Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

The Abstinence Violation Effect: Investigating Lapse and Relapse Phenomena Using the Relapse Prevention Model with Domestically Violent Men

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

The Abstinence Violation Effect: Investigating Lapse and Relapse Phenomena Using the Relapse Prevention Model with Domestically Violent Men

Article excerpt

Despite the influence of the Relapse Prevention (RP) model on understanding offence processes, there has been little research on its key components. This study sets out to replicate research by Ward and colleagues (1994, 1995) with child sex offenders, on one aspect of the RP model--the abstinence violation effect (AVE). With a small sample of men who had assaulted an intimate partner, we sought to measure attributions and emotions at key points in the offence process. Focusing analysis on the lapse and relapse portions of the offence process, this study found that two-thirds of the sample experienced some form of AVE. Comparing those who reported an AVE with those who did not, there were no differences in attributional ratings but those with an AVE obtained higher ratings for most negative emotions. Relationships between two attributional pairings (internal and controllable, internal and uncontrollable) and the predicted emotions provided some support for the Ward et al. theoretical reformulation of the AVE. Overall, these findings suggest that the lapse and relapse portion of the RP model can be applied to men's partner assaults. However, there was also evidence that suggests the need to develop multiple-pathway models for this form of offending.

There has been little research into the processes underlying partner assaults by men. The closest example of an offence process model in the extant literature is the often-cited study by Lenore Walker (1979). Walker described the "cycle of violence" theory, outlining three phases in a process of offending by men who battered their partners. These phases were (a) tension building, (b) the battering episode and (c) contrition and affectionate behaviour. However, Walker derived this model from interviews with victims, so that significant processes internal to offenders, such as the psychological events that initiate an assault, are absent from the model. Furthermore the generalisability to, and comprehensiveness of, the model in other samples has received little attention.

In recent years, research on offence process models, much of it originating from New Zealand, has suggested that understanding the cognitive, affective and behavioural elements of offending is fruitful, not just from the perspective of theory-building (Ward, Louden, Hudson & Marshall, 1995), but also in order to guide treatment (Polaschek, 2003). The Relapse Prevention model (RP) offers one method of structuring the psychological processes associated with violent offending in male partners. For some years, the RP model has been the dominant theoretical model of the offence process in child sex offenders. RP concepts and interventions are now employed widely in offender rehabilitation and mental health treatment alike (Freeman-Longo, Bird, Stevenson, & Fiske, 1994) and they are used for violent offending as well (Berry, 1999). RP's widespread adoption has been more a function of its intuitive appeal than its scientific underpinnings (Polaschek, 2003).

The RP model was based on Marlatt and colleagues' research on drinking relapses in people with alcohol dependence (see Marlatt, 1985b). This model proposed that an excess of obligations over pleasant events in the background lifestyle of a substance user creates the motivational momentum to indulge in the prohibited substance, leading to urges and cravings, anticipation of substance use, and a series of apparently irrelevant decisions, superficially trivial decisions that undermine self control. These decisions lead the user into emotional or environmental situations that are highly associated with previous habitual use. In the absence of effective self-management, these high risk situations are perceived as threatening to cessation self-efficacy, enhance positive perceptions about engaging in the prohibited behaviour, and lead to a lapse, defined as a single occurrence of the undesirable behaviour (e.g., consuming their first alcoholic beverage). …

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