American Psychological Foundation

To fight the spread of domestic violence, the American Psychological Foundation (APF) recently awarded a $20,000 Violence Prevention and Intervention Grant to Capstone Behavioral Health Inc., a community mental health agency in Omaha, Neb.

The APF grant, first offered in 2003 to advance violence-prevention research and programming, will enable Holly Filcheck, PhD, director of psychology at Capstone, to empirically evaluate a cognitive-behavioral program she now uses with male abusers who are referred by courts, judges and hospitals.

The treatment program, known as the Domestic Abuse Counseling Center Model, teaches patients to "think, act and feel:" Through written exercises, role-play and homework assignments, the patients learn first to approach events from a logical level (think), before they make a choice (act) and then finally reflect on their emotions (feel).

What's unique about this model, says Filcheck, is that unlike some other domestic violence education, it incorporates research about how males are socialized differently from females and have distinct gender roles, she adds. For example, part of the curriculum focuses on emotions and how males are often not as encouraged as females to express their feelings.

"We teach the men that feelings are natural and a normal way to react to situations," says Filcheck. "We teach people to [make] requests [of their partners] and negotiate rather than manipulate or use force to get what they want."

Also innovative is that a male-female team of therapists leads the group sessions, adds Brian Andersen, Filcheck's colleague and director of therapy at Capstone.

"In our area, domestic violence programs are generally run by males, but I think it's important that we have men and women present to teach the abusers how to respect, socialize and work with females," he says.

Before graduate school, Filcheck worked at a Pittsburgh women's shelter, where she learned about the model and later brought it to Capstone. Now, with the help of APF's grant, she'll investigate the effects of an intensive outpatient model in which participants will be randomly assigned to either the model treatment program or the model program with the addition of intensive outpatient therapy services. Both groups will participate in weekly, two-hour group therapy for 16 weeks, and individuals in the intensive outpatient therapy services will receive an additional hour of cognitive-behavioral therapy two or three times a week for 16 weeks.

APF is particularly pleased with the breadth and scope of Filcheck's investigation, adds Executive Director Lisa Straus.

"This grant helps Dr. Filcheck and her community," she says, "but it also has ramifications far beyond her particular scope, and that's one of the reasons why she won."