Alternative Behavior Choices (ABC)

About This Program

Target Population: Adult men and women who have difficulties managing their anger in their intimate relationships, including individuals who have been court-ordered to complete an approved batterer intervention program for perpetrators

Program Overview

Alternative Behavior Choices (ABC) is a 16-52 week manualized psychoeducational program (i.e., a program that educates about the psychology pertaining to the clients' thoughts, feeling, and behaviors) for voluntary as well as court-ordered clients who have perpetrated emotional and/or physical abuse upon their intimate partners. The curriculum follows the Risk-Need-Responsivity model, consisting of 16 core lessons, based on the latest risk factor research. ABC takes into account the needs of individual clients based on an assessment protocol that uses reliable and validated instruments, as well as principles of Motivational Interviewing. The program contains 16 core lessons, with accompanying workbook exercises. Clients who attend more than the minimum 16 sessions are given additional workbook exercises for weeks 18-34, and for weeks 35-52.

Program Goals

The goals of Alternative Behavior Choices (ABC) are:

  • Cease physical, sexual, and emotional abuse against partners
  • Acquire emotion management, communication, and conflict resolution skills
  • Take responsibility for one's actions rather than blame others
  • Learn to meet one's needs in prosocial ways

Logic Model

The program representative did not provide information about a Logic Model for Alternative Behavior Choices (ABC).

Essential Components

The essential components of Alternative Behavior Choices (ABC) include:

  • Minimum 16-week group session format, up to 52-week format for individuals convicted of a domestic violence offense in California.
  • Separate male and female court-approved perpetrator ABC groups
  • Participants from a variety of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds and fees set on a sliding scale to accommodate low-income individuals
  • Manualized group program with a discussion and educational component, including workbook exercises, role-plays, and occasional audio and video presentations
  • Based on requirements set forth by California Penal Code 1203.097 that describes the how long the batterer's program should be (among many other rules) in combination with Motivational Interviewing
  • Group facilitators should:
    • Treat clients with respect and avoid harsh confrontations, even as they hold them fully accountable for their behavior
    • Establish and maintain a strong working alliance, using Motivational Interviewing (MI), a form of interactive dialogue that appeals to clients' better natures so they can figure out for themselves why violence is wrong, whom it affects, and what they can do to change
    • Establish and maintain cohesion among group members
    • Assign homework
    • Provide case management services as needed, either in-house or to outside agencies, depending on the case.
  • Domestic violence is viewed not only as a means by which some individuals seek to dominate others, but also as a misguided attempt to get their needs met.
  • Clients are informed in no uncertain terms that domestic violence is a crime, but also that the use of violence indicates weakness.
  • In keeping with Motivational Interviewing approaches, they are ideally empowered to meet their legitimate needs – e.g., for love and self-esteem – by teaching them practical ways to:
    • Manage their emotions
    • Change irrational and pro-violent beliefs
    • Identify abuse patterns
    • Improve how they communicate and resolve interpersonal conflict
  • Facilitators engage in connection, not collusion, assigning responsibility rather than blame, with an emphasis on client strengths. The theory is that when clients are treated with respect, they are more likely to trust, overcome their fear of change, become open to learning and to own their behavior, resulting in lasting change.
  • ABC strives to be individualized, beginning with a thorough assessment and administration of validated questionnaires to help clients identify areas of strength and weakness and establish personal goals. By having clients record their progress in their workbook log pages, they may also gain insight into their particular abuse dynamics.
  • Clients who are not able or willing to benefit from ABC group may be provided with additional resources, referred to concurrent mental health or substance abuse treatment, or sent back to the courts for further evaluation and/or referral to another perpetrator program.
  • At ABC group completion participants take part in a final one-on-one exit interview, during with they are given a final exam to test their knowledge of the course curriculum. They are also asked to complete the same assessment instruments administered at intake and to discuss the results with their group facilitator. If warranted, clients can be asked to continue with additional sessions.

Program Delivery

Adult Services

Alternative Behavior Choices (ABC) directly provides services to adults (regardless of whether they are parents or caregivers) and addresses the following:

  • Problems managing their aggressive impulses, both towards one another and towards the children, if applicable
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:

This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: Family members can be involved on a case-by-case basis.

Recommended Intensity:

2-hour weekly group session, but additional sessions with clients for individual or family therapy can be arranged, if clinically warranted

Recommended Duration:

16-52 weeks. The core curriculum is presented in weeks 1-16, and repeated twice, but with different sets of workbook exercises, before the entire cycle begins again. New clients can enter the program at any week, once they have been assessed and accepted into the program.

Delivery Setting

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Outpatient Clinic


Alternative Behavior Choices (ABC) includes a homework component:

Monthly progress logs, some take-home exercises.

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

White dry erase board and client workbook.

Manuals and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Master's Degree and meets any required state or other governmental qualifications for batterer intervention programs (for example, in California, facilitators are trained in accordance to California Penal Code1203.098 that describes the requirements for facilitators of a batterers' intervention group)

Manual Information

There is a manual that describes how to deliver this program.

Training Information

There is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training Type/Location:

Trainings are arranged on a case-by-case basis.

Number of days/hours:

Flexible, but typically 6-8 hours

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Currently, there are no published, peer-reviewed research studies for Alternative Behavior Choices (ABC).

Additional References

Hamel, J. (2014). Clinical application: Intimate partner violence perpetrators. In L. R. Grossman, & S. Walfish (Eds.), Translating psychological research into practice (pp. 540-544). Springer.

Hamel, J. (2017). Understanding and intervening with partner abuse. In J. L. Ireland, C. A. Ireland, N. Gredecki, & M. Fisher (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook on forensic psychology in secure settings. Taylor & Francis.

Hamel, J., & Sonkin, D. (2019). Domestically violent offenders: Treatment approaches. In R. Morgan (Ed.), The Sage encyclopedia of criminal psychology (Vol. 1). Sage.

Contact Information

John Hamel, PhD, LCSW
Phone: (415) 516-8086

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: September 2017

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: April 2023

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: October 2018