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Program Profile: Brief Motivational Interviewing for Dating Aggression

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on January 26, 2016

Program Summary

This program aims to reduce harmful behavior with young adult couples who are unmarried and are not cohabitating. It uses a brief counseling method to address ambivalence toward behavioral change and encourage self-motivation for behavioral change. The program is rated Promising. This program was shown to significantly reduce reports of physical aggression and harmful alcohol consumption, but had no significant effect on reports of psychological aggression.

Program Description

Program Goals/Program Theory
Motivational interviewing (MI) is a counseling method that uses a brief, collaborative, client-centered, and goal-oriented approach to improve and strengthen individuals' motivations to change. MI aims to foster behavioral change by encouraging self-efficacy and personal responsibility while avoiding confrontation or blame. MI for Dating Aggression targets unmarried young adult couples (ages 18–25) who have never lived together, and have a history of physical aggression (without serious injury). This version of MI addresses the partners' ambivalence toward change and encourages their motivation to change harmful behaviors. MI for Dating Aggression was designed based on similar MI interventions, which focused on risk factors such as heavy drinking or relationship stress (Marlatt et al. 1998; Cordova et al. 2005)

Program Activities
The version of MI for dating couples is a brief, one-session intervention. During the session, couples complete an individualized feedback sheet that identifies levels of aggression, risk factors for aggression, and effects of aggression. Feedback is then given by the therapist in a non-confrontational and empathetic way to each partner individually. Therapists provide individual feedback on possible impacts of aggression on the partner and the relationship, and discuss possible behavioral changes. Therapists discuss risk factors for harmful behaviors, including heavy alcohol use and psychological aggression (i.e., insults, threats, controlling behaviors). They also discuss the consequences of aggression, such as depression, anxiety, and relationship stress. Feedback addresses aggression perpetrated by both genders; however, therapists are careful to avoid blame when discussing risky behaviors. Individuals are given the opportunity to respond to the feedback while therapists reinforce and encourage any expressed desire for behavioral change. The individual feedback sessions last about 45 minutes and the results are not shared with the other partner.

In the remaining 15 minutes of the session, the therapist meets with the couple to reinforce each partner's desire and motivation to change behaviors related to aggression. At the end of the session, couples are given sealed envelopes with written summaries of their assessment, informational brochures, and a list of referrals for additional resources. In total, the MI for Dating Aggression session lasts about 2 hours.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Physical Aggression
Woodin and O'Leary (2010) found that couples who had received the brief motivational interviewing sessions reported reductions in physical aggression at a significantly greater rate than couples in the control group.

Psychological Aggression
Although both groups showed a decrease in reported rates of psychological aggression, the difference between the treatment and control groups was not significant.

Harmful Alcohol Consumption
Couples who had received the brief motivational sessions were significantly more likely to report reducing harmful alcohol consumption than couples in the control group.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Woodin and O'Leary (2010) examined the effectiveness of brief motivational interviewing (MI) sessions on dating aggression in college-dating couples. Couples were eligible to participate if both individuals agreed to participate, if they had been dating for at least 3 months, were not married or cohabitating, and reported at least one male-to-female physical act of aggression (without serious injury) during an initial screening process. Fifty couples between the ages of 18–25 years were randomly assigned to either the treatment or control group during a preliminary assessment session. Couples in the treatment group (n = 25) received the MI for Dating Aggression session; couples in the control group (n = 25) received non-motivational, individual-only feedback sessions lasting 10 minutes.

The average length of the couples' relationships was 21 ½ months. The average female participant was 19.6 years old. The racial/ethnic breakdown of female participants was white (58 percent), Asian American (38 percent), black (4 percent), and other (4 percent). The average male participant was 20.3 years old. The racial/ethnic breakdown of male participants was white (60 percent), Asian American (42 percent), other (8 percent), American Indian (6 percent), black (6 percent), and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (6 percent). There were no significant differences between groups at pretest. All female participants were enrolled in college full time. The majority of the male participants were enrolled in college full time or part time (88 percent); the remaining men were not in college (12 percent).

Couples completed online follow-up surveys at 3, 6, and 9 months after the feedback session. Psychological (i.e., verbal and nonverbal aggressive acts) and physical aggression was assessed using the Revised Conflict Tactics Scales (Straus et al., 1996). Problematic alcohol use was measured using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Data was analyzed using hierarchical linear modeling.
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Implementation Information

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Therapists in the Woodin and O'Leary (2010) study attended 20 hours of training in motivational interviewing theory and techniques. A standardized treatment manual was developed for outlining session protocols. Therapists were monitored and assessed using the Motivational Interviewing Treatment Integrity Scale. A standardized treatment manual is available from the first author.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Woodin, Erica M., and K. Daniel O'Leary. 2010. "A Brief Motivational Intervention for Physically Aggressive Dating Couples." Prevention Science 11(4):371–83.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Cordova, J. V., R. L. Scott, M. Dorian, S. Mirgain, D. Yaeger, and A. Groot. 2005. "The Marriage Checkup: An Indicated Preventive Intervention for Treatment-Avoidant Couples at Risk for Marital Deterioration." Behavior Therapy 36(4):301–09.

Marlatt, G. A., J. S. Baer, D. R. Kivlahan, L. A, Dimeff, M. E. Larimer, L. A. Quigley, J.M. Somers, and E. Williams.1998. "Screening and Brief Intervention for High-Risk College Student Drinkers: Results from a 2-Year Follow-Up Assessment." Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology 66(4):604–15.

Straus, M. A., S. L. Hamby, S. Boney-McCoy, and D. B. Sugarman. 1996. "The Revised Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS2): Development and Preliminary Psychometric Data." Journal of Family Issues 17(3):283–316.

Woodin, Erica M. "Motivational Interviewing as a Targeted Prevention Approach for Physically Aggressive Dating Couples." PhD diss., Stony Brook University, 2007

Woodin, Erica M., Alina Sotskova, and K. Daniel O'Leary. 2012. "Do Motivational Interviewing Behaviors Predict Reductions in Partner Aggression for Men and Women?" Behaviour Research and Therapy 50(1):79–84.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

School-Based Interventions to Reduce Dating and Sexual Violence
This practice includes universal-level prevention and intervention programs in schools that aim to reduce or prevent teen dating violence perpetration and victimization. The practice is rated Effective for reducing perpetration of teen dating violence and improving dating violence knowledge and attitudes. The practice is rated No Effects for reducing teen dating violence victimization.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Attitudes & Beliefs - Teen Dating Violence Knowledge
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Attitudes & Beliefs - Teen Dating Violence Attitudes
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Victimization - Domestic/intimate partner/family violence
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Program Snapshot

Age: 18 - 25

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, American Indians/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White, Other

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting

Program Type: Individual Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Violence Prevention, Specific deterrence

Current Program Status: Not Active

Erica M. Woodin
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology, University of Victoria
P.O. Box 1700
Victoria, British Columbia V8W 2Y2
Phone: 250.721.8590
Fax: 250.721.8929