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How does anger management differ, if at all, from domestic abuse counseling?
Answer: The domestic violence movement would say that anger management is not applicable to batterers. Batterers are a different breed – needing batterer’s intervention programs They would say that anger management programs are not effective for the batterer’s mind-set and motivation to control.
Domestic abuse counseling deals with the underlying control issues of a batterer versus teaching anger management skills.
a) So, how are people with anger or domestic abuse issues alike and different?
Answer: Abusers manifest Batterer characteristics: Studies have demonstrated that the batterer begins and continues his behavior because violence is an effective method for gaining and keeping control over the victim bringing no adverse effects as the result of the behavior. Some characteristics fit a general profile of a batterer:
• A batterer objectifies women. He does not see women as people. He does not respect women as a group. Overall, he sees women as property or sexual objects.
• A batterer has low self-esteem and feels powerless and ineffective in the world. He may appear successful, but inside he feels inadequate.
• A batterer externalizes the causes of his behavior. He blames his violence on circumstances such as stress, his partner’s behavior, a “bad day,” alcohol or other factors.
• A batterer may be pleasant and charming between periods of violence, and is often seen as a “nice guy” to outsiders.
Some behavioral warning signs of a potential batterer include extreme jealousy, possessiveness, a bad temper, unpredictability, cruelty to animals and verbal abusiveness.
Individuals with Anger Management issues tend to be dealing with explosive or out-of-control anger due to distorted thinking and skill deficits. They generally will take responsibility for their behavior once confronted or once they are dealing with the consequences.
b) Are there substantial philosophical differences in treatment goals and processes when dealing with anger management and domestic abuse issues?
Answer: The real question should be: Who is in control of prescribing treatment? Courts and employers. Many times there is no continuity. The domestic violence movement has lobbied for legislation which requires courts to mandate 26 week batterer’s intervention programs in many states. Thus, this becomes the treatment for domestic abuse offenders.
DUI and road rage offenders, other assault offenders and employees with anger issues will be mandated for anger management classes/courses depending on the judge.
The treatment goals are different as described in question 1.
c) Can anger management clients be treated in the same groups as domestic violence clients? If so, why? If not, why not?
Answer: though I am an anger management specialist/counselor and a domestic violence advocate – I would argue that anger management and domestic violence clients could be treated in the same group. Why? Because the anger management training gets to the heart of the issues of a batterer. We teach empathy, respect, taking responsibility, identifying cognitive distortions and building healthy communication and relationships. These aspects of anger management training can be and have been effective in treating batterers as Stosny has demonstrated in his research based on the compassion/power workshops.
Batterer’s intervention programs have not proven themselves effective as John Gottman and Neil Jacobson write in When Men Batter Women.
Leaders of the anger management movement need to make a case for anger management for batterers and take action to impact their legislators.
The real issue is that Batterers rarely take responsiblity for their actions and for change – putting their partners in danger. Thus, they need to participate in a program which will hold them accountable and be connected to law enforcement.
d) How do you define anger management as against your definition of domestic abuse?
Answer: Anger Management teaches practical and cognitive skills for transforming the emotion of anger into healthy behavior.
Domestic abuse (intimate partner violence) intervention teaches the power/control philosophy; accepting the consequences, taking responsibility and changing behavior.
~© copyright 2009 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC, is a Marriage and Family Counselor with CounselCare Connection and National Certified Counselor. She is the co-author of What’s Good About Anger?and a speaker for community, women’s and church organizations. Visit Safe Relationships for more domestic violence information and resources.