Up to 65% of couples who seek therapy for marital problems have had at least one prior violent episode. Unfortunately, therapists often miss this critical information because they do not effectively assess for it. This book presents a safety-focused approach to assessment and treatment of couples who choose to remain together after one or both partners have been violent.

Treatment options for intimate partner violence have evolved alongside the growing awareness and broader definitions of domestic violence. Since 1997 the authors have conducted Domestic Violence Focused Couples Treatment (DVFCT), collected data, and refined their program. The authors outline their assessment and screening process and share case illustrations to demonstrate when conjoint treatment can be a safe and viable option.

Readers get an overview of the 18-session course of DVFCT and tips for adapting it for multi-couple groups or for a single couple. The major tenets of solution-focused therapy, such as underscoring even the smallest of successes, are emphasized throughout, as are the following special features:

  • safety planning
  • mindfulness techniques for anger awareness and reduction
  • negotiated time-out procedures
  • drug and alcohol use modules
  • psychoeducational tools and materials on violence

Therapists will learn how to assess intimate partner violence and help couples eliminate all forms of violence and begin on a positive path toward their vision of a healthy relationship.

Table of Contents



  1. The Changing Face of Intimate Partner Violence Treatment
  2. Assessment for Intimate Partner Violence and Screening for Inclusion in the Treatment Program
  3. Domestic Violence–Focused Couples Therapy Within a Solution-Focused Framework
  4. Session 1: Honoring the Problem
  5. Session 2: The Foundation for Domestic Violence–Focused Couples Therapy — Defining the Miracle
  6. Session 3: Introduction to Intimate Partner Violence
  7. Session 4: Mindfulness and Safety Planning
  8. Session 5: Escalation and Negotiated Time-Out
  9. Session 6: Alcohol and Drug Use
  10. Sessions 7 Through 18: Phase Two — Conjoint Treatment
  11. Constraints, Multicouple Group Adaptations, and Termination
  12. Our Clients
  13. Our Research Findings

Suggested Readings



About the Authors

Author Bios

Sandra M. Stith, PhD, LCMFT, is a professor and director of the marriage and family therapy program at Kansas State University.

Her primary research interest is in understanding and treating intimate partner violence. She has edited three books on the subject, including Understanding Partner Violence: Prevalence, Causes, Consequences and Solutions, coedited with Dr. Murray Straus, and Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence. She publishes widely in the professional literature and has received funding, with Drs. McCollum and Rosen, from the National Institutes of Health to develop and test a couple's treatment program for intimate partner violence.

Dr. Stith has worked with the U.S. Air Force Family Advocacy Program since 1998, managing and conducting a variety of family violence–related research projects.

In 2004 she received the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's Outstanding Contribution to Marriage and Family Therapy Award, and in 2007 she received the American Family Therapy Association's Distinguished Contribution to Family Systems Research Award and Kansas State University's Distinguished Alumni Award.

Eric E. McCollum, PhD, LCSW, LMFT, is a professor in and program director of the marriage and family therapy master's program at Virginia Tech. He had a 15-year clinical career, including 12 years as a staff member of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, before beginning his academic career in 1989 as a faculty member in the marriage and family therapy doctoral program at Purdue University.

His academic interests include the treatment of intimate partner violence and the use of mindfulness meditation in treatment and in the training of therapists.

In addition to his many contributions to the professional literature, he has published two prior books, Family Solutions for Substance Abuse with Terry Trepper and More Than Miracles: The State of the Art of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy with Steve de Shazer, Yvonne Dolan, Harry Korman, Terry Trepper and Insoo Kim Berg. He is coeditor with Cynthia Franklin, Terry Trepper, and Wallace Gingerich of the forthcoming Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: From Practice to Research-Informed Practice.

In 2008, Dr. McCollum received the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's Training Award.

Karen H. Rosen, EdD, was a faculty member at the marriage and family therapy master's Program at Virginia Tech for more than 15 years. Before that, she was a clinician and supervisor and directed the training clinic at Virginia Tech.

Her academic interests lay in the area of understanding and treating intimate partner violence. Primarily a qualitative researcher, she was the author of many professional papers and one book, Violence Hits Home: Comprehensive Treatment Approaches to Domestic Violence with Sandra Stith and Mary Beth Williams.

At the time of her death in 2008, Dr. Rosen was professor emeritus at Virginia Tech.

Reviews & Awards

The book is readable, comprehensible, well organized, and so important for MFTs who are in danger of slipping away from relational conceptualizing and practice.
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

A clear and comprehensive guide to a systemic model of treatment for domestic violence that could greatly enhance the training and practice of any clinician working with couples.
Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy