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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.”
Author: Amy Novotney