Finding a common ground: Therapist responsiveness to male clients who have acted violently against their female partner

Men in treatment for intimate partner violence (IPV) do often present with problem formulations that do not fit the therapeutic endeavor of personal change and may, therefore, challenge therapists in their effort to build an alliance.

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However, the therapist’s initial contributions are also likely to influence whether the client finds it worthwhile to become involved in a working alliance. In a qualitative study of the in-session interactions between experienced therapists and men in IPV individual therapy, we looked for variations in therapist responsiveness to the client’s initial invitations to identify whether and, eventually, how the two parties were able to reach common ground for working together. We studied therapist–client interactions in 20 therapy cases, including 10 completed cases with good outcomes and 10 dropout cases. Two sessions during the early phase of the therapy and the final session were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. The transcriptions were analyzed following the guidelines of constructivist grounded theory. The analysis revealed three interactional patterns: co-creative exploration, pull-avoid repetitions, and tiptoeing softly around, each of which was associated with a distinctive set of therapist strategies. Clients participating in the co-creative pattern appeared to experience the most successful treatment. Our findings suggest that a model of therapist responses to client invitations is valuable for the conceptualization of the therapeutic alliance during the early sessions of psychotherapy. The findings also highlight the importance of clarifying and expanding upon the client’s personal experience with his abuse to form a viable working alliance.

Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2019,1-29, Doi:10.1177/0886260519862271

Published Jan. 20, 2020 6:00 AM