WHAT TREATMENT LOOKS LIKE: Exploring current treatment methods for perpetrators of domestic violence

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Compared to previous years, awareness of domestic violence (DV) has significantly increased with the arrests of several high profile NFL players like Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. These arrests moved the DV conversation into a new realm; that of male-dominated professional sports. Suddenly, national sports radio shows were discussing dynamics of DV during prime time radio. The commissioner of the NFL volunteered at a DV hotline. These actions and conversations were much needed and welcomed by many. Unfortunately, the conversations mostly fell short when it came to discussing how we rehabilitate our DV offenders. Many of the sportscasters would say “I hope he gets the treatment he needs” when referencing a recently arrested football star, but how exactly do we treat DV perpetrators?  What does that treatment look like and are we doing a good job of rehabilitating our DV offenders?

Batterer Intervention Programs

These questions are important to ask because innovation is needed when it comes to treating DV offenders. Batterer Intervention Programs (BIPs) are the standard method of treatment for DV offenders.  BIPs are generally psycho-educational groups that last from 12 to 52 weeks1. BIPs, which began in the late 1970s, were not founded on scientific research and only considered to be starting points when they were originally conceived2. Services designed for treating DV offenders got a late start because prior to the 60s and 70s, DV was considered to be a family problem that was best left behind closed doors. The delay in addressing DV has partly contributed to research shortages on perpetrators of DV2, effective clinical tools to assess batters typology3, and effective intervention models for treating DV perpetrators4.

Lack of research means that results for BIPs have been less than ideal. Attrition rates in BIPs range from 50% to 75%5.  The perpetrators that do stay and complete BIPs “do not show a significantly lower rate of recidivism than those that have dropped out of the program or never started the program6.” With 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men victims of DV, it remains crucial that we find a way to effectively treat perpetrators7. For the foreseeable future though, BIPs will remain the primary treatment method as judges continue to order this service. As a result, the best options for improving outcomes in the short term may come from improving the way we deliver BIPs and exploring best practices.

Partnering for Solutions

To investigate further, I partnered with Dr. Paul Turner to discuss what practices have been helpful for him and his clientele. Dr. Turner runs a BIP in Detroit and incorporates the use of alumni in his program. Alumni that have successfully completed his program return as guest speakers or work one on one with participants. Dr. Turner estimates the program has a network of 400 to 500 alumni that could be contacted to provide support. One alumnus, I spoke with, turned down a life of running drugs to enroll in college and get his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. Another alumnus stated that a powerful group session prevented him from killing his former partner. I interviewed Dr. Turner along with two alumni, to hear their perspectives about what aspects of this BIP they found most helpful. Both alumni were African American, middle-aged, and from Detroit. One was female and the other male. In addition to conducting a group interview, I observed two BIP sessions.

Key Themes

The interviews and group sessions were examined in terms of key themes that appeared to be helpful to participants. Some of the themes that emerged were concepts that were already considered helpful parts of any BIP group, like having one’s mindset challenged or the importance of having perpetrators pay for services.  For the purpose of this post, the themes that will be focused on are practices and concepts that are unique to Dr. Turner’s program. This should help start conversations about innovative treatment methods in this field. New themes or methods were identified by comparing Dr. Turner’s program to the Batterer Intervention Standards for the State of Michigan (1998).

Pushing Education

Dr. Turner repeatedly advocated for ongoing education during the two group sessions. As Dr. Turner said in the interview “we focus greatly on academics. If you are under 40, I try to press you into school.” Dr. Turner will pull clients into his office and complete a FAFSA with them as he did with the alumni referenced earlier. This alumnus reported that once he enrolled in college he was able to learn why his family had some dysfunction and how it caused so much anger in him.

A Place to Vent and Not Be Judged

Dr. Turner seeks to create a family atmosphere where participants can speak what is on their minds and not be judged.  Dr. Turner stated “when you land here… it is an atmosphere that says ‘listen, get your stuff out. Get your emotion out. What you put out here in this room stays in this room.’” This allows for an emotional outlet that participants may not have anywhere else. One alumni stated that after he learned his daughter was molested, he “saw red.” He was heavily considering violence against the alleged molester. Instead, he went to the group session, vented, and did not resort to violence. Another alumnus reported the same benefits of venting when considering violence to resolve a heated child custody case. Yet another alumnus reported that “people are thirsty for real conversation about the confusion going on in their lives” and having an atmosphere that allows this is crucial. Dr. Turner stated that he confronts abusive behavior throughout the program but he confronts individuals like he would a relative he cares about. The alumni reported that this genuine care from Dr. Turner lowered their guards and allowed them to benefit from services.

Alumni Involvement & Diversity in Groups

As referenced earlier, the use of alumni to provide lessons is a unique aspect of Dr. Turner’s program. During the group sessions, the current BIP participants appeared to be very interested in the alumni’s stories. Several of the BIP participants approached the alumni after the session, thanked them, and spoke about what they learned.

Dr. Turner also allows both male and female perpetrators to participate in groups. Dr. Turner stated “because we have co-ed groups… the female gets to hear the male perspective and the male gets the female perspective.” Dr. Turner has found that in all-male groups, there is a lot of “testosterone” and sexist views can emerge. “With the co-ed groups what happens is the females keep the males in check” Dr. Turner mentioned. The female alumnus stated there are similarities between their issues and “it’s just a matter of listening.” A male alumnus stated that it was a female’s story that “changed my perception and perspective of me… changed my selfishness… changed my individual world.”


Although recent headlines have brought the issue DV to the center of our national discussions, treatment options remain limited. Programs such as Dr. Turner’s which use innovative techniques like alumni partners and co-ed discussion groups will need further exploration if we hope to increase treatment options and improve outcomes.

About Adam Cecil:

Adam Cecil is Member Services Representative and Placement Assistance Coordinator at BHPI, one of the premier Managed Care Provider Networks in Wayne County, Michigan.  Adam is a candidate for his Masters in Social Work from Eastern Michigan University and has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Grand Valley State University.  Adam has previously worked in Child Protective Services where he was responsible for referring domestic violence perpetrators to treatment services. Adam has been on the front line of responding to domestic violence crisis through his work in Child Protective Services. Adam has completed intensive domestic violence trainings through domestic violence shelters in Jackson and Big Rapids, Michigan.

About Choice Behavioral Health Management

Dr. Paul Turner runs Choice Behavioral Health Management, a Batter’s Intervention Program established in 2006. Choice is located at 2727 Second Ave, Suite 108, Detroit, Michigan and can be contacted at 313-965-7880. Sessions are Tuesday evenings from 6pm-7:30pm and Saturday from 9am-10:30am. Those looking for services can call ahead or show up prior to the start of a session to register.


1 Hanson, K., & Wallace-Capretta, S. (2000). A multi-site study of treatment for abusive men: 2000-2005. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Public Works and Government Services Canada, Department of the Solicitor General. Retrieved February 19, 2004, from EuroWRC Resource Centre Web site:http://www.eurowrc.Org/l 1 men_violent/men-programen/06.men_program.htm


2 Brashear, A. L. (2005). Intrinsic motivation as reported by ten Alaska native men participating in batterer’s intervention programs(Order No. AAI3158582). Available from PsycINFO. (621058225; 2005-99012-240). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.emich.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest .com/docview/621058225?accountid=10650

3 Finn, S., & Tonsager, M. (1997). Information-gathering and therapeutic models of assessment: Complementary paradigms. Psychological Assessment, 9(4), 374-385.

4 Holtzworth-Munroe, A., & Stuart, G. (1994). Typologies of male batterers: Three subtypes and the differences among them. Psychological Bulletin, 776(3), 476-497.

5 Cadsky O, Hanson RK, Crawford M, Lalonde C. (1996). Attrition from a male batterer treatment program: Client-treatment congruence and lifestyle instability. Violence and Victims, 11 (1), 51-64.

6 Gondolf, E. (1995). Discharge criteria from batterer programs. Indiana: Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

7 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (2015). Intimate Partner Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements. http://www.cdc.gov/violence prevention/pdf/intimatepartnerviolence.pdf


About Behavioral Health Professionals, Inc.:

Established in 2002 and headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, BHPI is a Managed Behavioral Health Organization offering behavioral health services through a fully integrated network of world-class healthcare providers.  Our emphasis is on adding value for our customers by offering expert behavioral care management, medical coordination, chronic behavioral condition management. We are a fully accredited NCQA Managed Behavioral Health Organization (MBHO) & CARF Behavioral Health Business Network. BHPI offers collaborative solutions by building strong partnerships with health plans, health systems, community mental health organizations, and employer groups.   

For more information visit:BHPI.org