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Am Psychol. 1998 Feb;53(2):121-35.

An overview of the nature, causes, and consequences of abusive family relationships. Toward differentiating maltreatment and violence.

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Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville 22903-2477, USA.


Despite gaps in research, this review argues for distinguishing family maltreatment from family violence, a differentiation between minimal or moderate abuse and serious endangerment, physical injury, or sexual violation. Most acts now defined as violent or abusive are moderate, and stressful life circumstances contribute to their development. Research suggests that abuse may develop through multiple pathways. The consequences of abuse appear to be general, but more commonalities may be found by examining more subtle and complex effects. Many interventions have attempted to prevent or treat family violence and its consequences, and several show promise. More systematic research is needed, but several changes in intervention seem warranted now. For instance, (a) mental health professionals should not be required to report maltreatment while a family is engaged in therapy; (b) the social service system needs to rediscover its roots in supporting families under stress, including in cases of moderate maltreatment; and (c) swift and decisive legal intervention is needed in cases of serious family violence.

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