Treatment Options

The four theories of domestic abuse also provide several treatment options for the psychologist. Family systems theory prescribes marital counseling to bring about change in the marital system and to identify dysfunctional patterns. Partners are each responsible for changing the way they relate to each other and for the specific behaviors that contribute to the violence.

Walker describes three levels of intervention in terms of feminist psychological theory. Primary prevention changes the social conditions that directly and indirectly contribute to the abuse of women. Examples would include eliminating rigid gender-role socialization and reducing levels of violence in society. Secondary intervention encourages women to take control of their lives and to break the cycle of violence. Examples include crisis hot lines as well as financial and legal assistance. A shelter where the women will slowly regain their ability to make decisions for themselves and where they will be safe is an example of tertiary intervention. At this level, women have been totally victimized and are unable to act on their own.

Learning theory stresses that the partners be given opportunities to learn and be rewarded for a new range of actions and underlying beliefs. It is felt that intervention should teach the partners how they have learned and been rewarded for their present behaviors. As a result, the intervention moves beyond a pathological framework. Other approaches, mainly from a cognitive-behavioral perspective, strive to change dysfunctional thoughts, teach new behaviors, and eliminate the abuse. This approach works with couples and with abusive men in a group.

Psychoanalytic theory stresses long-term, corrective, individual psychotherapy. The end result of the therapy would be to help the abused woman to break the cycle of violence. She would learn to avoid choosing men who re-create her familiar and unhappy childhood by their violent behavior.

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