Shrink Rap: Domestic Violence

Telluride-based Dr. Susannah Smith goes in-depth to explain domestic violence.

Domestic Violence (DV) and Interpartner Violence (IPV) are concepts we hear about and refer to, but often do not fully understand. To begin with, there are many different types and reasons for domestic or interpartner violence. We first have to define which type of DV or IPV has occurred before we can talk about remedies and/or treatment.

Several theoretical categories, based on solid research, help us understand just how different these types are. Two are presented here. In one conceptual framework, DV is broken down to three basic types, each having its own corresponding risk levels (AFCC workshop summary, 2013):

The first two types of domestic violence are fairly “gender equal,” meaning as many women as men are involved, and often both parties are equally involved

The third level is the one of highest risk and is more male-dominated as perpetrator

The first type of domestic violence involves both parties escalating often into verbal fighting, which sometimes becomes physical. If one party is primary, research shows that both genders are equally represented statistically. Neither party is really afraid of the other.

The second type of DV is called “episodic assault” and describes couples who fairly regularly get into physical fights.

Again, both aforementioned types of DV are gender equal; neither party is afraid of the other and they usually feel better after the fight.

The third type of DV is called “coercive control” and the man is more often the perpetrator. This form of abuse is all about power and control and physical violence is only one tool in the tool kit for control, so to speak.

While the first level is low risk, the second level is higher risk, especially if substance abuse is involved and if there are children around. The third level is extremely high risk and is the type of DV that is characterized in movies such as “Enough,” “The Burning Bed,” and “Sleeping With the Enemy.” It is the form of DV that contains the dynamics of the “battered wife syndrome.” Unfortunately, many professionals and shelters assume that all DV falls into this category, when statistically, the third form of abuse occurs less frequently, but causes the most damage.

*Another model of assessing domestic violence creates an integrated framework for standardized analysis. It includes the new information that coercive control, now substituted for the older term “battering,” includes patterns of psychological behavior that may or may not include any physical abuse. The effects of coercion, isolation, dominance, bullying, and intrusiveness into the partner’s life are often more debilitating than physical violence.

In that model, five subtypes are proposed:

Coercive Controlling, Intrusive, Authoritarian Violence (CCIA): High levels of control issues and intrusiveness are primary patterns and replace an understanding of what we used to call battering. While both males and females can perpetrate this type of violence, more often the male is the perp, as the issue is control over another’s life and issues of “gender elite privilege” belonging to males in society, are also primary.

Conflict Instigated Situation Specific Violence (CISS): This is the most common form of violence, instigated equally by both males and females. However, in each situation, either a male or female may be the primary instigator; the other may or may not participate in the violence. The level of severity is often minor, but also can escalate and become quite severe.

Separation Associated Violence (SA): This is a subtype of CISS and occurs at the time of intense conflict and separation. Forensic evaluators often encounter this type of violence. The time of separation is recognized as the most dangerous for female partners. In addition, we know that once the parenting plan has been finalized and a new custody/visitation situation occurs, the family is also in one of the most dangerous periods for violence.

Substance Abuse-Associated Violence (SAA): Substance abuse, including alcohol, is a major risk factor for violence and IPV.

Major Mental Disorder Associated (MMDA): In risk assessment analysis for prediction of violent behavior, there are correlations among various mental illnesses and an increased risk of DV. Combined with a history of past violence, major mental disorders creates high risk for future violence.

Experts have also developed a “severity index,” which determines not only what type of DV or IPV has occurred, but the severity of the DV. They begin with a determination of how often the violence occurred, what exactly occurred, and how “active and potent” the behaviors and attitudes are. In short, if the behaviors are very old and relatively insignificant, little relevance to current situations, including custody and potential future violence to the partner, is given. However, if the behaviors were serious, including life-threatening, violence in the presence of children, continued obsessive intrusive behaviors, such as stalking and threatening, or using the child(ren) to continue harassment and control over the partner, the issues pose considerable ongoing threat and need to be considered for mitigation.

In addition, 10 behaviors should also be considered: 1) exposure of children to violence; 2) degree of present threat factors; 3) substance and alcohol use; 4) major mental disorder; 5) severity and patterns of past abuse; 6) severity and patterns of past psychological abuse; 7) associated issues and conditions; 8) recency: ongoing now or long in the past; 9) patterns of instigation; and 10) degree of coercive control involved.

(We also know that, where IPV has occurred, there is an over 30%-60% higher risk of DV towards children: Edelson, and Jaffe research).

*Benchbook for the Assessment of Intimate Partner Violence: William Austin, Ph.D., Leslie Drozd, Ph.D.


Dr. Susannah Smith

Dr. Susannah Smith is a licensed practicing clinical psychologist and organizational development consultant, with offices in Telluride and Ridgway. She is licensed in Colorado, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Dr. Smith has conducted workshops on child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault, and is a mediator and custody evaluator. If you would like to contact her, she can be reached;; or 970-728-5234.


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