Short-Term Interventions for Survivors

Short-Term Interventions for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence Based Practices for Improved Outcomes

A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
By Karla Arroya, Brad Lundahl, Rob Butters, Mindy Vanderloo, and David S. Wood.

A recent study published in the Journal of Trauma, Violence, & Abuse examined short-term evidence based interventions for survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). Short-term psychological interventions, such as therapy and support groups, are often offered to survivors by shelters and community advocacy organizations. These interventions are an important component of a coordinated community response to domestic violence.

The complex needs of IPV survivors include safety, ability to live and cope with communal living environments when entering shelters, substance use and abuse, mental illness, parenting, economic challenges, and complex grief while making or considering significant life changes. Psychological therapy and support is a critical component of early healing.

This systematic review and meta-analysis focused on studies looking at short-term, psychotherapeutic interventions used with survivors of IPV. The studies varied between individual and group therapies, but all only provided eight or fewer sessions per individual survivor.

The rates of PTSD and mental health crises are high among survivors of IPV, and psychological care is often necessary in order for survivors to fully heal. On average, the building literature shows the effectiveness of short, psychological interventions for survivors of IPV. A number of the studies used control groups to compare survivors receiving psychotherapy to those who did not. In each study that used a control group, the group receiving the therapy had better outcomes and decreases in subsequent IPV.

Participants gained the most in the areas of:

  • Decreased PTSD symptoms
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Decreased symptoms of depression and general distress
  • Increases in life functioning

Meaningful, though more moderate gains were also found for outcomes such as:

  • Substance abuse
  • Emotional well-being
  • Sense of safety
  • Decreases in actual instances of subsequent IPV

Some interventions work better than others. The models of therapy that were based on established cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) treatments showed significantly higher results than other studies. One of the studies was even able to replicate their findings and use a comparison group (Kubany et al. 2004). Treatment dosage matters and that generally more is better. Specifically, more sessions and more intervention time were linked to better outcomes.

Individually delivered interventions were superior to group interventions. While group therapy is beneficial, those receiving individual attention received more benefit. This is an important finding, as many programs promote support groups and group interventions because they are more cost-effective and based on the assumption that survivors need to hear from other survivors. While the “universalizing” experience of connecting with other survivors is surely valuable for many, evidence suggests that an individualized approach may allow for more tailored and targeted interventions that meet the unique needs of the survivor.