Medical Management of Intimate Partner Violence Considering the Stages of Change: Precontemplation and Contemplation

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BACKGROUND We undertook a study to understand how women who are victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) want physicians to manage these abusive relationships in the primary care office.

METHODS Thirty-two mothers in IPV shelters or support groups in southwestern Ohio were interviewed to explore their abuse experiences and health care encounters retrospectively. The interviews were taped and transcribed. Using thematic analysis techniques, transcripts were read for indications of the stages of change and for participants’ desires concerning appropriate physician management.

RESULTS Participants believed that physicians should screen women for IPV both on a routine basis and when symptoms indicating possible abuse are present, even if the victim does not disclose the abuse. Screening is an important tool to capture those women early in the process of victimization. When a victim does not recognize her relationship as abusive, participants recommended that physicians raise the issue by asking, but they also warned that doing more may alienate the victim. Participants also encouraged physicians to explore clues that victims might give about the abuse. In later contemplation, victims are willing to disclose the abuse and are exploring options. Physicians were encouraged to affirm the abuse, know local resources for IPV victims, make appropriate referrals, educate victims about how the abuse affects their health, and document the abuse. Participants identified a variety of internal and external factors that had affected their processes.

CONCLUSIONS In hindsight, IPV victims recommended desired actions from physicians that could help them during early stages of coming to terms with their abusive relationships. Stage-matched interventions may help physicians manage IPV more effectively and avoid overloading the victim with information for which she is not ready.