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 Facilitating Groups for Men Who Use Violence in Their Intimate Relationships

Client Group

                  The STOP program is designed for men who use violence or controlling behaviours within their intimate relationships these include physical, psychological, and sexual.  We often use Gandhi’s definition of violence, “Any attempt to impose your will on another is an act of violence”.  In other words, yelling, swearing at another person is considered violence, walking away and refusing to talk is also considered violence.  We focus on physical, sexual, financial and psychological violence.  Psychological violence includes verbal, mental, and emotional, violence.  Controlling behaviours such as financial control or isolation is also considered domestic violence.

There are generally two types of male abusers.  The first group is the bulling type, they get off on controlling and hurting others.  The threat of legal action or jail is usually the only way to control these men.  The second group is made up of men who don’t really want to use violence within their families. These men have usually grown up in an abusive environment where their caregivers have used anger and violence to resolve conflicts so they have not learned how to resolve issues in a healthy way.  Or, sometimes they have not learned healthy anger management and conflict resolution because their caregivers used techniques like the silent treatment or just ignoring issues.  Peer pressure as teen and adults also contributes to their use of violence to resolve issues within the immediate family.  These men, as a rule, desperately want to learn healthy new behaviours.  When feeling safe and respected, they tend to work hard at making positive changes in their behaviours.  This is the group of men we usually work with.   Men not willing to do the work or are not honest with themselves and us usually don’t complete the program.

Assisting these clients in feeling safe enough to take personal risks is an essential part the counsellors/facilitators job.  We do this by never judging the client as a person but at the same time being firm on his behaviours.  We encourage them to understand that they were doing the best they could with the limited tools and knowledge they were given while growing up.  We remind them that they are in the program to learn new tools and obtain new skills.  We find that most of our male clients respond well to this approach.  They tend to want to show us they can change and are proud of the work they do.  This approach is an important part of the program as it continually helps the clients develop feelings of self-esteem and self-worth.  Teaching and insisting on personal responsibility is essential to the program.  We teach the clients that they are responsible for all their behaviours, everything they do, feel, think, and say.  In the program, we will not accept that somebody or something making them angry.  They are taught that anger and other such behaviours are a choice.  Using respectful behaviours is also insisted upon.  For example, the men are encouraged to use other people’s names rather then “the wife” “the ex” or “the bitch”.  They don’t have to like them but during group they must talk about them in a respectful manner.

We have found that the male group participants do much better if their partners are involved in the program.  With this in mind, we have a group for the female partners the night before the men’s group.  We teach the same program as the men and offer additional support those who struggling in their relationship.  Often the women also use violence so this helps them understand and change those behaviours.  This also helps keep the men honest.  Some men have been known to use the program to further control or lie to their partners about what they are learning.  Women who may be struggling in their relationship but whose partners can’t or will not attend the men’s group are also allowed to sit in.  We also invite women whose partner’s are no longer not in the picture.

Program Outline

The STOP program is comprised of 12 three-hour sessions.  Each session is typically held once a week.  However, we often do one or two all day Saturday sessions.  Each Saturday counts for two sessions.  This shortens the overall length of the program.  It also helps bring the participants together as a group. 

Each session starts with a check-in.  Each member, including facilitators, is expected to briefly talk about challenges he may have experienced since last group and how he handled it.  Feedback and encouragement is given by the facilitator/counsellor.  Where appropriate, some feedback from other group member is allowed.  This is the part of the program that most men seem enjoy the most. They begin to see that they are not alone, that other men are experiencing similar problems as them.  This also gives the facilitators an opportunity to judge whether members of the group understand and are using the material taught to them.

After a brief break, the education part of the program starts.  Presentations by group facilitators are the main method used. We use a variety of presentation methods including videos; We watch Time for Change, to emphasise the importance of men getting help to make positive behaviour changes.  We also show, It’ Not Like I Hit Her, which shows the devastation of psychological and sexual abuse within an intimate relationship.  Many men are shocked and embarrassed to learn that some of their behaviours towards their partner are considered abusive/violent.  The video, The Crown Prince is presented to help the men understand how domestic abuse/violence is learned while growing up and what they may be teaching their sons.  Debriefing after each video is important as these films often trigger emotional responses in the participants.

We end each session with a checkout.  Each member then briefly shares how the evening went for him and speaks to something he learned in group today.  At this time the facilitators watch for any triggers that individual group members may have experienced.  Group members are encouraged to stay after the session and deal with any unresolved issue that may have come during the session with the counsellor.  Going home with unresolved issues can be dangerous to the man and/or his family. Time permitting; we often do a relaxation exercise at this time such as breathing exercises. 

Modules:

                  The program uses 12 units divided over 14 weeks. Some units can be covered in a single day while others are stretched over multiple days.           

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