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Intervention Programs for Abusive Behavior

interventionThe question “Can my partner change?” is undoubtedly at the front of a person’s mind if they’re in a relationship with an abusive partner. There are many obstacles to leaving an abusive relationship, or reasons to want to stay, so it only follows that we often desperately hope our partner changes their ways. While there’s no consensus on whether or not abusive partners can truly change, we know that some people do, but only when they genuinely want to change and devote themselves to doing so.

The other big question is “How?” Most states offer classes or intervention programs on changing abusive behaviors, and what states call these programs varies. For abusive partners who haven’t been mandated to enter into an intervention program, choosing voluntarily do so on one’s own is a big first step toward initiating change.

Anger Management

Many people assume that the best course of action is an anger management program, but this is often not a good option for a domestic violence situation. People who are abusive often express anger toward their partner, but having an anger problem means they would also behave the same way toward friends, family, co-workers and others – not just their partner.

Anger management focuses on that person’s inability to control their anger and what triggers these emotions, and this can be counterproductive for an abusive partner. Examining what triggers their anger can reinforce the idea that the victim is responsible for the violence. This takes the abuser off the hook for their actions.

Anger management courses do not address issues of power and control within a relationship, which are the source of domestic violence. A better option would be an intervention program that does focus on these issues, which are often referred to as Batterer Intervention & Prevention Programs (or BIPPs).

Batterer Intervention & Prevention Programs

There are a few types of services and interventions in the U.S. for those who may identify as abusive. Batterer Intervention & Prevention Programs (BIPPs) are the most widespread, but they aren’t available everywhere.

A BIPP is different than other counseling and intervention programs in that it centers around complete accountability, victim safety and education about the behaviors that likely brought participants there in the first place. Certified batterer intervention programs have a wide range of durations, varying from a weekend retreat to 52 weekly meetings. They’re generally offered by a few professionally-trained facilitators, and usually have eight to ten participants.

People enter into BIPPs for various reasons. Many are required by judges to attend as a condition of probation or as part of a sentence. Others enroll to try to save a relationship and keep their partner from leaving. The best reason for joining a BIPP is genuine desire to change.

These programs teach all about abuse: the range of coercive or abusive behaviors, common abusive tactics and the effects that abuse has on partners and families. Participants learn about healthy relationships and non-violent behaviors. BIPPs also challenge pre-existing beliefs that abusive partners might have, such as entitlement/ownership and gender roles.

The program should be structured around a clear understanding that abusive behavior is chosen, and that while substance abuse or mental health issues can occur simultaneously, they should be addressed through separate services.

As a result of attending this type of program, the abusive partner would ideally learn how to:

  • effectively communicate with their partner instead of being emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive
  • support their partner’s decisions even if they disagree
  • encourage their partner to spend time with friends and family
  • build trust and empathy within the relationship
  • refrain from using coercive actions to control and intimidate their partner
  • identify ongoing harmful behavior
  • behave respectfully toward their partner

Do You Want to Change?

If you think you may be mistreating or hurting your partner, call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Our advocates can discuss the differences between healthy and unhealthy behaviors. If you’re at the stage where you know you want to seek help, our advocates can also refer you to resources in your area. As always, it’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight — it’s an ongoing process that takes work and willingness.

If your partner is abusive to you, it’s important to note that addressing the abuse with your partner may not always be safe. You know your situation best, so if you feel that discussing the abuse with your partner would escalate his/her abusive behavior, listen to your instincts. You can always contact the Hotline to talk about ways to have this conversation safely or other strategies to explore your options.

Related Posts

Is Change Possible In An Abusive Partner?
Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs

choose to change

The Hotline Calls You May Not Expect

As you may imagine, our 24/7 Hotline receives all types of calls from all over the country. The largest group of callers is people experiencing abuse of some sort, questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship and seeking help and services. Our second largest group of callers is friends and family concerned about loved ones.

What you may not know is that we also frequently speak with people who identify as abusive, or who are concerned about behaviors that may be unhealthy.

We treat all callers with dignity and respect, and talk to these people because we support accountability. Every call from someone who is becoming more aware of their unhealthy behavior is an opportunity to plant a seed for change.

No matter what the situation, our Hotline advocates are supportive and remain empathetic.

What will an advocate recommend?

Depending on what you’re calling about, our advocates will talk to you about different courses of action. If throughout the call you and the advocate are beginning to identify unhealthy behaviors in your relationship, they’ll discuss these red flags with you and then brainstorm healthy alternatives for the behavior.

EX: “You can’t change your feelings of jealousy all the time, but you can change how you are confronting your partner about these feelings.”

They’ll talk about strategies for calming down and deescalating if you feel yourself getting angry, and discuss how your actions can negatively affect yourself and those around you.

Callers may want to know about Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs — but not all callers asking about BIPPS are the same. While some are looking for a referral because the court has ordered them to, others are seeking out this information on their own accord. In 2010, Hotline advocates made between 950-1,000 referrals to these programs.

Can you really call without being judged?

Yes. If you’re looking for someone to lend a confidential, impartial ear, our advocates at The Hotline are a great option. They’ll listen, withhold judgment and help you begin to address what’s going on in your relationship.

If you’re questioning your own behavior at all, or if someone else has brought it to your attention, acknowledging it is a step in the right direction. Give us a call today at 1-800-799-SAFE to start the conversation.

can abusers change

Is Change Possible In An Abuser?

People change.

That small, two-word sentence is actually a huge, significant statement that carries a lot of weight. We grow up learning about change — the inevitability of it, the uncertainty it can bring. We change — our opinions, personalities, careers, friends and much more.

Some changes feel like they happen overnight. Others are more conscious, and they have to be, like overcoming an addiction or correcting a personality flaw that’s harmful to ourselves or others.

If you’re the one wanting a loved one to change, it can feel impossible — but we hold onto the hope that they will change, because we desperately want them to, because we remember how they were different in the past (and if they changed for the worse, can’t they change for the better?)

Can an abusive partner really change?

While people do have the capacity to change, they need to deeply want to and be committed to all aspects of change in order to begin to do so — and even then, it’s a lot easier said than done.

In discussing why abusers abuse , it’s clear that a lot of the causal factors behind these behaviors are learned attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege — which can be extremely difficult to truly change. Because of this, there’s a very low percentage of abusers who truly do change their ways.

One part of changing may involve an abusive partner willingly attending a certified batterer intervention program that focuses on behavior, reflection and accountability. At the Hotline we don’t recommend couples counseling, anger management, substance abuse programs or mental health treatments for abusers to learn about and deal with their abusive patterns (although oftentimes these can helpfully supplement a batterer intervention program).

How can abusers change?

According to author Lundy Bancroft, the following are some changes in your partner that could indicate they’re making progress in their recovery:

  • Admitting fully to what they have done
  • Stopping excuses and blaming
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility and recognizing that abuse is a choice
  • Identifying patterns of controlling behavior they use
  • Identifying the attitudes that drive their abuse
  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a decades-long processnot declaring themselves “cured”
  • Not demanding credit for improvements they’ve made
  • Not treating improvements as vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (ex. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so it’s not a big deal)
  • Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors
  • Carrying their weight and sharing power
  • Changing how they respond to their partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
  • Changing how they act in heated conflicts
  • Accepting the consequences of their actions (including not feeling sorry for themselves about the consequences, and not blaming their partner or children for them)

Learn more about Lundy Bancroft here and check out some of his helpful books, including “Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.”


As Bancroft notes, truly overcoming abusiveness can be an ongoing, often lifelong process.

No one deserves abuse, and it’s never too late to seek help. While we hope abusive partners will change, it’s not always realistic to expect that they can and will. Focus on changes you can control to improve your own life, because you deserved to feel loved, happy and safe.

In the words of artist Andy Warhol, “When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then… You can’t make them change if they don’t want to.”

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Finding Resources in Your Area

We often get callers who aren’t sure what services are available to them. They feel alone and that they lack options. We can connect them to resources in their local area to help them in their time of need.

The Hotline is a national service available to anyone. Our advocates can talk through specific situations, provide feedback and connect callers to vital resources. Our goal is to help survivors and their family members and friends understand the dynamics of power and control in abusive and unhealthy relationships. We also help create safety plans, or outlines of what to do in certain situations, that are both practical and effective for someone experiencing abuse.

We maintain a database of over 4,000 domestic violence programs. These programs vary from state-to-state and even from community-to-community on what services they offer and how they offer them. We use this database to give callers information about what resources are available to them in their communities. We can even connect callers to those services immediately.

There are some very common trends among these programs. Most programs offer:

  • Some type of emergency shelter for survivors who are in immediate danger — this is typically short-term housing in a communal setting at a secure location
  • Counseling and/or support groups
  • Legal advocacy — especially advice in how to file a protective order or handling court appearances
  • Community advocacy — they can help connect survivors with other programs in the community that can help rebuild their lives like childcare, employment resources and permanent housing
  • Transitional housing — this is longer term housing, such as apartments that are available for one or two years

Some, but not all, community programs also offer:

  • Battering intervention programs for abusers
  • Assistance for immigrants to self-petition their immigration status under VAWA
  • Customized or culturally specific services for communities of color, deaf, LGBTQ survivors and teens

If you’re unsure of the services which are available in your community, give us a call. We can help you locate and learn about the resources that are at your disposal.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs

The following blog entry was written by Lundy Bancroft. It has been reprinted with permission from his blog. Lundy Bancroft is an author, workshop leader, and activist on trauma, abuse, and healing. He offers dramatically new ways to understand the behavior of abusers and strategies for holding them accountable. He also brings fresh insight into the emotional injuries that trauma and abuse cause, their lasting effects, and how best to get ourselves free. He believes that all people have the right to live free from abuse and oppression. For more information about his work please click here to visit his website.

One of the questions I most commonly get asked at speaking events is, “Do programs for abusive men work?” My answer is that, when they are run well, they work as well as we can expect them to in the time they are given. A typical length for a batterer program is 52 hours — that is to say, 26 weeks for two hours a week. Sometimes the meetings are only an hour and a half, so the total time is even less. In other words, we are talking about undoing twenty or thirty or forty years of destructive socialization that has made an abusive man who he is, all in six months! The expectation is far-fetched.

I encourage people to make the comparison to substance abuse programs. If a man (or a woman, for that matter) who had been drinking or drugging heavily for five or ten or fifteen years claimed to have licked the addiction through once a week counseling for a grand total of six months, most substance abuse experts would laugh the person out of the room. In the world of recovery from addiction, the common outlook is that if you go to three or four meetings per week for a period of a year, and work hard in the program for that year, you have probably finally gotten a good start on dealing with your issues; if you stick with it for a few more years, you might succeed in really turning your life around.

Why would we expect it to be easier for a man to overcome a problem with violence and psychological viciousness toward women than to deal with a drinking problem? Abusiveness is just as deep a problem as addiction, and every bit as destructive — in fact, often more so.

If society decides that it’s time to send abusers the message that we take their crimes against women seriously, and that we refuse to live in a society that is shaped by domestic terrorists, we will start sending abusers to programs that they have to attend at least three times a week for two to three years. This will bring us in line with the kind of effort, and the length of time, that it takes to make personal changes from deep, destructive, dangerous problems. Until then, we’re continuing the pattern of slapping abusers on the wrist and sending them the message that change is optional. And if it’s optional, very few abusers are going to choose to do the work, and make the sacrifices, involved in learning to respect women’s rights.