest appraisal of their history of violent misdeeds and the damage they have inflicted on others. Experienced professionals recognize the difficulties of achieving changes in client perception and behavior through individual therapy alone. Group therapy provides an opportunity for confrontation by peers who recognize dishonest and can be uniquely persuasive and effective in challenging clients to accept responsibility and owning up to the harm that his or her actions have caused. The combination of individual and group therapy can often arrest these maladaptive and damaging patterns of relating to others. Professional assistance is usually a phone call away, and early interventions can often more effectively prevent the avoidable damage and aftermath that occurs with every violent act.

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