Steve Halley, LSCSWSteve Halley, LSCSW

The Batterer Intervention Facilitator’s Tool Box

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Welcome to our blog. These posts share some of the many tried and true tools, skills, and techniques that the Family Peace Initiative has found to be valuable through the years. We hope that this Facilitator's Tool Box will become a resource for you in your own quest to be the best facilitator you can be. We will be adding new blog posts monthly. Enjoy!


The Man in the Mirror

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One of the men who completed the Family Peace Initiative program made a statement a while back that has really stuck with me.   He said, “I always thought that my job was to protect my family from monsters who might hurt them.  I will never forget the day I looked in the mirror and realized that the monster was not outside the house, but living inside the walls of our home. I realized for the first time that the monster was me.”  How is it possible that this man could be completely oblivious to the fact that he is “the monster” his family needs protection from?  

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It is All in the Message

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In our approach to trauma-focused batterer intervention, we ask people to become responsible for two things:  1) The first is to be accountable for the cruelty that they have used against others; and 2) The second is to become responsible for healing the impact of the cruelty that was done to them long before they could do anything to prevent it.  The cruelty they experienced as a child can never be their fault, but they must take on the responsibility to heal the impact of those experiences. To show how these two components are linked, let me give you an example of how it plays out in routine conversations in our group room.

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"Situational Violence" Rarely Is

wolf in sheeps clothingRuss arrived at my office for his initial domestic violence assessment.  He had been arrested for domestic violence, and was seeking a diversion agreement with the district attorney.  As a condition prior to the diversion being granted, Russ was asked to complete a DV assessment with me.  He was a business owner in a small town.  He did not want this situation going to court because it could certainly heap embarrassment on him and his family, and impact his business.  

I interviewed Russ for nearly two hours.  He began his assessment by telling me that he was completely embarrassed that he had hit his wife.  He explained that Bethany had an affair with a co-worker.  Russ confronted her shortly after he had found pictures of Bethany and the co-worker on her phone in a compromising situation.  The confrontation turned to yelling, and during the yelling, she stood up and pushed Russ.  Russ slapped her in the "heat of the moment", and Bethany called the police.  

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The Completion Letter


57106146 sLearning styles vary among those who attend BIP classes.  The more activities used that relate to different learning styles, the stronger the BIP curriculum. One activity that we use is the Completion Letter. As the name describes, this is a letter that is written and presented by the participant to the class at the end of the program. This assignment carries with it the expectation that it will be a demonstration of what was learned throughout the 27 weeks.  The following example was recently read in class as part of a completion process. Of course, the names have been changed: 

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Domestic Violence is Child Abuse

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"Bob” sits in class talking about the cruelty that he used against his wife.  He acknowledges yelling at her, calling her names, and on several occasions, punching and pushing her down.  The rest of us sit quietly, listening to his effort to take ownership of his violence.  As he gets close to the end of what he wants to say, he makes a comment that I have heard far too many times among those who use violence in their families.  Bob says, “as bad as I have been to my wife, at least I have never been abusive to my kids.” 

I can’t think of a better example of denial than what “Bob” just said.  As if he can separate out his violence in the home and play like it only impacts one person.  Whenever there are children, abusive behavior towards “my wife”, is child abuse.  It is impossible to abuse a partner without abusing the kids. A parent is not a “good parent” if they are abusing their children’s other parent.  Period.

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The "Mantra of Shame" in Domestic Violence Intervention

 

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If you have been doing work with those who batter for any length of time, it is likely that you have heard the “mantra of shame”.  It usually comes unexpectedly. The mantra normally begins with a sigh, and then the eyes shift toward the floor. There is a pause and then the words come, barely audible.  “I promised myself…… I swore that I would never become… I vowed that I would never be… like my dad… and look…I am just like him.”  Tears often follow.

I have heard this mantra of shame numerous times.  This mantra is loaded with the emotional energy of sadness, fear, anger and profound grief for both the suffering of the past and the reality of present day.  It is a humbling moment when those who batterer realize that they have recreated the horror and trauma of their own experience. They have found themselves face to face with their own “River of Cruelty”.

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Handing off the Football: Fear in Batterer in Batterer Intervention

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I remember playing “tackle the man with the ball” during recess in 5th grade. I hated this game. I didn’t mind “tackling the man with the ball” but I was terrified of being the one getting tackled. I did not want my classmates to know I was afraid, so occasionally, I would muster the courage to grab the ball and run. The blood thirsty mob would join in pursuit, and just as I was about to be tackled, I would throw the football over my head, high up into the air, and someone else would pick up the ball and run.  I had effectively given my fear away to someone else.

My work with those who batter reminds me of “tackle the man with ball”.  Many who batter go to great lengths to look brave, courageous or manly, but when the façade wears thin and fear becomes intolerable, anger, violence and threats are useful tactics to hand off the fear to others “like a football”. This need to give adverse feelings away to others is a direct result of growing up in “The River of Cruelty” where fear is considered weakness. 

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"Only When I Deserved It": Those who batter and corporal punishment

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Here in Kansas, everyone who gets referred to a batterer intervention program undergoes an assessment prior to engaging in the program.  One question we ask is how they were disciplined as a child. A few questions later, we ask about experiences of physical abuse.  The answers that people give to these two questions says a lot about how cruelty is passed from person to person and from generation to generation.

Commonly, when the question about discipline is asked, the answer goes something like…

“Oh, I was a bad kid growing up. I got whoopings all the time when I got in trouble.”

I follow up with a question like…

“What did a ‘whooping’ look like in your experience?”

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Maybe the Greatest Gift

45898645 sIf you are not familiar with Yoda from the movie Star Wars, you are missing out.  In this movie, Yoda comes to the aid of Luke Skywalker who has crash-landed on a mysterious planet. Yoda earns Luke’s trust and trains himto be a Jedi Knight. Yoda eventually helps Luke to use his new-found powers to pull his spaceship out of a quagmire. Now, Luke is ready to do battle with Darth Vader and the dark side!  Without Yoda, Luke would have had a problem that would have seemed impossible to solve. He certainly would not have been prepared to battle Darth Vader. Figures like Yoda are examples of “enlightened witnesses”. This is a term Alice Miller used to describe the important people who guide us, teach us and accept us at critical moments in our lives. 

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A Missing Piece in Batterer Intervention

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Most batterer intervention programs work to help those who batter take responsibility for their abusive and cruel behavior.  This is believed to be a critical step in the process of change. At the Family Peace Initiative, we too, focus on this critical step.  However, over the years, we noticed continuing obstacles for many participants in being able to move toward responsibility. Often, these obstacles centered around the cruelty and trauma participants had experienced long before they became cruel to their partner. With this realization, we expanded what it means to be “responsible” to include responsibility for "healing the impact of the cruelty that was inflicted on them during childhood." Adding this dimension over 10 years ago seems like one of our most significant improvements in helping people become nonviolent. It is as if we found an important missing puzzle piece to our work.  

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Going to the Dark Side

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At the Family Peace Initiative, we have several trained victim advocates on staff as BIP facilitators. They bring a knowledge of victim centered work and domestic violence dynamics that absolutely make us better. I was surprised to learn that advocates can pay a high price with their colleagues when they get involved in our work. They receive comments such as "What is making you go to the dark side?", like they are betraying victims by helping provide services to those who batter. Contrary to their colleagues' assumptions, many advocates report becoming better at their work with victims after they became skilled at working with those who batter.

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Looks Can Be Deceiving in Domestic Violence Intervention

        

18075128 sDifferent people can do the exact same thing for entirely different reasons.  Consider a Sunday morning church service. There might be 200 people in the service singing, praying, and listening to a sermon. While everyone looks like they are doing the same thing, they likely have different motives for being there. Some are probably there to commune with God. Others are there for the social interaction. Still others are there because their spouse or parent insisted. While all in attendance are seemingly doing the same thing this Sunday morning, their motives for being there vary widely. 

The same is true for those who batterer. While all battering behavior is an effort to gain domination and control, understanding the motive that drives this quest for domination and control is crucial for effective intervention and safety planning. A "one size fits all" perspective reduces a program's effectiveness and can leave victims extremely vulnerable. The Family Peace Initiative has operated since its inception with an understanding of different motives of those who batter. Here is the way we break down the common motives among those who batter, and how the differences can impact their victims.  

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The Power of Mixed Gender Co-facilitation

11549302 sIt was a memorable group session. The topic for the day was "Sexual Respect". Both Janet, my co-facilitator, and Sarah, in the early stages of training, were there with me. We commonly approach this topic by making a list of all of the ways that people can be sexually disrespectful. We work hard with the group to generate a large list of 35 to 40 behaviors that would be considered sexually disrespectful. Once the list is developed, we have everyone count the number of these behaviors that they have used in the past. We love making lists at the Family Peace Initiative, as it is a simple, yet highly effective way to get participants to acknowledge cruel behavior. This time, however, our making a list took the group in a different direction. 

Janet had looked thoughtfully at the list of nearly 40 sexually disrespectful behaviors that we had just created with the group. She then commented in a surprised tone, “I just realized that I have experienced 33 of the behaviors listed here.” The group fell silent. Sarah calmly added that she, too, had experienced over 30 of the behaviors listed and only a few days ago had been sexually harassed at a stoplight with her young son in the backseat of her car. She went on to say, “I would say that most of my female friends have experienced over 30 of these behaviors as well.” 

The men were surprised at how common sexually disrespectful experiences can be for women.

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"Facilitator Error" and The Value of Introspection in BIP

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Dick Mitchell, or “Chief Mitch” was the Director of a wilderness camp for emotionally troubled youth. I was fortunate that he chose to become a mentor for me while I worked at the camp. He believed in me, held me accountable when I strayed, made me laugh, played golf with me, and taught me how to be a better counselor. Often when I am facilitating BIP classes I get faced with situations where it is appropriate to employ a tool or strategy that I learned from “Chief Mitch”. While I wish I could remember more of his wonderful “pearls” of wisdom", the one that has been on my mind lately is a comment that he made to me over 25 years ago. 

I was having difficulty figuring out how to get my group of 10 troubled kids to function well. My group was not accomplishing much and the kids in my care were extremely challenging in their behavior. I tried everything I knew to improve the situation, but nothing seemed to work. Out of frustration, I told Chief Mitch, "these kids are impossible!"

Chief Mitch came down to my campsite one afternoon to evaluate the situation. After spending a long, difficult afternoon with the kids and me, he said something like, “You know Steve, I think that probably 80% of the problems that happen in the groups around here are the result of counselor error. As counselors get better, problems seem to go away.” Then he walked away leaving me to puzzle over his words. 

I think that Chief Mitch would agree with me when I say that probably 80% of the problems that arise in a BIP classroom are a result of “facilitator error”.

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One Defining Moment

Cruelty PicI remember a domestic violence poster that I saw in the early 90’s. The poster showed the picture of a battered woman. Her face was bruised and swollen. The caption said something like, “If this is happening to you, call this number for help”.  In big bold numbers, the hotline number was inviting victims to call. When I started facilitating groups for those who batter, this poster represented my belief that our mission was to help protect women from being beaten up in relationships.

Every time we selfishly think of ourselves without considering the impact of our decisions on others, we have crossed the line into cruelty.

It did not take long before I recognized that my definition of abuse was entirely too narrow. Of course we want to help women, or men, who are being physically abused in relationships. However, there are plenty of other behaviors present in abusive relationships that are equally harmful, yet leave no tell-tale signs.  My focus on the physical types of “abuse” was counterproductive in working with those who batter, as it allowed them to avoid examining the full spectrum of their abusiveness. Working with the FPI staff, we examined our use of definitions. We thought about the impact of our definitions on those we served. We explored how the definitions invited introspection or created defensiveness.  We wanted a definition that encompassed the magnitude of the problem. Over the years, we've adopted some definitions, from other programs and from other sources, that have helped us immensely. Here are some of the definitions that have become central to our work:

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The Value of Victim Contacts in Batterer Intervention

 

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Len came into my office many years ago for a domestic violence assessment.  He had been arrested after an incident with his wife and was ordered by the court to complete the assessment and follow the subsequent recommendations.  I must admit that I was excited to have the appointment as I was just starting a BIP program in this particular community.  He was my very first referral there.  I had been in private practice for a few years, and had completed a fair number of assessments in other communities.  I have to admit that I thought I was pretty good at my work and I was ready to get this program up and running.

I was confident that this was an incident of situational violence where emotions had gotten out of hand.  Nothing indicated a pattern of domination that I was “expert” in detecting.

During my interview with Len, I was struck by how much responsibility he was taking for the incident.  He described how his wife, Michelle, had gone on a camping trip with some of her co-workers. She had been drinking most of the weekend and she ended up sleeping with one of her co-workers.  Len explained that he had learned of this after she returned home feeling guilty.  “I can always tell when she is lying to me.”  He said he had been stunned by the news as he never expected Michelle to “stray”.  He said that he overreacted and in the “heat of the argument,” slapped her. He had never hit her before and he felt horrible. He had apologized to his wife for his behavior but he could never recover from her cheating on him.  Len explained that they were in the middle of divorce proceedings. I listened intently, thinking I was pretty good at my work.

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Needing Help in Your BIP? Know the Five Focus Areas.

 

48159421 sIf you are like  most facilitators in batterer intervention, you have had that moment in class when you are at a loss as to what to say. Perhaps a participant has challenged you in an unexpected way, or has raised a question that catches you off guard, leaving you frozen, looking for the right words to say next. During these moments, it is easy to feel lost, unsure, confused, or even incompetent. When I train facilitators, I hear questions such as, “What do I say when a group member blames his partner?”, or “What do I say/do when he/she gets angry?”, or “What do I say when a participant refuses to take ownership of abusive behavior?” It may be more helpful to start with a different question. Instead of “What do I say when…?”, it can be more helpful to ask, “What Focus Area needs to be addressed?”  Understanding the Five Focus Areas of BIP can create more confidence in choosing how to address situations. 

When I talk about the Five Focus Areas, I am talking about the fundamental categories that practically all BIP conversations can be placed into.  These five areas are:  

SAFETY

ACCOUNTABILITY 

ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS

ADVERSE FEELINGS

RESPECTFUL ALTERNATIVES

If facilitators understand these focus areas, it makes deciding how to approach a situation much more clear.

Without a “fence”, few horses will be trained, and few batterers will change their behavior.

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Easter Eggs and Battering: Survival-based Motive in DV

Easter Eggs and Battering:  Survival-based Motive in DV

My wife, D6411972 sorthy, and I took our son, Max, and our two grandchildren, Camri and Tylr, on an Easter egg hunt while we were living in a rural town in southeast Kansas many years ago. This hunt was a huge community event in our little town.  Eggs had been spread out over the lawn of the county courthouse, people circled the square, with kids poised to race for goodies as soon as the horn sounded. Max and Camri, ages 5 and 6, knew what was happening.  It was almost as if they could already taste the chocolate and marshmallow candy.  However, three-year old Tylr was not sure what the commotion was all about. 

The horn sounded, and mayhem commenced.  I heard this almost uniform squeal from the kids who began to dart everywhere in search of candied treasure. Dorthy took little Tylr by her hand, encouraging her to run and find the eggs. We had agreed that we would meet at the fire hydrant after the chaos subsided and all of the eggs had been found.

...there are many who batter who are horrified at the thought of losing an “emotional egg” from their nearly empty “basket”.

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What Time Does Your Group Start? Thoughts on Engagement

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Years ago, while working as a court services officer, I took “Ben” to visit Boys Town in Nebraska. This young man knew that his home situation was not healthy, but he was reluctant to consider a different living arrangement. When we walked into the main office of Boys Town, the receptionist bounded out from behind her desk and greeted Ben with enthusiasm. She asked about our trip, and asked if we needed anything. While she was polite to me, she maintained her attention and focus on Ben until the admissions representative joined us. The admissions representative interacted with us in the same enthusiastic manner. She was clearly prepared for our visit. She asked Ben excellent questions, and treated him as if he was the most important person in her life at that moment. We never sat in a waiting room. She simply treated Ben as if he mattered. The outcome of this visit was that Ben decided to live at Boys Town.The Boys Town receptionist and admissions representative created such a positive connection that it left a lasting impression on me. So much so, that I am writing about this experience 25 years later. Boys Town had intentionally honed the art of engagement.

"Beginning facilitators can become reactive to these early defenses. This reactivity can harm engagement efforts."

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Minimization, Denial and Blame: It is All in How We Frame It

Signpost of blame defensives

One of the first concepts that most of us learn when we are training to facilitate BIP groups is the need to address minimization, denial and blame. We learn that those who batter will use these tactics in order to avoid responsibility for their behavior, and they sure do. We are taught to challenge these tactics when they arise in group conversation, and focus on the dysfunction of using these tactics to escape responsibility. While bringing their attention to these behaviors is valuable, how we frame our response is crucial. 

Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps our participants’ use of minimization, denial and blame is a positive indicator of awareness of their behavior being wrong? If they were not aware on some level of their behavior being “out of bounds”, they would not need the benefit of these tactics. If this is contrary to how you have approached this challenging issue in your group, please allow me to explain.

“…our participants’ use of minimization, denial and blame is a positive indicator of awareness of their behavior being wrong.”

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Getting to Ownership: The Value of Making a List

Keep Calm and Make a List

Facilitating a domestic violence intervention group comes with many unique challenges. Accountability and ownership are key components to a BIP class, but it can be challenging to find a healthy balance between these while simultaneously maintaining a positive relationship.  How to help participants take responsibility for their behaviors quickly and safely without  sacrificing emotional safety can be a challenge for even the most seasoned facilitator.

Here at the Family Peace Initiative, we love to make lists. We have found that the simple act of “list making” can open doors to the ownership of behavior that can otherwise be challenging to open.  Here is how we do it:

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