What Helps Abusive Men Change?

Dawn Bradley Berry

Men's groups seek to prevent the recurrence of violence in the relationships of the men who have come to the group as batterers, and many also work to stop new violence before it starts through education and changing community attitudes.

 This can be difficult work in a society in which many men are taught over and over that violence is an acceptable, manly response to anger. Most children receive little or no training in how to have successful relationships or deal with anger in healthy ways. Boys are taught they must "act like a man," which means being tough, dominating, and in control. They are expected to fight to solve problems. Many men's groups discuss these roles and expectations, and the effect they have on

men.  The group setting allows the participants to see that they are not alone, that other men have suffered from similar fear, confusion, and lack of comfort in intimate relationships. While the men are always required to take responsibility for their actions, they are also recognized as human beings who have the potential to change if they are committed to doing so. They are helped to heal and learn how to have healthy relationships based on equality and respect. Some of the leading men's programs in the country are listed in the appendix.

 Men who admit that they are responsible for abusing their partners, who realize that they did something wrong and want to change, have the best chance of successfully turning their lives around. Most batterer's programs are open to any man who wants to enroll. Most are either free

or charge on a sliding fee scale, according to income. Private therapy is also available in most communities.  Many churches, community mental health organizations, and other sources offer free or low-cost counseling. State domestic violence coalitions and local organizations provide referrals.

 The earlier a man gets treatment, the better chance he has of changing his behavior.  Sometimes an older brother, trusted friend, or other male the abuser looks up to can convince him he has a problem. If someone you know or care about is abusive to his wife, try to talk to him and urge him to get help, or discuss the problem with someone else you think might be able to get through to him.

 Men who aren't willing to seek help on their own must suffer the consequences. If they get treatment, it is often by court order. Abusers are manipulative by nature, and quickly learn whether or not they can get by with their behavior without suffering any real punishment. The most successful programs combine at least a taste of jail, some individual therapy, and group counseling that covers education about the abusive relationship, behavior modification training, anger management, and separate treatment for substance abuse, if necessary. Above all, the abuser must be held responsible and admit that the abuse is his fault, not his partner's, if he is to make any meaningful changes. Sometimes, helping to see that an abuser is arrested can be the kindest act you can do for him, as well as for his victims.



Berry, Dawn Bradley, 1995.  Domestic Violence Sourcebook,  p.196-202.  Lowell House, Los Angeles, CA.  

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Annette Nay Homepage

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