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:
1) Brainstorm an extensive list on the board or flip chart.
We use this tool primarily at the beginning of a section to get a topic introduced, while gaining engagement from the participants. Trying to get everyone in on the action, we commonly start by going around in the circle and get each member to give examples of the topic being discussed: both facilitators and co-facilitators are included. For example, if the topic is Emotional Abuse, we brainstorm with the class as many examples of this as possible. We work to Include everyone’s ideas, and try to avoid getting into detailed discussion about any one example at this point. We are just brainstorming here. We will continue soliciting examples until the ideas and examples seem to be exhausted.
2) Ask participants to count the number of items they have used in relationships.
Once a thorough list has been developed, the facilitator will read the list slowly out loud and ask the participants to simply count the number of emotionally abusive behaviors that they have used. At this point, we are still not asking them to own specific behaviors out loud, but most everyone will be able to identify a fair number of behaviors. After reading the list and having the participants count, this can be a good time to have a discussion about their own realizations. For example, asking if anyone is surprised by the number of behaviors they counted can be a very good opening for a lengthy conversation on cruelty.
3) Ask participants to state the number of behaviors they counted.
Once the list has been read and the participants have counted, we ask each participant to state the number of items on the list that they have used in the past. Facilitators should identify their number as well. It should not be surprising to have participants say things like, “it would be easier to count the ones I did not use” or, “I have never thought about it like this before”, or, “It looks a little different when I see it on the board”. Participants who are motivated to minimize and deny will stand out in class like a sore thumb. Suddenly, NOT owning behaviors from the list becomes odd.
4) Move on to discuss Impact, beliefs or both.
Once behaviors have been acknowledged through the use of the list, the conversation can now move on to discussions regarding beliefs, the impact of the behavior, or an in-depth affective process can be initiated. Through a relatively safe process of list making, the group members are able to move away from defending themselves and becoming more introspective about their behavior.
Discussions on “impact” center around the effect of the behavior of our partner, our selves, and others. Discussion on “beliefs” center around the thoughts that give us “permission” to treat another person in such a manner. Beliefs such as, “I have the right to make her feel bad when she does not do what I want”, or I have the right to hurt her when I am angry”, are always well worth time in group conversation.
Wrapping it up.
We have found lists to be a simple yet effective way to help group participants take initial steps toward ownership of cruel and abusive behavior. Most of us understand the need to help participants talk about themselves and their behavior. The use of brainstorming techniques along with some gentle group interaction can be powerful in introducing a topic while creating the least amount of defensiveness in the room. Give this a try, and have fun. You might be surprised to find that getting to ownership is as simple as making a list.