More research is needed for cognitive behavioural therapy to help men who commit domestic violence


Men who physically abuse their partners are often treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Men sometimes sign up to these treatment programmes voluntarily, but are also sometimes obliged to participate by a court order. CBT can help change behaviour and also break established thinking patterns and beliefs, but is there any reliable evidence that this therapy works for men who are violent?

Domestic violence is a subject that we need to know more about. Surveys tell us that 10-34% of women have reported being physically assaulted by an intimate male partner, which clearly makes this a very common issue.

A new systematic review from the Cochrane Developmental, Psychosocial and Learning Problems Group brings together randomised controlled trials that measure the effectiveness of CBT in reducing violence. The reviewers carried out a thorough search and found 6 trials to include in their analysis (involving a total of 2,343 patients).

Here’s what they found:

  • Compared with no intervention, CBT had a relative risk of violence of 0.86 (95% CI 0.54 to 1.38)
  • Compared with process-psychodynamic group treatment, CBT had a relative risk of new violence of 1.07 (95% CI 0.68 to 1.68)

The reviewers concluded:

There are still too few randomised controlled trials to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of cognitive behaviour therapy for male perpetrators of domestic violence.


Smedslund G, Dalsbø TK, Steiro A, Winsvold A, Clench-Aas J. Cognitive behavioural therapy for men who physically abuse their female partner. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD006048. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006048.pub2.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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