Therapist treats domestic batterers
Therapist Walt Dimitroff thinks that domestic batterers – most of them men who abuse their wives – can learn to control their behavior.
And because of a new law in Nevada, he thinks that more and more batterers will do better.
In October, Nevada law will require that batterers convicted of domestic violence must undergo 28 weeks of treatment.
Dimitroff thinks that the new six-month requirement is going to offer better results than the previously mandated 14 weeks. He has counseled at South Lake Tahoe where the California program requires 52 weeks of treatment.
“I see many of the people really make some remarkable treatment strides in that amount time,” he said. “It takes three or four months for them to get past the denial stage that there is a problem, and so after that we can actually do some treatment. I’m really looking forward down here to have that opportunity.”
In Douglas County, the Family Support Council sponsors Dimitroff’s domestic violence intervention program.
“One thing, our program doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything,” Dimitroff said. “The offender pays for his treatment, and we provide court reports monthly to the court and follow up in a timely way.
“It’s a flat fee of $25 a week. I think it holds a person accountable for their treatment, which is one of the cornerstones for the treatment program.”
Dimitroff’s program in Douglas County is structured as a support group.
“The first thing I try to get across is that breakthrough of denial. We need to make batterers 100 percent responsible for their behavior. Usually within a group environment, that denial tends to dissipate. They don’t feel like they’re the only person in the world.
“It becomes a norm of the group to take responsibility for personal behavior. After that, we can start some skill building.”
The long-term nature of the program will help.
“On the whole, most of the people I deal with are very likable individuals. After we get past the denial, the group really clicks. They start to take responsibility and provide additional information on how long the problem’s been going on. They make a commitment to seek treatment.”
About 80 percent of domestic batteries have a drug or alcohol problem, too, Dimitroff said.
He appreciates the fact that in Douglas County, this is recognized by the court system.
“[Justice of the Peace Jim] EnEarl,” Dimitroff said, “mandates drug testing. That is absolutely critical to continued recovery.”
The police are a big part of helping in the process by identifying domestic violence early and making arrests.
“I feel arrest is part of the treatment,” he said. “That’s when treatment begins. The message is, this is not socially acceptable behavior. This is a wakeup call.”
Dimitroff said that for many batterers, going to jail for domestic violence is the only time they’ve ever been incarcerated.
“For most people, jail has an effect. They have a job, family and neighbors.”
The support group is ongoing and can be made up of batterers who have been recently ordered to the program and others who have been in it for awhile. Those who have been attending help the newcomers.
“They help a person take more responsibility.”
Dimitroff said certain types of batterers tend toward violence and are unable to understand that their behavior is not acceptable. In these cases, he thinks their spouses should get out of the relationship. Others, he has hope for.
“I get a lot of people who come back and say, ‘Hi’ and sit in on a group session and talk about how their lives have changed since the program,” he said.
“I feel very positive about it and the people I talk to are very positive about it. I’ve seen some people do some remarkable changing.”
The group is held every Thursday, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Family Support Council office on Waterloo Lane just west of Lampe Park. Dimitroff is at the office early to talk to anyone who is having problems. Once a person has completed 28 weeks, he may return for free at any time.
Dimitroff operates a private practice as a marriage and family therapist in Reno and is a native Nevadan. He earned his degree at the University of Nevada, Reno.