Married only three years, Kenny and Shawna’s relationship was tumultuous. The latest problem? Kenny thought his wife was having an affair. Trying to catch Shawna in the act, he sent a text message to her, pretending to be a mutual male friend.

She responded in a way he didn’t like, which hurt and scared him, and when she got home, Kenny was ready to fight. After breaking her phone, he started throwing things, and eventually punched her.

Kenny’s not alone. In the US, nine women every minute are victims of intimate partner violence. Males perpetrate 95% of all serious domestic violence, with 1 in 4 men using violence against his partner in his lifetime.

The problem is a serious one, but the compelling question remains: How exactly do you treat a person who commits intimate partner violence?

Anger Management Doesn’t Work

The treatment of choice used to be anger management classes, which may be an appropriate treatment choice for someone with chronic road rage, but not for someone who commits violence against an intimate partner or family member.

The logic behind such treatment was that if men could just learn to recognize when they were getting angry (counting to ten, using a punching bag, etc), then they could control their behavior.

After twenty years of anger management classes, the research is clear. Anger management classes don’t work. Why not? “The issue regarding domestic violence is power and control. The offender is likely to beat or abuse the victim whether or not he or she is angry,” explains George Anderson, founder of Anderson & Anderson, the world’s largest provider of anger management counseling.

Individual Counseling Inadequate

Individualized counseling is often recommended for batterers, either alone, or in addition to another program. However, many people in the domestic violence field are strongly opposed to couples counseling as treatment.

The Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault explains that, in many cases, couples’ counseling increases violence in the home. “Couple’s counseling does not work because couple’s counseling places the responsibility for change on both partners. Domestic violence is the sole responsibility of the abuser. Plus, a victim who is being abused in a relationship is in a dangerous position in couple’s counseling. If she tells the counselor about the abuse, she is likely to suffer more abuse when she gets home. If she does not tell, nothing can be accomplished.”

Batterer’s Intervention Programs

The only form of treatment that research currently supports are Batterer Intervention Programs, or BIPS. BIPS attempt to address all levels of violence including verbal abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and physical abuse.

A six month long series of classes taught by licensed facilitators, BIP classes present physical violence not as isolated, incidental behavior. Instead, physical violence is the culmination of many abusive behaviors, or tactics, to gain power and control over another person.

Terry Moore, Program Director for Nonviolent Alternatives, a Batterers Intervention Program in Indianapolis, IN explains, “We believe our clients are inherently kind, loving people who want happy, healthy lives and loving relationships but are unaware of how to accomplish this goal. They were trained and learned at an early age to use abusive behavior toward themselves and/or toward others, as methods of survival, or coping skills to deal with fear and pain. Over time these behaviors, and the belief systems that foster them, become subconscious habits.”

“Punishment and jail time alone will not relieve the need for our program,” says Moore. “When an abuser encounters only legal consequences for his/her behavior, and their ‘shifting the blame’ belief system, goes unchallenged, they will simply view their self as a victim of an unjust system and will carry these abusive patterns to future relationships.”


Battered Women’s Justice Project: (800) 903-0111 — The project provides training, technical assistance, and resources through a partnership of three nationally recognized organizations.

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
P.O. Box 18749
Denver, CO 80218
(303) 839-1852
(303) 831-9251 (fax)
Provides statistics, articles, and research assistance on domestic violence.

Callie Marie Rennison, U.S. Dep’t of Just., NCJ 197838, Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief: Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, at 1 (2003).

Patricia Tjaden & Nancy Thoennes, U.S. Dep’t of Just., NCJ 183781, Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, at iv (2000), available at

About the Author
Angie Boss RN, ASN, BA, MDiv is an award-winning health writer and author or co-author of several books, including Before Your Time: Living Well with Premature Menopause (Simon and Schuster, 2010). She received a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Sociology and Journalism from Virginia Wesleyan College and a Masters of Pastoral Counseling from Union Theological Seminary.