If 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:
ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS
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.
SAFETY arises anytime we are talking about victim and partner safety, participant safety, group and staff safety along with the safety of the community at large. Recognizing safety issues and having the skills to address these are fundamental to our work. Recognizing risk factors and knowing how to discuss these in class is essential. Examples of SAFETY concerns that will arise include a participants saying, “My partner just filed for divorce last week”, or, “I was just laid off”, or, “My ex just got a new boyfriend.” Facilitators must recognize these, and other SAFETY issues, and be prepared to process them effectively.
ACCOUNTABILITY is an ongoing, central aspect of a BIP program. How we help people learn to hold themselves accountable for thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors is a primary focus of any violence intervention classes. At FPI, we think about accountability as the “fence” necessary so that the facilitator can engage. Without a “fence”, few horses will be trained, and few batterers will change their behavior. ACCOUNTABILITY examples would include, participants arriving late to class, participants minimizing their behavior or blaming theirpartner, and participants acknowledging violating a PFA. Facilitators must be prepared to handle these concerns.
ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS are also central to BIP classes. Our participants have plenty of beliefs that are designed to justify their misguided, cruel behaviors. Beliefs such as “The man is in charge” or, “Men cannot show weakness”, are commonplace in BIP. Facilitators need tools that question beliefs in a manner that creates introspection and not confrontation.
We define adverse feelings as the feelings that we never wake up in the morning hoping to feel.
The focus area of ADVERSE FEELINGS is likely the most neglected, but perhaps the most important in our work. We define adverse feelings as the feelings that we “never wake up in the morning hoping to feel”. For men, these feelings would include, fear, sadness, worthlessness, embarrassment, humiliation, weakness, betrayal, and helpless, to name a few. Understanding the “doorways” that participants present that lead into the world of adverse feelings is powerful in a group setting. The process of going from avoiding adverse feelings to acceptance is what we call “The Painful Shift”. Unfortunately, this Focus Area goes unrecognized far too often. The fact that every focus area can be addressed through the understanding of ADVERSE FEELINGS is a huge advantage for facilitators who understand this area. Without this knowledge, facilitators are simply handicapped in their efforts. Examples of “doorways into ADVERSE FEELINGS would include a participant saying things like, “All women are bitches”, and “I will never be seen as weak again”, or “I did not want my kids to experience a divorce like I did as a kid”. These types of statements are loaded with emotional energy and can quickly be used to help participants become more introspective.
Finally, RESPECTFUL ALTERNATIVES is a common topic of conversation that will arise. Facilitators should be prepared for questions like, “What am i supposed to do when she starts pushing my buttons?”, or, “What am I supposed to do, just sit there?” These are reasonable questions that suggest someone is considering new behavior. In fact, many participant have never experienced anything close to a heathy relationship. They need to be shown alternatives. At FPI, we think about never leaving a hole unfilled. If something is removed, something else must take its place. RESPECTFUL ALTERNATIVES must be presented and practiced. Giving those who batter alternative choices is essential for long term success.
For those of you who are working hard to improve your skills in group facilitation, worry less about “What do I say when..”, and pay attention to which of the Five Focus Areas are in play. As you become expert in recognizing the focus areas, you will become more effective as a facilitator and your group will have more of the impact you desire.