Mindfulness, stress reduction help violent men safely manage their anger

TRONDHEIM, Norway — The months-long coronavirus lockdown has been a nightmare for many people around the world. For some, unfortunately, they may be stuck at home with a violent partner. With the threat of domestic violence rising, researchers in Norway say mindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) prove to be an effective method for violent people to manage their anger and ultimately to stop being violent.

Researchers say men in an anger management group who practiced mindfulness or took CBT saw a notable drop in violent behavior.

“For a lot of people, the weeks of shutdown have been an extreme situation with a lot of stress. Those of us who work with people on anger management have felt really concerned about what might be going on within the four walls of their homes,” says lead author Merete Berg Nesset in a release.

Avoiding anger with mindfulness

The Norwegian Institute of Science and Technology has been investigating treatments for angry people for quite some time. This latest report details 125 men participating in an anger management study, with the men split into two groups.

One group worked in a cognitive-behavioral group therapy that uses what’s known as the Broset model. This model focuses on violent feelings and helping people better understand what sparks anger and such feelings. Ultimately, patients learn how to identify triggers and become aware of when those triggers are engaged.

The second group took a stress management course with a focus on mindfulness to help reduce feelings of anger. Mindfulness, of course, is a popular stress reduction practice that involves deep breathing and awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings.

All of the subjects also took surveys throughout the research. The group therapy members met for 15 sessions while the stress management course had eight meetings.

Researchers say both treatments were equally as effective at helping men manage their anger. Before treatment, 60 percent of participants had committed an act of sexual violence against their partner — either by demanding or threatening their partner to engage in intercourse.

Dramatic results

Treatment shows a very significant reduction in the number of men taking to physical violence against a partner. Eighty-five percent of men say they have been physically violent, sometimes resulting in their partner being harmed. This number drops to just 10 percent after treatment.

The two forms of treatment also cause a reduction in psychological and emotional violence. That reduction is only from 87 percent to 62 percent, but the Norwegian team adds this is because it takes longer for people to truly feel safe and not lash out at their partners.

Stopping a ‘public health problem’

The authors explain they did not perform a controlled experiment for a very simple reason: they want to offer all participants the chance to get better.

“Unfortunately, about 25% of all killings in Norway are partner killings. Because domestic violence is a public health problem with major health consequences for those exposed to the violence, we found it unethical not to offer treatment. So what we studied was the effectiveness of two types of treatment. Both worked,” says Nesset. “I didn’t expect the decline to be so big. It’s really promising that the treatment works.”

The study is published in BMC Psychiatry.

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