Abusers Can Unlearn Violent Behavior

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    By Brittany Jensen

    Abusers are often written off as beyond repair, but others say abuse can be fixed.

    “It”s a behavior that”s learned, which also means it can be unlearned,” said Pat Mills, outreach community coordinator at the Center for Women and Children in Crisis where many abused women go for help.

    If a person is convicted of domestic violence, the abuser is often sentenced to counseling. Most programs take a year, and then the abusers usually need follow-up group sessions to make sure they don”t slip back into their abusive behaviors.

    “If an abuser doesn”t go to treatment at all, they”ll go back [to abusive behavior],” said Kent McDonald, clinical director of Sandy Counseling where the court system refers many convicted abusers for treatment.

    The first step for an abuser is to have a desire to change.

    “We can”t help if we have someone that refuses to change,” McDonald said.

    McDonald said a study showed the differences between all the educational and confrontational methods typically used in treatment. Confrontation requires the abusers to admit they are abusive. Education requires they are educated on what abuse is and what tools abusers use to control their victims so they will realize they are an abuser. The confrontational program took a year to accomplish what it took the educational program six months to do: get them to admit they were abusers, McDonald said.

    Sandy Counseling is one of the few places that uses a third method: the empathetic program.

    “We make them accountable for solutions, not what they did,” McDonald said. “If we try to make them accountable for what they did, they get defensive.”

    Sandy Counseling teaches the perpetrators to have better problem-solving techniques, so they don”t revert back to abuse for a solution.

    Most people don”t want an abusive home; they simply don”t know any better, McDonald said. They were raised in an environment where problems were solved with anger and violence.

    “Most of these people would like peace; they just don”t know how to achieve it,” he said.

    Treatment programs for abusers will give them the tools they need so they can change controlling, violent patterns of behavior and achieve that peace.

    “Our number one goal has to be empowerment,” said Velda McDonald, administrative director of Sandy Counseling. “You can”t just learn it, but internalize it.”

    The BYU counseling services employees reported that all victims and perpetrators of abuse who come into their offices are referred off-campus for treatment.

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