Could Mindfulness and Meditation Reduce Domestic Violence?
Breaking the cycle of domestic violence has been difficult. Studies have shown that even the most widely-used program for domestic abuse intervention, the Duluth Model, has not been successful in reducing the rate of recidivism for violent offenders.
But there is one approach that might be more successful. Although they are not designed specifically to reduce incidences of domestic violence, programs that teach people mindfulness and meditation have shown some promise in reducing incidences of violence in several settings.
Stop and think
Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research carried out two randomized trials in the Chicago area, testing interventions to reduce crime and dropout rates by changing the decision-making process of economically disadvantaged youth. They used a program called Becoming a Man (BAM), which focuses on getting young people to avoid the automatic, impulsive decisions that they make—and which often lead to violence–and to take more time to think before they act.
In one training exercise, the program leaders gave youths 30 seconds to get a ball from their partners. All of them initially tried to get the ball by force; none tried simply asking. When they later talked about their decisions with the counselors, however, most participants said they would have given up the ball if their partner had simply asked for it.
The researchers emphasize that they don’t give the participants a “right” thing to do, but instead ask them to take a minute of conscious deliberation before they act.
The researchers got positive results. They found that the participation in the program reduced total arrests during the intervention period by 28 to 35 percent, reduced violent crime arrests by 45 to 50 percent, improved school engagement and increased graduation rates by 12 to 19 percent.
A similar program at the Cook County, Illinois, Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, had many of the elements of BAM but also added incentives for good behavior. The researchers noted that taking part in the program reduced re-admission rates by 21 percent.
“We hypothesize that these interventions improve youth outcomes in substantial part because they help youth slow down in high-stakes settings, examine their automatic assumptions about what situation they are in, and ask whether the situation could be construed differently,” the researchers wrote.
Quiet time for California students
The online news site Inquisitr reports that one of the most violence-prone school districts in San Francisco has seen a remarkable change in its students since it introduced periods for meditation four years ago.
Visitacion Valley School Middle School and three other middle schools in the San Francisco Public School District give their sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students two 15- minute periods of Quiet Time each day. Although school officials were initially very skeptical, they have been won over by the changes that they’ve seen in their students’ behavior.
According to the Inquisitr, one principle said that the daily meditations “help our students find ways to deal with violence and the trauma and the stress of everyday life.” Administrators say that the program has helped students get along better and has equipped them to look for ways to deal with negative emotions and stressful situations without resorting to violence.
The schools have seen an almost 80 percent reduction in the number of suspensions each year, plus increases in both academic performance and student attendance.
Raising positive consciousness
Some people believe that interacting with potentially violent offenders isn’t necessary to get a decrease in violent behavior. Back in 1993, the World Peace Group carried out an experiment in Washington DC that studied the effect that the presence of a large group of people meditating could have on the violent crime rate.
“The idea was to show how easy and simple it is to reduce crime and social stress by using mediation to intervene from the field of consciousness,” according to the World Peace Group website. The group believes that when a large number of people with advanced training in Transcendental Meditation (TM-Sidahs) meditate in the same area, they show high brainwave coherence (orderliness) that has a positive impact on society in general. “This effect results in a decrease of negative trends such as crime, terrorist activity, accidents and sickness and an increase in positive social, economic, and political trends.”
The experiment ran between June 7 and July 30, 1993. At the start, 800 TM-Sidahs were present; by the last two weeks, there were 4,000 in D.C. The World Peace Group asserted that through the TM-Sidahs’ meditation (which took place at the same time on a daily basis), they were able to create a Super Radiance effect, an extraordinary positive effect radiated to the rest of society.
When the TM-Sidahs first came together, the crime rate in Washington D.C. for the previous five months had been increasingly steadily. But after the first two weeks of the group meditation, the violent crime rate went down. The World Peace Group claims an “unprecedented” 23.3 percent decrease in the HRA (homicides, rates and aggravated assaults). This decrease took into account other factors that could be affecting the crime rate, including temperature, precipitation, weekends and policy and community anti-crime activities.
Unfortunately, soon after the project ended, the HRA crime rate began to rise again.
Taking the right path
The Path of Freedom has been tested at both youth and adult correctional facilities throughout the United States. According to the Prison Mindfulness Institute website, “the Path of Freedom curriculum is a “mindfulness-based emotional intelligence (MBEI) training which also employs key elements of social-emotional learning and mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral training.”
The program helps violent offenders increase their self-awareness by developing mindfulness, presence, focus and attention stabilization in daily living. It provides tools to help them develop self-empathy, emotion regulation, resilience, deep listening, empathic communication, problem-solving and conflict management. The program also focuses on forgiveness (letting go) and on reconciliation in both personal and work relationships.
The mindfulness-awareness meditation and contemplative/reflective practices in The Path of Freedom help people focus on their basic goodness or basic okay-ness/wellness. When they have confidence in their own innate goodness, inmates can shift away from fear-based and often anti-social or criminal strategies for meeting needs to pro-social strategies. It gives them a greater overall sense of possibility and positive vision for their present lives and futures.
The Prison Mindfulness Institute’s Path of Freedom program is designed to address these risk factors for criminal (including violent) behavior:
• Anti-social personality and attitudes
• Negative criminal values (and criminal associates)
• Poor impulse control
• Lack of problem-solving skills
• Lack of employment skills (indirectly)
• Substance abuse and family dysfunction (indirectly)
A pilot study in a Rhode Island Women’s Prison showed that a 12-week structured program in meditation and mindfulness reduced stress levels, anxiety and depression among a group of 18 women. (All of those can be factors in triggering incidents of domestic violence.)
Meanwhile, the David Lynch Foundation has sponsored the introduction of Transcendental Meditation in prisons like San Quentin and Folsom in California. According to the Foundation, the results over the past 35 years have been impressive among prisoners who participate:
• More than a 30 percent reduction in recidivism rates
• Fewer rule infractions in prison
• Less criminal thinking, psychological distress and trauma symptoms
• Decreased anxiety, depression, fatigue and anger
• Increased spiritual well-being optimism and purposefulness
The Foundation says that the TM technique allows inmates “to relieve symptoms of deeply rooted trauma that form the basis of criminal behavior. As the grip of past traumas is loosened, inmates naturally calm down and become less violent and begin to take more responsibility for their actions.”