Nov. 30, 2021

Research collaboration highlights success of domestic violence intervention programs

New research shows how intervention impacts levels of key stress hormone in survivors
Nicole Letourneau, left, and Carrie McManus.
Nicole Letourneau, left, and Carrie McManus.

Innovative research out of the University of Calgary shows that survivors of domestic violence who participate in an intervention program experience lowered stress levels, providing proof that such programs are successful.

The research measured the stress levels of survivors before starting and three months into an intervention program offered by Calgary-based Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society. This was done by measuring participants’ stress with questionnaires and with hair samples collected pre- and post-program.

The hair samples were used to evaluate participants’ levels of cortisol, a hormone the body creates to manage stress. Both the questionnaire and the hair samples showed that participants were less stressed three months after beginning the program.

This research to evaluate the effectiveness of this domestic violence intervention program was undertaken by Dr. Nicole Letourneau, PhD, a professor with University of Calgary’s Faculty of Nursing and principal investigator of the Child Health and Longitudinal Development Studies Program, working alongside Carrie McManus, director of innovation and programs at Sagesse. This partnership provided the opportunity for the researchers to supplement standard questionnaire data by measuring the effects of the Sagesse program on the cortisol levels of more than 70 participants.

McManus says an organization such as Sagesse could not undertake such research on its own.

“It was a perfect marriage… we want to evaluate the efficacy of peer support programs, but don’t have the funding or internal research staff, [but we have] university partners who are willing to engage and invest and be a part of that process,” she says.

Data supports intervention programs

The research data provides evidence that supports the success of domestic violence intervention programs. The paper is currently undergoing review, but Letourneau and McManus hope it will influence domestic violence policy and programming in the future. 

“We were excited to figure out if the program that Carrie’s agency delivers actually reduces their clients’ stress and that's what we found,” Letourneau says. “The hair samples show that the women were less stressed during the course of the program than they were in three months prior.” 

Adds McManus: “It is all about understanding, intervening and trying to make an impact so that women, children and families can get help and support through the multitude of organizations, programs and initiatives that are available.” 

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

November is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which creates awareness around domestic violence. Organizations such as Sagesse consider this a chance to educate and empower individuals, organizations and communities to disrupt structures of abuse and promote the resources available to those in need. 

“Everyone plays a role preventing domestic abuse,” says McManus. “We can have an impact by building our ability to recognize when domestic abuse is happening and provide safe, effective responses to people who are either using violence or experiencing violence.” 

Please reach out to Sagesse at or call or text 403-234-7337 if you, or another individual in your life, is experiencing domestic violence. 

Visit the Sagesse website for additional resources, support and information on domestic violence, or the Alberta family violence resources website