Questions Frequently Asked About Abusers & Treament

Taken from "What You Should Know About Your Abusive Partner", a pamphlet from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services reprinted from EMERGE, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


A man may enter treatment after his partner has left, threatened to leave, or obtained a protection order against him.  In other cases, the court may have required him to attend treatment.  Unfortunately, it is often true that a man comes for counseling only because it makes him look good and convinces his partner to take him back.


Yes, but progress will depend on his recognizing hr has a problem and his willingness to work hard on it for a long time - without expecting rewards or support from you for his efforts. Change does not occur overnight, if it occurs at all, and many men drop out along the way.  Long-term improvement in behavior is more likely for a man who completes the full year's program, but even completion is no guarantee; men may continue to be violent and controlling after treatment.  Many batterers say that it was only after their partners left, got a protection order, or criminal charges were filed that they realized the seriousness of their violence.


It is common for an abusive man to be apologetic after being abusive.  But this does not mean he will stop being violent.  In fact, many batterers have a repeated cycle with a stage of increasing abusiveness, than an incident of violence, and then a period of regret and attempts to make up.  He may make promises and apologize to get you to take him back, to drop a protection order. or to not cooperate with the prosecutor.  This remorseful stage is just another tactic of his abuse and control of you, and does not lead to any lasting changes.


Alcohol does not cause a man to be abusive; i5 just gives him a convenient excuse.  If he is violent and also abuses alcohol, then he has two problems to take care of. Within days of getting off alcohol, a substance-abusing batterer typically has a period of improved behavior, and then heads back to old abusive ways.  He may use his sobriety to manipulate you.  Although battering and substance abuse are two separate problems, a substance-abusing batterer is often particularly dangerous.  He will have to  be clean and sober in order to make any meaningful progress o his battering problem.


No.  Couples' counseling allows him to stay focused on his criticisms of you, instead of dealing with his own problems.  He may even retaliate against you physically  or verbally for what you say to the counselor.  You may also be put under pressure to give up certain things that are important to you in return for him giving up his violence.  Abuse is a problem in the abuser, not a problem in the relationship.  For all these reasons, a man should not be in couples' counseling while be is attending treatment.  Couples' counseling may be helpful to you in working on other problems, after he has stopped using violence  or intimidation for at lest 6 months, and is consistently treating you better.


In the state of Washington, batterers' treatment programs must be certified by the state.  Such programs are expected to meet a number of requirements.  In a nutshell, the treatment goal is to increase your safety by holding the abuser accountable for his violence an for taking responsibility for changing his behavior.  The program is one year long.  For a minimum of six months, he will meet with a group of other men once a week.  Then he will attend a session at least once a month for six months.


The treatment program will contact you as part of assessing how they can help you (and your children) get safe and how they can best work with the abuser.  They contact you as soon as possible after he joins the program, and then periodically  thereafter.  They do not tell your abuser anything you say unless they have your permission.  In addition to their calls to you, you are also free to contact the treatment provider any time for an update on his participation in the program.  Remember though, that you are the best judge of his progress.  The abuser is told not to discuss your contact with the treatment providers, except to tell you that they will be calling.  He is not allowed to try to influence what you tell the treatment providers, or to ask you questions afterwards about it. He is not to be present while they talk to you.  He is free to discuss is own sessions if he wishes.

While the abuser attends treatment, it is not your role to give him emotional or financial support.  In fact, while in the program, he must take responsibility for the abuse.  You have the right to decide  to limit or eliminate contact with him for any length of time if you choose to do so.


Your first consideration should be safety for you and your children.  You are encouraged to get support for yourself, if it is safe to do so, through your local program for battered women.  He may pressure you to stay with him while he attends treatment; this is a tactic of abuse and control, designed to keep you from making up your own mind.  If he is serious about changing, he will respect your wishes about the relationship.  


You are the best judge of whether he is changing or not.  Trust your gut feelings regardless of other signs.  Some of the things to look for are:

  • Has he completely stopped saying and doing things that frighten you?
  • Can you express anger toward him without being punished for it?
  • Does it feel safe to bring up topics that may upset him?
  • Can he listen to your opinion and respect it  even when he disagrees?
  • Does he respect your wishes about sex and physical contact?
  • Has he stopped expecting you to do things for him?
  • Can you spend time with friends without afraid that he will retaliate? Can you do other things that are important to you, like go to school or get a job?
  • Are comfortable with they way he interacts with the children?  Do you feel safe leaving them alone with him?
  • Is he being supportive and giving compliments?  Does he listen to you?
  • Does he do his share of housework and childcare?

Some signs he is not changing:

  • Does he use his treatment against you in any way?
  • Does he tell you that you are abusive?
  • Is he pressuring you to go to therapy for yourself or to couples' counseling for the two of you?
  • Does he tell you that you owe him another chance?  Does he say he can't change without your support?
  • Does he try to get you or the children to feel sorry for him?
  • Do you have to keep after him to attend his treatment sessions and to stay in the program?
  • Is he making his abuse sound like a lot less than it really is when he talks about in the treatment group?  (You can ask his counselors to describe to you what he is reporting.)
  • Does he expect something in return from you for the fact that he is attending treatment?
  • Is he pressuring you to make up you mind about the relationship or to move back in together?  Is he pressuring you to drop your protection order?