Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 8. Intervention Programs

Section 3 — Do couples counseling or anger management treatment programs prevent reabuse?

There has been little recent research on the application of couples counseling involving batterers and their victims [201], as most batterer treatment standards prohibit couples counseling. [7] While an early study in 1985 found it ineffective, with half of the couples reporting new violence within six weeks of couples counseling [148], other studies found lower reabuse rates. [47] A small study suggests that couples counseling after separate counseling for batterers and victims may be safe and beneficial for couples who want to remain together. [129]

Although anger management is often part of batterer intervention programs based on cognitive psychology, most state batterer treatment standards prohibit generic anger management programs or couples counseling as alternative forms of treatment on their own. [7]

In one of the largest studies to date, the Office of the Commissioner of Probation in Massachusetts studied a sample of 945 defendants arraigned for violating a protective order. As part of their subsequent disposition, they were ordered into a certified batterer intervention program, anger management program, and/or a mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment program; 13 percent were sent to multiple programs. The study found that those referred to 12- to 20-week anger management programs had a higher completion rate than those referred to the much longer 40-week batterer intervention programs. Higher completion rates notwithstanding, there was no difference in rearrest rates for those who completed anger management programs and those who failed to complete one. Furthermore, those who completed anger management programs recidivated at higher rates than those who completed batterer intervention programs, even though those referred to batterer intervention programs had significantly more criminal history, including more past order violations, more long-standing substance abuse histories, and less education than those referred to anger management programs. [18]

An earlier study of a program in Pittsburgh found that abusers who relied on anger management control techniques were more likely to reabuse their partners than those who relied on increased empathy, a redefinition of their manhood, and more cooperative decisionmaking as a means to ending their abuse. [80]

Implications for Prosecutors and Judges

There is no evidence that couples counseling or anger management programs effectively prevent court-referred batterers from reabusing or committing new offenses after treatment. (Research basis: The limited research conducted thus far has been, at best, inconclusive regarding the effectiveness of these programs. One large state study found that court-referred batterers are less apt to commit new offenses [including both domestic and nondomestic violence offenses] if they completed batterer programs rather than anger management programs. The difference, however, may be because the batterer programs were twice as long as the anger control programs.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009