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Personality Assessment Inventory’s Utility in Pre-Treatment Assessment for Violent Offenders



Domestic Violence programs are often mandated to treat perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV), yet ways to improve the effectiveness of these programs are needed. One possibility is to provide a more comprehensive assessment and screening so that group facilitators can be better prepared to serve their clientele from the very beginning of treatment. To that end, the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) was administered to 154 IPV perpetrators as part of pre-treatment assessment for group treatment programs. After the treatment groups were finished, Interviews were conducted with group facilitators to determine if the facilitators of groups for men who engage in IPV perceived the PAI as an effective pre-treatment assessment tool. The majority of the program facilitators believed the PAI to be a useful tool and discussed various ways they were able to use the results in a positive manner. Those who did not find it useful were likely not to take the time to use the PAI at all, indicating there was not enough time because of the arduous nature of the job. The PAI protocols collected from program participants are also presented and compared to those currently published in the literature for this population. PAI profiles for this group differed from the comparison groups in two ways. Within the clinical scales, this group scored higher than the community norms and the published norms for men engaging in IPV on negative relations, antisocial behaviors and alcohol problems. On the validity scales, they had a significantly higher number of invalid profiles, mainly due to higher levels of positive impression management.
Open Journal of Social Sciences, 2021, 9, 169-180
ISSN Online: 2327-5960
ISSN Print: 2327-5952
10.4236/jss.2021.96014 Jun. 22, 2021 169 Open
Journal of Social Sciences
Personality Assessment Inventorys Utility in
Pre-Treatment Assessment for Violent
Randall Nedegaard, Travis Cronin
Department of Social Work Education, California State University, Fresno, CA, USA
Domestic Violence programs are often mandated to treat perpetrators of i
timate partner violence (
IPV), yet ways to improve the effectiveness of these
programs are needed. One possibility is to provide a more comprehensive a
sessment and screening so that group facilitators can be better prepared to
serve their clientele from
the very beginning of treatment. To that end, the
Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) was administered to 154 IPV perp
trators as part of pre-
treatment assessment for group treatment programs.
After the treatment groups were finished, Interviews were co
nducted with
group facilitators to determine if the facilitators of groups for men who e
gage in IPV perceived the PAI as an effective pre-
treatment assessment tool.
The majority of the program facilitators believed the PAI to be a useful tool
and discusse
d various ways they were able to use the results in a positive
manner. Those who did not find it useful were likely not to
take the time to
use the PAI at all, indicating there was not enough time because of the a
duous nature of the job. The PAI protocols collected from program partic
pants are also presented and compared to those currently published in the l
terature for this population. PAI profiles for this group differed from the
comparison groups in two ways. Within the clinical scales, this group sco
higher than the community norms and the published norms for men engaging
in IPV on negative relations, antisocial behaviors and alcohol problems. On
the validity scales, they had a significantly higher number of invalid profiles,
mainly due to higher levels of positive impression management.
Intimate Partner Violence, Psychological Assessment, Perpetrator Treatment,
Personality Assessment Inventory
How to cite this paper:
Nedegaard, R
., &
, T. (2021).
Personality Assessment
Inventory’s Utility in Pre
-Treatment As-
sessment for Violent Offenders.
Open Jou
nal of Social Sciences
, 9,
May 21, 2021
June 19, 2021
June 22, 2021
Copyright © 20
21 by author(s) and
Research Publishing Inc.
This work is licensed under
the Creative
Commons Attribution International
License (CC BY
Open Access
R. Nedegaard, T. Cronin
10.4236/jss.2021.96014 170 Open
Journal of Social Sciences
1. Introduction
Over the last 30 - 40 years, legal systems have been reformed to criminalize do-
mestic violence and mandate prosecution protocols and courts order offenders
to attend treatment programs. Unfortunately, some of these programs suffer
from questionable levels of effectiveness (e.g., Babcock, Greene, & Robie, 2004;
Cheng, Davis, Jonson-Reid, & Yaeger, 2019) due to a variety of factors from
treatment attrition, to lack of fit between client needs, and treatment program
methods or objectives (Meade, 2006).
Several treatment methods have been developed over the years and have been
adopted by domestic violence agencies who are tasked to provide services for
perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV). For example, the Duluth Model
developed by Pence and Paymar (1993) out of the Domestic Abuse Intervention
Program has been one of the most commonly used interventions in the United
States for men who are court-ordered to treatment after conviction for IPV
(Corvo, Dutton, & Chen, 2009). This model is most famous for the development
of the
Power and Control Wheel
that illustrates how perpetrators establish pow-
er and control over their partners through a range of behaviors. The Duluth
model is a structured program that is largely psychoeducational while incorpo-
rating some cognitive-behavioral techniques (Bohall, Bautista, & Musson, 2016).
Beyond the development of treatment programs that were primarily devel-
oped based on feminist theory and sociocultural concepts of domination and
control, other tools have been used to better understand the motivations for vio-
lent behavior and the risk of recidivism of IPV perpetrators. For example, com-
prehensive personality inventories have been employed to research and develop
relatively useful perpetrator typologies (e.g., Delsol, Margolin, & John, 2003),
inform forensic decision-making (e.g., Edens, Cruise, & Buffington-Vollum,
2001), and predict offender misconduct (e.g., Magyar et al., 2012), and predict
recidivism and future violence (e.g., Gardner, Boccaccini, Bitting, & Edens,
2015). However, one underrepresented research area is the use of comprehensive
personality assessments such as the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI;
Morey, 1991) to help augment programs for IPV perpetrators. In particular, us-
ing these tools for initial screening could better inform treatment program faci-
litators about the perpetrators they serve. This approach may help clarify treat-
ment goals, and customize treatment plans.
The present study was developed as a way to test the value of using compre-
hensive personality assessments as part of the routine assessment process for two
domestic violence offender treatment programs who were using the Duluth
model. The purpose of the study was to examine the value of the PAI as a
pre-treatment assessment tool for domestic violence offender treatment. Specif-
ically, the researchers hoped to answer the questions,
do group facilitators
perceive the PAI as an effective tool as part of the pre-treatment assessment
protocol for their group intervention with men engaging in IPV
, and
how do the
PAI protocols collected from these programs compare to those currently pub-
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lished in the literature for this population
Literature Review
The PAI has scales specifically designed to better understand and predict aggres-
sion (aggression subscale) and violence potential (violence potential index). Ad-
ditionally, scales designed to measure antisocial features are expected to help
determine misconduct and violence. Gardner, Boccaccini, Bitting, & Edens
(2015), conducted a meta-analysis of more than 30 studies to examine the ability
of the PAI to predict institutional infractions and criminal recidivism among in-
dividuals in both treatment and correctional settings. Overall, the findings pro-
vided evidence that some scales had moderate predictive validity for institutional
misconduct and somewhat lower predictive validity for recidivism.
A small number of studies have been published where the PAI has been used
to assess offenders in forensic and treatment capacities. Morey & Quigley (2002)
discuss the benefits of assessing offenders with the PAI. Of specific note, they
highlight the value of the PAI in augmenting risk appraisal and treatment plan-
ning. They provide a case example to illustrate how particular results from the
PAI can inform case formulation and treatment planning. Additionally, Cham-
bers and Wilson (2007) published an article where they used the PAI to assess
male batterers. They sought to replicate earlier findings where IPV perpetrators
were categorized into three clusters; borderline/dysphoric, “normal” and
non-elevated, and antisocial/narcissistic. Their findings supported the first two
groups and partially supported the third. They also found a subgroup of men
who engaged in positive impression management who were significantly under-
reporting their symptoms. This group made up nearly 8% of their sample.
Most recently, the literature involving the PAI with offenders has been focus-
ing on using it to identify interpersonal characteristics and antecedents to treat-
ment success with sex offenders (Pappas, 2021; Parker, Mulay, & Gottfried,
2020), predictors of treatment success and classification of juvenile offenders
(Charles, Floyd, Bulla, Barry, & Anestis, 2021; Humenik, Sherrill, Kantor, & Do-
lan, 2019), and to better understand and treat female offenders (Cunliffe, 2019;
Miller & Marshall, 2019).
2. Methods
2.1. Participants
As is common for many domestic violence offender treatment programs, the
majority of the participants are court sanctioned to treatment following convic-
tion of a domestic assault offense. In this study, 95% of the participants were
court-ordered to the treatment programs. Fifty-five percent of the sample was
white, 17% were African American, 13% were Native American, 7% were His-
panic, 4% were Asian, and 4% were 2 or more races. This means that forty-five
percent of the sample were non-white which may not seem problematic at first
glance, but the Census Bureau indicates the racial composition of the areas
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where these treatment programs were providing services was 86% white during
the most recent American Community Survey (Census Bureau, 2021). This sug-
gests that persons of color were highly overrepresented within this particular
court system. Unfortunately, this is consistent with findings both within the US
(e.g., Jeremiah & Oyewuwo-Gassikia, 2019) and internationally (e.g., Douglas &
Fitzgerald, 2018) that demonstrate a disproportionate number of people of color
are named on domestic violence orders, charged when they break them, and are
significantly more likely than their white counterparts to receive a sentence of
imprisonment for a contravention of an order for protection.
Thirty-five percent of the sample fell between the ages of 18 - 29, 37% were
between 30 - 39, 22% were between 40 - 49, 5% were between 50 - 59 and 1%
were 60 or over. Forty-seven percent of the participants lived in poverty as they
indicated an annual income of less than $10,000 per year. Over a third (35%) in-
dicated alcohol or drug involvement and 18% indicated they were on some sort
of disability status.
2.2. Procedures
Two small Midwest domestic violence treatment programs opted to utilize the
PAI as a part of their intake process over the course of two years to administer to
the offenders who were participating in a group treatment program for IPV. The
PAI was administered as a part of the normal intake assessment by the DV pro-
gram administrator who was trained by the lead author. The score sheets were
then delivered to the lead author who entered them into the PAI software port-
folio for scoring. The lead author then provided an individualized clinical inter-
pretive report based on data provided from the PAI software portfolio back to
the program director for dissemination to the appropriate group facilitator. Over
the course of the project, 4 group facilitators were interviewed about their per-
ceptions regarding the value of adding the Personality Assessment Inventory to
their intake process. While the Duluth Model is highly standardized and the fa-
cilitators were not allowed to customize their interventions, it was thought that
having individualized assessment data would allow facilitators to emphasize as-
pects of the group treatment program that could have a potentially larger impact
on the areas of concern that were identified by the PAI assessments. It was also
thought that it could help the facilitators to identify individuals with significant
positive impression management issues or with abnormally high treatment re-
jection scores. If the individuals behavior in group was consistent with their
scores in these areas, it could help facilitators to make decisions about advancing
the group members if they were making poor or minimal progress.
2.3. Analysis Method
Two methods were used for this study. With regard to the interview data from
the group facilitators, content analysis systematically identifies and categorizes
data into codes, or meaningful pieces of content, in order to develop significant
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themes in qualitative analysis (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005; Patton, 2002). The re-
searchers used content analysis for the interview data. For the study, the inter-
view data was coded independently by two coders. The researchers each coded
the interview data to identify preliminary words or phrases that described a
group facilitators experience. This process produced substantial intercoder re-
liability. The researchers then discussed, and agreed on, the main themes which
are described later. The main themes were influenced by the structure of the in-
terview, but this act was still an important part of the process.
Data from the PAI was collected from the PAI software portfolio. It was
downloaded onto a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet where means and standard dev-
iations were calculated for the scales and subscales.
2.4. Instrumentation
The PAI (Morey, 1991) is self-administered questionnaire that requires roughly
1 hour to complete; the respondent is asked to check one of four response op-
tions indicating the extent to which the item statement accurately describes
them. Responses range from
very true
not at all true
. The PAI contains 344
items forming 22 independent scales. It has 4 validity scales, 11 clinical scales
(with 3 - 4 subscales each), 5 treatments scales and 2 interpersonal scales. Ten of
the clinical scales contain subscales designed to facilitate the full breadth of each
complex clinical construct. It assesses validity, clinical, interpersonal style,
treatment complications, and subject environment. The PAI is scored using li-
near, non-transformed t-scores. Mean t-scores are generally 50 with a standard
deviation of 10. Scores of 70+ are generally considered clinically significant, thus
these profiles were also examined to include the number reaching clinical signi-
ficance. A score of greater than or equal to 70 represents a level that is rarely ex-
perienced in the general population (Morey & Quigley, 2002).
The PAI produces a number of scales that are used to help determine the va-
lidity of the profile. Two of the main scales used for this purpose are the Positive
Impression Management scale and the Negative Impression Management scale.
Individuals encounter several forces that can shape their test taking attitudes and
sway them to potentially overreport or underreport their symptoms. This re-
sponse distortion can have a significant impact on the entire profile, and if it is
significant enough, it will invalidate the profile.
The clinical scales found on the PAI generally measure symptoms of common
mental health conditions to include anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug related
concerns, paranoia, mania, psychotic symptoms, anxiety related disorders such
as post-traumatic stress or obsessive-compulsive symptoms, somatic symptoms
and the like. Additionally, it measures some personality disorder symptoms to
include borderline and antisocial personality disorders. The PAI has other scales
that measure suicide potential, violence potential, and openness to psychological
treatment. It has been found to be a valuable tool for assessment and treatment
planning in a number of settings with clients who present with a wide variety of
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presenting problems.
3. Results
3.1. Facilitator Comments
Themes from the facilitator interviews are presented separately in the para-
graphs that follow. Several of the themes were identified and are discussed to il-
lustrate how the facilitators perceived the value of the PAI in the intake process.
Extremely useful. The majority of the facilitators felt that this information
was very helpful for them in a number of ways. Facilitators discussed how it
helped them to better understand why a group member might be acting a par-
ticular way during group. “I was getting frustrated with one group member be-
cause they seemed so disengaged from group. I was going to confront him and
was considering kicking him out, but thought Id look at his PAI information
first. He showed high on depression, so I checked in with him after group and
asked him about it and if he was getting any help for it. He said ‘no’ so I sug-
gested someone he could talk to and to talk with his doctor about whether he
would benefit from an antidepressant. Just the act of doing that ended up mak-
ing him more connected to me and the group.” Another facilitator indicated
they found these profiles helpful as well. “I find these profiles extremely useful
because it helps me understand some of the issues and challenges that will likely
influence my group members ability or desire to change…”
Even invalid profiles were seen as useful for facilitators. One facilitator indi-
cated that he was in a situation where a group member was very defensive dur-
ing group and appeared to be making little or no progress. The facilitator dis-
cussed a situation where he needed to report back to the judge about the group
members progress. “Before I went to see the judge, I was able to look at this
group members PAI information and see that his Positive Impression Manage-
ment scale score was so high that his profile was invalid. I realized that this was
very consistent with how this guy was behaving in group and 12 weeks into
group, things hadnt changed. I was able to explain to the judge that we used a
psychological test with him when he first started group that indicated very high
levels of positive impression management and that this seemed to fit how he was
acting in group. It gave me more confidence that it wasnt just a bias of mine,
because this meant that the group member ended up going to jail.”
Interesting, but the group structure doesnt allow me to use the informa-
tion. Another theme among the facilitators was that they found the information
helpful but they felt so encumbered by the structure of the program they were
facilitating that they didnt think they could use this information as well as they
wanted to. In other words, they didnt feel like they could customize their inter-
vention to their individual client since they were using a structured group inter-
vention protocol. As an example, one facilitator mentioned “these are interest-
ing, but the group structure makes it hard to do anything other than the stan-
dard programming…” Another facilitator indicated that “the group members
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have a number of problems they have to deal with, but we really have to just fo-
cus on their IPV. We need to leave the other stuff to someone else to help them
manage. I feel like I already have my hands full just trying to help them stop en-
gaging in physical and emotional violence.”
Not interested/Disengaged. One facilitator indicated that they were not in-
terested in the PAI information. They frankly outlined the challenges a number
of domestic violence programs face when it comes to hiring staff for these chal-
lenging positions: “I didnt really look at these at all. I just dont have the time. I
dont mean to sound selfish, but I get paid $14 an hour to facilitate these groups
and Im a very part-time employee. I already have to work more hours than I get
paid for this position and Im really busy. Im trying to do the best I can and
want to do a good job, but I just dont have the time to go above and beyond
what Im being paid to do…”
Summary. Overall, facilitators appeared to really value the PAI. If they ac-
tually took the time to look at the scoring and interpretation, none of the facili-
tators indicated that they felt like it was a waste of time. Rather, their concerns
appeared to be on the fact that the system they were in wasnt flexible enough for
them to be able to be more adaptable. While they appeared to generally like the
structure of the system they worked out of, they could see that one size didnt fit
all and an instrument such as the PAI illustrated important individual factors.
3.2. PAI Profile Findings
Profiles were initially tested for validity and 27 profiles (17.5% of the sample)
were found to be invalid and were excluded from further analysis. While this
number is rather high, it falls in a relatively normal range, between what has
been found in a VA inpatient psychiatric hospital (37%; Braxton, Calhoun, Wil-
liams, & Boggs, 2007) or service members receiving neuropsychological evalua-
tions for (11%; Kennedy, Cooper, Reid, Tate, & Lange, 2015).
Table 1 describes a comparison of the PAI norms found in the sample of do-
mestic violence offenders with norms from the only other PAI norms that have
been published for IPV offenders found in the literature at the present (Meade,
2006; Chambers & Wilson, 2007). These norms were combined into a larger da-
taset of 246 and recalculated for this study. Additionally, norms from a commu-
nity sample were also included for comparison (Morey et al., 2011).
Inferential statistics were not used on Table 1 for a number of reasons and it
is not clear they would have been particularly meaningful. Descriptive statistics
tell a valuable story. For this article, the authors decided that a difference of 5
points was deemed worthy of comment.
When comparing mean T-scores of study participants to published norms for
IPV offenders, there are only a small number of differences in the scales listed on
Table 1. Study participants scored higher on the Alcohol Problems scale, the
Antisocial Behaviors subscale, the Negative Relationships subscale, and the
Grandiosity scale. There were also a significantly higher number of invalid pro-
files in the sample, many due to high levels of positive impression management.
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Table 1. Comparison of PAI norms.
PAI Scale or Subscale
PAI Norms for IPV Offenders versus Community Sample
T-Score means and
standard deviation for Study
Participants (n = 154)
Two study IPV
Offender Norms*
(n = 246)
52.33 (10.31) 51.92 (8.61) 53.78 (11.21)
55.48 (9.55) 53.01 (9.26) 53.92 (13.16)
53.83 (10.25) 50.14 (8.83) 49.09 (9.63)
49.21 (7.96) 52.14 (9.85) 53.44 (15.04)
51.83 (11.01) 49.94 (6.57) 50.69 (9.84)
54.69 (10.25) 49.38 (7.21) 53.85 (9.86)
52.15 (9.28) 49.19 (7.29) 53.27 (10.05)
49.61 (9.49) 50.77 (6.83) 52.98 (9.50)
55.50 (9.84) 49.85 (10.11) 51.51 (9.90)
54.89 (9.26) 52.46 (8.95) 56.59 (12.26)
60.27 (9.68) 49.38 (7.83) 54.53 (11.97)
57.73 (15.13) 52.63 (6.12) 52.32 (11.18)
55.71 (13.43) 55.1 (9.84) 53.38 (12.17)
50.90 (11.15) 56.14 (11.64) 52.61(10.54)
51.72 (10.96) 53.58 (9.39) 51.30 (9.65)
47.32 (9.73) 52.17 (9.38) 52.01 (10.06)
53.70 (10.94) 50.42 (7.62) 53.36 (11.57)
55.41 (10.51) 55.05 (7.89) 52.19 (10.56)
48.82 (10.61) 51.34 (10.67) 52.50 (12.06)
49.33 (9.14) 49.85 (9.51) 49.98 (9.26)
51.91 (8.54) 49.87 (10.74) 50.40 (10.86)
^Subscale of the main scale above it; *(Derived from Meade, 2006; Chambers & Wilson, 2007); **(Derived
from Morey et al., 2011).
The IPV offender norms were higher on the Aggression scale. When comparing
mean T-scores of study participants to the Community Sample, the study par-
ticipants scored higher on the Alcohol Problems scale and Antisocial Behaviors
The higher positive impression management scores are consistent with find-
ings suggesting that impression management techniques are often found among
DV perpetrators (e.g., Helfritz et al., 2006). Additionally, higher negative rela-
tionship subscale scores also seem to make sense, considering that IPV perpe-
trators may to some extent be unaware that their behavior is outside the norm,
and justify their abusive behavior on their perceptions such as negative relation-
ship patterns with their partner (Neighbors, Walker, Mbilinyi, ORourke, Edle-
son, Zegree, & Roffman. 2010).
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Of note, five clinical scales had large percentages that had a high number of
T-scores with clinically significant elevations (≥70) among the study participants
and are worth noting. These included the Traumatic Stress (20.2%), the Antiso-
cial Behaviors (19.7%), the Stress scale (21%), the Alcohol Problems scale
(17.3%) and the Drug problems (15.7%) problems. The findings with alcohol
and drug problems appear to be consistent with what was reported on intake
from the participants, where 34% indicated involvement with alcohol or drugs.
Additionally, the fact that there was a high number of participants who endorsed
a significant level of traumatic stress is consistent with much of the research that
suggests a link between traumatic experiences and violent or offending behavior
(e.g., Ardino, 2012).
Summary. PAI norms for the study participants looked similar to those pub-
lished for IPV offenders and even for a community sample. Those scales that
appear to be elevated seem to tell an understandable story of a group of individ-
uals who are struggling with a larger amount of substance abuse issues, negative
relationships and antisocial behaviors than their counterparts in the community.
And when they are court-ordered to treatment and are asked to complete a psy-
chological test as part of their intake assessment, they are understandably wary
of being honest and have a higher number of invalid profiles due to high levels
of positive impression management as well. This group also appears to be suf-
fering from significant levels of traumatic stress and stress in general, compli-
cating their clinical picture and making it more difficult for them to successfully
manage their behavior and learn more adaptive interpersonal skills.
4. Discussion and Challenges for Future Research and
This study demonstrates some utility of the PAI for this population. While
group comparisons of means are interesting, it appears the real utility of the PAI
comes from the individual profiles themselves. For instance, while the mean
score for the Traumatic Stress scale in this sample was relatively low, over 20%
of the sample had clinically significant t-scores ≥ 70. This suggests over 1/5 of
the sample suffered from several PTSD symptoms and may have benefitted from
treatment of this potentially co-morbid condition.
There were also a high number of offenders who endorsed significant levels of
antisocial behavior and the clinical literature has been quite pessimistic about
treatment for these individuals (Harris & Rice, 2006). While a high T-score on
the antisocial features scale is, in and of itself, insufficient evidence to eliminate
an offender from consideration for treatment, it can be a useful part of a com-
prehensive assessment in order to make those determinations.
Even when profiles are invalid due to defensiveness (such as very high positive
impression management scale scores), interviews with IPV group facilitators
suggested utility with these invalid profiles. Facilitators valued greater awareness
of defensiveness and could adapt their approach to decrease defensiveness.
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Having PAI profile information can also better inform facilitators about specific
client needs. Even if they cannot significantly alter the treatment protocol, areas
of concern can receive greater emphasis. However, it should be noted that the
nature of treatment programs for IPV offenders often limits a facilitators ability
to customize the treatment provided, so these profiles are far less valuable than
they would be when providing services in a more individualized context.
Limitations to this research include the small number of facilitators inter-
viewed. Two facilitators terminated employment before the authors were able to
conduct interviews with them, so additional facilitator perspectives would be
valuable. Future research might consider using the Personality Assessment
Screener (see Kelley, Edens, & Douglas, 2018), a shorter version of the PAI, or
potentially selecting out the scales of interest within the PAI rather than requir-
ing IPV offenders complete the entire 344 item PAI.
5. Conclusion
There can be significant challenges in the delivery of services to perpetrators of
IPV. Several standardized programs have been developed for this population and
each year, thousands of individuals volunteer or are court mandated to complete
these programs. Yet it is clear that every individual circumstance is unique and
the better a facilitator of services understands the distinctive challenges their
clientele face, the greater the likelihood they can adapt their services in a way
that meets their individual needs. Using measurement tools such as the PAI is
one such way to understand the idiosyncratic nature of each client and not fall
into the trap of thinking that generalized programs designed to fit everyone will
address each participants needs adequately without some level of customization.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this pa-
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