Interventions show promise in helping treat and prevent
domestic violence among military couples
For soldiers returning home from the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan, reconnecting with partners
can be just as difficult as finding employment,
recovering from physical and psychological
injuries, and redefining their roles in the
community. Some research suggests that once
they’re back in their communities, veterans
perpetrate violence up to three times as often as
civilians; they’re also more likely than civilians to
cause significant injury.
But a new cognitive-behavioral group
intervention developed by the National Center
for PTSD may help reduce those rates, according
to multiple pilot studies. Strength at Home is
a 12-session intervention program focusing
on preventing domestic violence. Participants
learn how to handle potential conflicts by better
understanding their own reactions and learning
to cool down rather than escalate negativity,
as well as how to manage anger and stress by
communicating in more constructive ways.
“A lot of the veterans in our program are prone
to misinterpreting their partners’ intentions or
misinterpreting situations in overly hostile or
overly negative ways, likely due to their experience
of trauma and being in dangerous situations and
not really knowing whom they can trust when they
were deployed,” says Casey Taft, PhD, professor
of psychiatry at Boston University School of
Medicine, who helped develop the intervention.
Results of a pilot study with six returning
veterans at the Boston VA Medical Center
showed a significant decrease in both physical
and psychological intimate partner violence,
based on veteran and partner reports before the intervention
and six months after (Journal of Family Violence, April 2013).
Similarly, a pilot study of the intervention, adapted as a 10-
week program for both returning male vets and their intimate
female partners, found reduced levels of both types of violence
among nine couples six months post-treatment (Partner Abuse:
New Directions in Research, Intervention, and Policy, January).
The study also suggested lower levels of PTSD among veterans
following the intervention. Additional soon-to-be-published
pilot studies of both the veteran and couples intervention in
Honolulu and Fresno, California, have shown a significant
reduction in abusive behavior, and two larger-scale randomized
clinical trials will be completed by the end of the summer, with
initial analyses showing positive results, Taft says.
“There are so many human and societal costs associated
with violence, particularly among military families, who make
up a pretty substantial portion of our population,” Taft says.
“This intervention is showing that if you really work to educate
people about the roots of so many conflicts and demonstrate
better ways to handle them, you really can see great gains and
ultimately prevent violence.”
— AMY NOVOTNEY