A preliminary trial of achieving change through values-based behavior for incarcerated intimate partner violence offenders

Berta, Meg
Major Professor
Amie Zarling
Committee Member
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Human Development and Family Studies

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a major public health concern. Perpetrators of IPV are often mandated to complete batterers intervention programs (BIP) which are based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the Duluth Model (Adams, 1988; Pence & Paymar, 1993). BIPs have only a marginal impact on IPV recidivism (Babcock, Green, & Robie, 2004). Based on recent research, a new BIP has been developed for IPV offenders in community corrections that relies on principles from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999), ACT is an evidence-based cognitive behavioral treatment that targets experiential avoidance via acceptance, mindfulness, and recognizing and acting on one’s values (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999). The new treatment, Achieving Change Through Values-Based Behavior (ACTV; Zarling, Lawrence, & Orengo, 2017), has shown preliminary effectiveness as a treatment for perpetrators in community corrections (Zarling, Bannon, & Berta, 2017). The current study extends the literature by piloting ACTV with non-compliant incarcerated IPV perpetrators. Little research has been done on effective treatments for this population. The current study aims to describe the sample in terms of risk (experiential avoidance, psychopathy, adverse childhood experiences, and attachment), change in experiential avoidance over the course of treatment, and recidivism one-year post-intervention. ACTV in jail consists of 24 two-hour sessions delivered in group format over eight weeks. Self-report surveys were collected at three timepoints: the start of treatment, the middle of treatment, and the end of treatment. The men in the current sample (N=23) exhibited high levels of experiential avoidance, adverse childhood experiences, psychopathy, and attachment when compared to clinical and forensic samples from past research, indicating high levels of risk. Consistent with expectations, experiential avoidance decreased significantly over the course of treatment (paired t-test; t (18)= -3.87, p<.00), suggesting promise for ACTV with this severe population. In addition, IPV recidivism was low (5%) in the one year recidivism period, comparable to recidivism levels found in a sample of IPV offenders in community BIP (Zarling, et al, 2017). No significant differences were found between men who re-offended during the one-year time frame and those who did not. More research ought to be done evaluating predictors of recidivism in this severe population. Overall, the current study supports the use of ACTV with non-compliant, incarcerated offenders. Larger studies of ACTV with this population are warranted.