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Psychology in practice: Professor treats criminal offenders

February 21, 2012

Treating domestic violence offenders is a weekly practice for Greg Buchanan, an associate professor of psychology. It is also an experience that he utilizes in the classroom.

Buchanan works at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections with male perpetrators of domestic violence. For four years, he has brought his training as a clinician into his weekly work with offenders. His approach to clinical psychology is punctuated with the attitude that if he can stop even one man from hitting one woman this week, he is doing a good job.

His work with the corrections department comes into play in his work in the classroom. The classes he is teaching this semester, especially Psychotherapy and Introduction to Gender Studies, are informed by his work in the Department of Corrections.

In Psychotherapy, Buchanan teaches students how to treat criminal offenders using the approaches he employs when treating domestic violence offenders. Namely, utilizing an understanding of offenders’ backgrounds.

His work with domestic violence offenders also comes up in Introduction to Gender Studies. Part of the focus of that course is on how there are very few biological differences between men and women. In instances of domestic violence, however, a disproportionate number of men are the perpetrators.

Buchanan explains this disparity through the influence that traditional masculine stereotypes have on some men convicted of domestic violence. Men who buy into traditional masculine stereotypes are more likely to be abusive and to think of women as property. With a tendency to be poor problem-solvers in tough situations, these men use violence to control women, and cognitive therapy is essential to get them to let go of their masculine stereotypes.

If these men are viewed simply as wife-beating monsters, there is not much that can be done to treat them. On the other hand, if they are understood as a product of gender stereotypes, then they can be treated.

“It’s frustrating at times [because] you’re making baby steps,” Buchanan says. “[But it’s] very rewarding when you see the change and growth when they graduate the program. It’s very rewarding to see [a patient] no longer in denial, but recognizing his role.”

Source: Gregory (Greg) M. Buchanan is an associate professor and chair of psychology, as well as an associate professor in the departments of women’s & gender studies and health & society. His teaching interests include abnormal psychology, personality, and techniques of psychotherapy and psychological testing. Buchanan usually teaches Introduction to Psychology, History of Psychology, Psychotherapy, Psychological Disorders, and Introduction to Gender Studies. His research has focused on body image and eating disorders, explanatory style, and cross-cultural psychology. Buchanan can serve as a media contact for topics related to his research and teaching.