Anger Management Treatment (AMT) is designed for those who frequently experience momentary outbursts of anger to intense rage. The programs are not regulated or certified. They teach participants to pin point their triggers and develop ways to control their anger or express it in an appropriate manner (i.e. deep breaths, time-outs, delaying a discussion until one has calmed down).
Clinical experience and preliminary evaluations by Edward W. Gondolf and David Russell show that anger control does not help end spousal abuse and that the tools taught are likely to be misused by batterers. “[Intimate partner] abuse is not anger-driven but more of a socially impose “need” to control women.”1
AMT does not address the issue of power and control that is at the root of abuse. While it can reduce the outburst, it does not address the perpetrator's faulty beliefs regarding male dominance and entitlement. He may use the “tools” he learned in treatment to abuse. He sees his partner’s behavior as the trigger that provokes his temper—laying the blame squarely on the victim. The assumption is that she needs to change her behavior.2 Time-outs can give the perpetrator time to go to the local bar—fueling his rage, delaying a discussion can mean days of stony silent treatments toward the victim. The abuse continues in a different but equally destructive manner.
Spousal abuse is about maintaining power and control over the other. Anger is only one of the many behaviors perpetrators use to intimidate and terrify their partners into submission. Controlling partners feel entitled to use any means to assert their power. If they believe their authority position is endangered, they take any action they deem necessary to reclaim the upper hand. They are never “out of control” but are continually calculating how to stay in power.
While anger is addressed, batterers’ treatment (BT) is designed to identify the beliefs that support controlling partners’ choices and change them. Perpetrators are held accountable for their past violent behavior and expected to learn new skills to stop. Treatment teaches perpetrators that violent acts and words are a choice—their choice. They alone are responsible for their coercive and controlling behavior and it is their responsibility to stop it.
Lasting change can be achieved through specialized treatment programs that help controllers see their partners as people with feelings, needs and rights. An additional goal of BT is to create a safer environment for the victims and families.
BT programs are usually state certified. Support for victims is a crucial part of treatment. Intake from spouses and frequent “check-ins,” to determine any change in their level of fear, is key to their safety. Keeping the spouses in the loop is also an opportunity to verify that new behaviors are in practice at home as well as to update spouses on what they should expect in the future.
The program provides victims with important data regarding their partners efforts to end their entitlement beliefs through therapy. This allows victims to make the important decision; should I stay or leave? The safest time for a victims to leave is while their partners are in treatment. Though victims often struggle with leaving when the abusers are finally getting help. BT professionals never shame or try to dissuade victims from leaving.
“The effects of living with long term abuse interfere with being able to trust yourself.”3 Stopping the abuse or leaving is not the end of the story. Victims also need treatment to heal from violence. After years of being blamed, they need to understand that they are not responsible for their partners’ choices. Rebuilding self-esteem is necessary, as well as self-trust. Seeing a therapist who is trained in working with victims of abuse helps survivors move through the healing process and on to a better, peaceful and stable life.
(For more information on batterers' treatment and how to find and work with a therapist go to Hazelden's online bookstore at http://www.hazelden.org/OA_HTML/ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?item=15124&sitex=10020:22372:US, scroll down and click on the link "Interviews with Domestic Abuse Experts" for a free download. The first interview is with Darald Hanusa Ph.D. L.C.S.W. The second interview is with Jennifer Parker, M.S.S.W., L.C.S.W.)
- Edward W. Gondolf, EdD, MPH and David Russell. Anger Management vs Perpetrator Intervention Programs: www.scribd.com/document/323169484/Anger-Management-vs-Perpetrator-Intervention-Programs#
- I am using “she” as the victim and “he” as the controlling partner for ease of writing. Abusers can be male or female.
- Jennifer Parker, M.S.S.W., L.C.S.W.