Program Goals/Target Population
Culturally Focused Batterer Counseling is cognitive–behavioral group counseling specifically designed for African American men arrested for domestic violence. Culturally focused counseling identifies and addresses cultural issues that may reinforce violence or present barriers to stopping violence, such as prejudice in the criminal justice system, violence and crime in inner-city neighborhoods, and conflicting images of African American manhood. Similar programs have been implemented and studied in several cities, but the specific emphasis here is the culturally focused batterer counseling implemented in Pittsburgh, PA. (Gondolf 2005).
There is research to indicate although African Americans make up at least half of the men arrested for domestic violence and are often referred to batterer counseling programs, their dropout and rearrest rates tend to be higher than that of white men in the same programs. To address these problems, researchers and practitioners have recommended developing a culturally focused counseling curriculum to supplement conventional counseling that was developed primarily for white middle-class men (Williams and Becker 1994; Blake and Darling 1994; Rasheed and Rasheed 1999). However, support for culturally focused counseling comes primarily from cultural issues identified by clinicians and counselors in related fields with some tentative support from outcome studies of culturally oriented counseling. Therefore, justification for the construct (its particular topics and techniques) and its relationship to specific outcomes has not been theoretically and empirically established (Gondolf 2005, 8).
Culturally focused batterer counseling is an enhancement of the conventional batterer counseling. Men arrested on domestic violence charges first appear in Pittsburgh Domestic Violence Court for a pretrial hearing. Most men are required to attend 16 weekly group batterer counseling sessions as a stipulation of their bond. The men must appear in court again at 30 and 90 days following the initial court order to verify program compliance. If men fail to show compliance, additional penalties may be incurred. These penalties may include fines, jail time, being held over for full prosecution, or being required to attend additional program sessions. Two unexcused absences result in an automatic dismissal from the program and return to court. To receive credit for attendance, men must arrive by the designated start time of the counseling session and stay for the full 90 minutes. If the men complete the court-ordered counseling program, their assault charges are usually reduced to harassment.
In Pittsburgh, conventional batterer counseling uses a cognitive–behavioral approach and includes topics and discussions that concentrate on the specific behavior of concern (i.e., domestic violence) as well as attitudes and beliefs related to that behavior. The main curriculum topics can include the nature and impact of abuse, the consequences and costs of abuse, taking responsibility for one’s abuse, ways to avoid abusive behavior, and beliefs and attitudes that sustain abusive behavior. Topics regarding domestic violence are presented, followed by exercises, role-plays, or demonstrations. Trained counselors usually lead a racially mixed group of about 15 men in what can be considered a “color blind” approach, meaning the counselors have not received any cultural sensitivity training, they do not pursue cultural issues in group discussions, and they do not introduce any culturally relevant topics. The conventional counseling curriculum concentrates on attitudes and behaviors that theoretically represent commonalities of woman battering and underlie the violent behavior of men regardless of race and ethnicity.
In addition to basic skills and reasons for stopping violent behavior, culturally focused counseling sessions consist of several components to accommodate the cultural issues of African American men. The culturally focused batterer counseling sessions were led by a trained group leader from the Pittsburgh area—in other words, someone from home with whom the men could identify. A set curriculum progressively leads men to and through cultural issues. Some of the topics that are discussed are African American men’s perceptions of the police, relationships with women, sense of African American manhood, past and recent experiences of violence, reactions to discrimination and prejudice, and support from their neighborhoods. If culturally relevant topics do come up during the course of group discussions or individual comments, the topics are elaborated or explored rather than curtailed as tangents or evasion. Counselors are trained to acknowledge the cultural issues that emerge during group discussions and hear out the men’s viewpoints and understand the different styles of interaction and expression.
The culturally focused counseling sessions attempt to draw on positive aspects of African American culture, such as the sense of brotherhood, communal spirit, intuitive insight, spirituality, and ritual. Sessions also include instruction in the fundamental points of antiviolence education at the core of the conventional batterer counseling. The consequences of violence and avoidance techniques are introduced in the orientation session, and later reviewed and reinforced at the beginning of group sessions. Specific beliefs supporting violent behavior (such as men always needing to be in charge or right) are addressed through the curriculum of cultural topics.
Additional Information: Negative Program Effects
An outcome evaluation (described below in Evaluation Outcomes and Evaluation Methodology) compared study participants who were randomly assigned to one of three counseling options: culturally focused counseling in all African American groups; conventional counseling in all African American groups; or conventional counseling in racially mixed groups. Although reassault rates (as self-reported by the study participants’ female partners) did not differ among the three groups, African American men in the culturally focused counseling group were found to be 3.5 times as likely to be rearrested for domestic violence as those in the racially mixed conventional counseling group.
Overall, Gondolf (2005) found that the Culturally Focused Batterer Counseling program in Pittsburgh, PA, had no significant impact on program completion or self-reported reassault rates. However, the outcomes did show that men who participated in the culturally focused counseling option were twice as likely as men who participated in the racially mixed counseling option to be rearrested for domestic violence.
Culturally Focused Batterer Counseling did not significantly contribute to program completion. Fifty-four percent of men in the Culturally Focused Batterer Counseling group completed the minimum requirements of 16 weeks of counseling, compared with 55 percent of men in the conventional counseling in all African American groups, and 53 percent of men in the conventional counseling in racially mixed groups. The differences did not reach statistical significance.
At the 6-month follow-up, the reassault rates based on women’s reports were slightly higher for the culturally focused and conventional all African American counseling (19 percent for both groups) compared to the racially mixed counseling (14 percent) but the differences were not statistically significant. At the 12-month follow-up, the men in the culturally focused counseling and racially mixed group had similar reassault rates (21 percent and 20 percent, respectively) while the men in the conventional all African American counseling group had a higher rate (28 percent). But again, the differences were not statistically significant.
Men in the culturally focused counseling group were significantly more like to be rearrested for domestic violence than the men in the conventional all African American counseling and racially mixed counseling groups. In fact, men who participated in the culturally focused counseling option were twice as likely to be rearrested for domestic violence as the men who participated in the racially mixed counseling option (15 percent versus 7 percent, respectively). Multivariate analysis confirmed this result, showing that men in the culturally focused counseling group were 3.5 times as likely to be rearrested as men in the racially mixed counseling group, while men in the conventional all African American counseling group were 2.7 times as likely to be rearrested as men in the racially mixed counseling group.
There were no significant differences in rearrest rates for other crimes of violence. For alcohol-/drug-related crimes, men in the conventional all African American counseling were significantly less likely to be rearrested (4 percent) than men in the culturally focused counseling (14 percent) and racially mixed counseling (17 percent).