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The Role of the Physician When a Patient Discloses Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration: A Literature Review

Brian Penti, Joanne Timmons, David Adams
Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine: JABFM 2018, 31 (4): 635-644
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is prevalent and has lasting impacts on the health and well-being of the entire family involved. Primary care physicians often interact with male patients who perpetrate IPV and are in a role potentially to intervene, but there is very little research and guidance about how to address perpetration of IPV in the health care setting. We reviewed the existing literature research related to physicians' interactions with male perpetrators of IPV and summarize the recommendations. If a male patient discloses IPV perpetration, physicians should assess for lethality, readiness to change, and comorbid medical conditions that could impact treatment, such as substance abuse and mental illness. Experts agree that referrals to a Batterer Intervention Program should be the primary intervention. If there are no locally available Batterer Intervention Programs or the patient is unwilling to go, then a physician should refer the abuser to a therapist who has been trained specifically to work with perpetrators of IPV. In addition, physicians should be prepared to offer education about the negative impact of IPV on the victim, on any children, and on the abuser himself. Physicians should address any untreated substance abuse or mental health issues. Referral to couples therapy should generally be avoided. Physicians should continue to have regular follow-up with their male patients to support them in changing their behavior. Further research is needed to assess the role the health care system can have in preventing IPV perpetration.


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