The role of traumatic experiences for treatment in violent offending groups

A/Prof. Hedwig Eisenbarth1, Mrs Tjaša Kuštrin1, Mrs Erika Te Hiwi1

1Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

Experiences of maltreatment have been linked with challenging outcomes such as antisocial behaviour and maladaptive personality traits, which in turn can contribute to difficulties during treatment processes. Treatment programs for individuals who showed violent offending can be effective, but not all participants complete such programs successfully. The mechanisms that contribute to difficulties in successfully completing such treatment programs are unclear. We investigated the relationship between adverse childhood experiences, treatment progress and outcomes, as well as the role of maladaptive personality traits and PTSD in men (N=417) who attended the Special Treatment Unit Rehabilitation Program of the Department of Corrections in New Zealand between 2016 and 2019. The number of different types of traumatic experiences was found to be significantly related to both treatment progress and outcome. Post-traumatic symptoms at the start of the program however, were not related to treatment outcome. Maladaptive personality traits were related to early life adversity or outcome, but did not add significant variance explanation. The findings point to the relevant impact of early life experiences on treatment outcomes, beyond maladaptive traits, and to the requirement for specifically addressing those needs in the context of high risk offending interventions.


Hedwig Eisenbarth received her PhD in Psychology as well as her clinical training in CBT at the University of Wurzburg (Germany). After a post-doc at the Department of Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Regensburg and a postdoc in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder she started her Affective and Criminal Neuroscience Lab (afcrinLab) at the University of Southampton. In 2018 she joined Victoria University of Wellington where she is now an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology. Her lab investigates how humans process emotional cues and how this processing influences interpersonal behaviour, using psychophysiological methods and behavioural tasks in order to understand these processes in every-day life but also in the antisocial context.