Family Violence Concentration

CONTACT: Jill Rathus, Ph.D., Coordinator of Family Violence Concentration

Since the problem of family violence emerged from behind closed doors in the late 1970's with the publication of the earliest epidemiological studies on the topic and the shelter movement, there has been a wealth of national attention on this topic. While a decades-old grass-roots movement has led to accountability and treatment for perpetrators and victims of domestic violence, the field has been serviced predominantly by social work, criminal justice, and case management. Nonetheless, a separate stream of attention has come through the discipline of psychology, through research on assessment, correlates, causes, consequences, subtypes, and treatment of family violence. Unfortunately, knowledge gleaned from such investigations rarely gets disseminated outside of research-funded university settings.

The family violence concentration aims to train informed clinical psychologists to bridge the gap between the ample psychology literature on family violence and its application in community settings. The scope of the concentration has been traditionally defined as the theory, research, and clinical applications to victims and perpetrators of family violence, including the physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect of children and adolescents, child witnesses to domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and elder abuse. However, in recent years, the scope of topics addressed has expanded to include such topics as school violence and bullying, teen dating violence, sibling violence, gang violence, trauma, rape, workplace violence, vicarious traumatization, commercial sex work, adolescent sex offenders, terrorism, and genocide. Broad related topics that have also been touched upon include child psychotherapy, family therapy, marital therapy, divorce and child custody issues, and parent training. Note that all of the concentration areas provide students with an area of expertise above and beyond, but not in place of, their traditional broad training in clinical psychology. Students may select clinical training sites where they can work with family violence populations, and often conduct dissertations in this area.

The Family Violence concentration addresses underserved individuals who are at risk for a variety of psychological consequences as well as legal involvement. Although family violence is defined more by behaviors and their impact by DSM-IV diagnostic categories, a variety of psychological disorders have relevance for this field. Both adult and child victims experience sequelae such as major depression, anxiety disorders (especially PTSD), substance abuse, somatoform disorders, and personality disorders. Perpetrators often meet criteria for mood disorders, substance abuse disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders (PD), particularly borderline, antisocial, dependent, and narcissistic PD.

In the family violence concentration, we not only cover the associated DSM IV diagnosis, we also discuss controversies in the field and the latest work on treating the behaviors independently from or in conjunction with psychopathology. Our work on diagnosis focuses on such topics as assessments that target diagnoses (e.g., the Structured Interview for Disorders of Extreme Stress) and subtypes of intimate partner violence perpetrators (borderline dysphoric, antisocial, and family only). Furthermore, many of our students participate in externship or internship programs (whether in outpatient, day treatment, or inpatient settings, with adult, couple, family, or child cases) that expose them to patients with a range of diagnoses, who while not necessarily presenting for family violence, have such problems as part of their larger family context. Following participation in the concentration, students are aware of the need and methods to assess for and treat such problems.

Primary Aims of the Family Violence Concentration: Students who select the Family Violence Concentration will attain the following objectives:

  • Gain a thorough understanding of up-to-date theory, research, and treatment in all major areas of family violence, including, but not limited to, child abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect), intimate partner violence, elder abuse.
  • Understand the historical context of the family violence field and its large influence on theory, terminology, research, treatment, and policy.
  • Learn the three major approaches to the study of family violence, from the lenses of the sociocultural, family systems, and individual difference/psychopathology perspectives.
  • Learn about the systems involved in the family violence field, such as the legal, criminal justice, medical, social welfare, and community mental health systems, and how these interface with the role of the psychologist.
  • Understand the many controversies present in the field of family violence regarding assessment, treatment, accountability, and funding.
  • Learn the body of research in family violence on antecedents, etiology, correlates, subtypes, and impact.
  • Learn about problems of intimate violence in special at-risk populations, such as the multiply traumatized (e.g., those with chronic PTSD), the LGBT community, immigrants and ethnic minorities, or those with severe psychopathology or problems of substance abuse.
  • Learn the range of assessment methods and issues pertaining to assessment of family violence and risk factors.
  • Learn the literature on various treatment approaches and outcomes, while becoming aware of the challenges to conducting research in this field.
  • Learn the practical applications of traditional (e.g., the Deluth Model) as well as cutting edge (e.g., Motivational Interviewing) treatment approaches.
  • Gain exposure to treatment involving families and couples when issues of domestic violence are present.
  • Understand the barriers and challenges for those seeking treatment for problems of family violence, and treatment and research approaches that minimize danger.
  • Prepare students to develop an expertise in the field of family violence that can be applied to research, clinical practice, hospital settings, academic settings, or forensic settings.

Description of Family Violence Electives: The core elective courses within the Family Violence concentration are: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications in Family Violence, Part I: Children, Adolescents, and Families (PSY 846) and Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications in Family Violence, Part II: Adults (PSY 856). The Part I course focuses on children, adolescents, and families, while the Part II course focuses on perpetrators of child abuse, adult survivors of abuse, and intimate partner violence. The courses include classic, original literature as well as the most current scholarship in the field. The courses balance scholarly work (reading literature, writing papers, conducting research for presentations on special topics) with practical applications such as practicing interview administration and viewing treatment videotapes. Classes are small and discussion/critical analysis is highly emphasized. Novel and changing projects have been implemented over the years, including mock trials, creating specialized treatment manuals, and book-sharing projects on key works in the field. The aims in the section above further capture the content of these elective courses.

Beyond these courses and the concentration meetings (see below), students specializing in the family violence concentration may select externships or internships that offer further specialization in one or more of these areas (e.g., at domestic violence service agencies, hospital settings with programs for sexual offenders, etc.), that offer closely related work (foster care agencies, group homes, substance abuse settings, etc.) or that offer more general training (e.g., adolescent inpatient units, child outpatient clinics, adult day treatment settings, college counseling centers). Even these latter more general settings will inevitably offer exposure to family violence as well as to issues related to working in the field of family violence (e.g., working in a multi-disciplinary setting; conducting family or group sessions, etc).

Sample Concentration Meetings

In addition to the two elective courses, the monthly concentration meeting gives students an opportunity to discuss current clinical, research, systemic, or political issues in the field; to hear presentations from guest speakers working in the field; and to discuss dissertation projects related to the concentration area.

  • Commercial Sex Work among Youth and the Girls Education and Mentoring Service (GEMS)
  • Development and Application of SPARCS (Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Extreme Stress) for Youth with Chronic Trauma
  • Correlates, Subtypes, and Treatment of Stalking Behavior
  • Domestic Violence within the LGBT Community
  • The Complex Relationship between Dependency and Abuse: Converging Psychological Factors and Social Forces
Sample Family Violence Dissertations

While many students have conducted studies on direct issues of family violence (e.g., evaluating a treatment program for batterers), many others have conducted research on broadly related topics (e.g., sibling relationships, disruptive behavior disorders in children, impact of trauma). Examples of recent dissertations in the concentration follow:

  • Developing Typologies of Descriptions, Explanations, and Precipitants of Assault among Men Referred for Intimate Partner Violence
  • Personality Correlates of Intimate Partner Violence Subtypes
  • Evaluation of a Mindfulness-Based Anger Group Intervention for a MICA Population
  • The Adaptation of Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Partner Violent Men: A Treatment Outcome Study
  • Preliminary Evaluation of a School-Based Group Treatment for Pregnant/Parenting Adolescent Females Living With Interpersonal Trauma
Sample of Program Graduates’ Current Job Placements

The coursework and clinical training in family violence prepares students to be qualified for work within settings that deal specifically with family violence, as well as more general settings. There are a variety of possible career directions for family violence students (some may require additional training and experience), such as working as a psychologist in a hospital, clinic, agency, or private practice setting with adults, adolescents, children, families, and couples, as the concentration enhances students' general training in the assessment and treatment of these populations; working in a setting that focuses on treating perpetrators or victims of, or witnesses to, family violence, such as a specialized inpatient or outpatient program, or a domestic violence agency or shelter; working as a consultant, program evaluator, evaluator for the court; or working in a variety of additional areas including, but not limited to, prevention, research, teaching/academia/supervision, program development , serving as reviewer or editor for a family violence journals, writing specialty books, or grant writing. The field offers virtually limitless possibilities, based on students' skills and interests.

  • Treatment Development Project Director, coordinating the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s (NCTSN) efforts to develop and evaluate novel treatment for adolescent trauma (SPARCS; Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress) at North Shore-LIJ Medical Center
  • Psychologist, NYS Sex Offender Treatment Program, New York, NY
  • Research Coordinator, Violence and Personality Disorders Project, Mount Sinai Personality Disorders Program, New York, NY
  • Clinical Coordinator, Abuse Treatment and Prevention Program, MercyFirst, Syosset, NY
  • Director, Substance Abuse Treatment Unit, Long Beach Reach, Long Beach, NY


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