Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Abusive Partners

Programmatic Components

Program content varies from one abusive partner intervention program to another. However, those working in the field have acknowledged the need to address the topics of trauma, substance abuse, cultural diversity, and more.

Screening and referrals for substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and mental disorders 

Screening should be a part of the program as it is important to identify the range of needs of the participants. Screening for substance abuse, alcohol abuse, or mental disorders is necessary to ensure that the participant is referred to and is receiving appropriate services. By identifying these co-occurring issues, programs can help participants understand how these issues affect their daily lives and actions. However, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and mental health disorders are not the cause of and should never be used as an excuse for the participant’s abusive behavior.

Trauma-informed

Current research suggests that a program that has incorporated trauma-informed practices may have a better chance of helping participants recognize and acknowledge their abusive behavior. In the past, trauma-informed care was deemed controversial, as many thought taking such a position would lead to collusion with the abusive partner, undermine a victim’s experience, and provide participants with an excuse for their abusive behavior. However, we now recognize that trauma-informed care does have a place in abusive partner intervention. Programs that utilize trauma-informed practices skillfully address past experiences and trauma while also making participants understand that this is not the cause of or reason for their behavior; each individual is responsible for the choices they make in their lives (including their abusive behavior). Trauma is not an excuse and not to blame for their behavior, but it may be a part of the participant’s history and should be acknowledged.

Anger management 

Anger management curricula should never be a central component of an abusive partner intervention program. Anger management teaches participants about potential reasons or triggers that cause angry behavior. This is not what participants of an abusive partner intervention program should be taught as it assumes domestic violence is about anger, and that if abusers control their anger, the abuse will stop. Programs with an anger management focus do not address power and control, which are key elements of domestic violence, and do not focus on victim safety.

Couples counseling

Couples counseling should be approached with great care, as it may pose a danger to victims. There should be no couples counseling until after the abusive partner intervention program has been completed and the abusive partner has accepted responsibility for their behavior. Any such counseling should be facilitated by a therapist who has a thorough understanding of domestic violence and is aware of the domestic violence history in the relationship. The victim should also be made aware of the potential risks before beginning couples counseling. 

Cultural competence and language services 

Cultural competence should be a part of a program to address the specific cultural ideals and customs that may be used by the participants to excuse their treatment of their intimate partner. A program that is able to speak fluently about, or is open to learning about, specific cultures is not only able to address cultural ideals, but also engage a participant who may feel they cannot identify with, or refuse to identify with the curricula because it does not address their culture. It is important that participants understand that it is never acceptable to justify abuse based on religious or cultural ideals.

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