Mindfulness Reduces Domestic Violence

Updated: May 26, 2020

According to a recent report from NPR, the state of Iowa has adopted a new mindfulness-based intervention for domestic violence. The state made this shift after a pilot study of 1,353 offenders receiving the mindfulness-based treatment demonstrated half the reoffending rates compared to those receiving treatment as usual. The program’s creator, Iowa State University clinical psychologist Amie Zarling, says that while popular programs emphasizing male accountability developed by feminists in the 1980’s accurately diagnose male privilege as the correct root cause of violence, “addressing societal issues isn’t effective at the individual level.” Instead, her program believes that teaching men mindfulness and emotional intelligence will help them develop self-awareness in moments of emotional trigger (hold their seat as we might say) and avoid violent reactivity. Other locations, such as Vermont, are trying this new approach as well. 

Similar to a previously mentioned program that was shown to reduce criminal thinking, Zarling’s program is also based on the mindfulness-inspired Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Zarling says that “The basic ways we kind of mess up as humans is the same. We need to be nonjudgmental in general, and allow them to learn the tools to change their own life, as opposed to forcing it on them with shaming and confrontation.”

The success of mindfulness combined with with other components reflects core questions we train Path of Freedom (POF) facilitators to grapple with:

  1. How can we cultivate a sense of responsibility matched with mindfulness?

  2. In order to motivate change, how can we balance both critical self-reflection and a sense of basic goodness?

  3. How can we think back to things we’d like to avoid repeating, being with all the feelings that arise in the process, without getting lost in shame and resignation?

  4. How do we enjoy the benefits of nonjudgemental approaches cultivated through mindfulness while avoiding spiritual bypass or cop-outs?

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