Group Work with Men Who Batter

Social workers often work with nonvoluntary clients. This case study describes a group model of working with
such clients because of battering behavior.

  1. How can social workers respond to denial when working with nonvoluntary clients?
  2. How did the social worker use confrontation in working with the resistant client?
  3. What interventions contributed to the changes described in the client?
  4. How does group treatment address the special circumstances of men who batter?

Sam, a White 26-year-old laborer who lives in a working-class suburb, was referred by the court to a group
program for men who batter. He is employed full-time, earning about $20,000 annually. Sam has been arrested
three times. His most recent arrest was for the battery of his wife. He received 6 months’ probation and was
mandated to attend domestic violence counseling. He had two previous arrests, one for auto theft when he was
a teenager and one 2 years ago for disorderly conduct.
At the initial intake interview, Sam was secretive, and it seemed that he did not want the worker to know much
about him. His flat affect and deceptive manner made it appear that he thought the agency was out to get him
rather than help him. This type of presentation was not unusual for a court-ordered client. For the most part,
men who batter do not come to treatment voluntarily. They are generally either court-mandated or “wifemandated”; that is, their partners left or threatened to leave the relationship unless they receive counseling.
Our experience is that despite the men’S nonvoluntary status, they may be helped, and a court order can
actually facilitate progress when they might otherwise drop out. In fact, some evidence suggests that batterers’
contact with the criminal justice system in itself is effective in reducing violence (Sherman & Berk, 1984). In a
national study of 840 male batterers and their female partners, court-ordered participants were more likely to
complete the batterer intervention program and were less likely to reoffend than were participants who were in
the program voluntarily (Gondolf, 2002).
To enter the program, men must minimally be willing to admit that they have battered and to verbalize a
willingness to take responsibility for change. Ongoing denial of battering and responsibility for it is common and
expected and must be confronted throughout the treatment process.
An important step in the intake process is taking a history of past and current abuse. The history taking may be
facilitated by using structured interview protocols and checklists. In this case, the use of such checklists
revealed that Sam had a significant history of both psychological and physical maltreatment of his partner,
including interrupting her eating and sleeping; refusing to let her see people; frequently insulting, swearing, and
screaming at her; threatening to hit her; pushing, grabbing, and restraining her; slapping her; driving recklessly
to frighten her; throwing objects at her; hitting her with his fists; and hitting her with an object.
Generally, men who batter will minimize or deny their violent behavior. In addition, they may attempt to use the
treatment program manipulatively, perhaps to convince their partners not to leave them or to drop charges in
the court system. Treatment for the men can be stressful and can inadvertently increase the risk of abuse.
Therefore, contact with the men’S partners is crucial in delivering safe services. When Debbie was interviewed,
she corroborated Sam’S account of the violence. The fact that Sam accurately described his violent behavior
was a good sign that he could come to take responsibility for his behavior

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