Steve Halley, LSCSWSteve Halley, LSCSW

The Battering 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!

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Are You Colluding?

CollusionI am sure you have seen collusion in your group.  Here is an example. As Stan arrives for his Monday evening battering intervention class he is clearly agitated.  Class begins with a “check-in”.  When it is Stan’s turn, he states his name and reports that he is feeling angry because “my ex-wife is a bitch”.  Before he can say anything else, another group member chimes in, “Oh, you got one of those, too.”  Soon, in almost orchestrated fashion, some members of the group are talking about their ex-wives, bitches, and how the system is stacked against men in general. The conversation can take on a life of its own as group members commiserate with each other. Depending on the strength of other members, they may be hard-pressed to offer a different view.  

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Domestic Violence Beyond the Soundbite

beyond the soundbite

I was excited to hear another Malcolm Gladwell book was out.  No matter if you read The Tipping Point, or The Outliers, or David and Goliath, or his new book, Talking to Strangers, you are bound to learn more about a subject, and see things in a different light. I always find his insights intriguing and provocative. It reminds me of Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story”.  I think of this often when I listen to a domestic violence professional explain on a Facebook post or other media that domestic violence is caused by “male entitlement” or “male privilege”.  Before they have even completed the sentence, I cringe: it is a good soundbite, but the statement is missing “the rest of the story”.

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Leading by Example in Battering Intervention

Leading by example

In November, I attended the 24th Annual BISC-MI conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It is always a treat to spend three days learning, sharing and connecting with others dedicated to intervene effectively with those who batter.  I left the conference with new ideas, validation, and a renewed sense of “we are all in this together”.  There is a wide range of approaches to working with those who batter, which the conference showcased nicely.  Within this wide range, there were some important common themes. One of these themes, repeated multiple times throughout the three days, is the need for facilitators of programs to “do their own work”.  This reminded me of Alice Miller when she said,

In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom.  If we choose instead to content ourselves with intellectual “wisdom,” we will remain in the sphere of illusion and self-deception.”

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“The Only One” Working With Incarcerated Women

Incarcerated womanSadly, the story is frequently the same when working with women in the prison setting.  Regardless of the crime, from drug crimes to violent crimes, the story told by incarcerated women is one filled with trauma.  I had been in private practice for over 10 years before we brought our Peaceful Families Program to the only prison in Kansas for women. I am trained in EMDR, I have worked with troubled kids for several decades.  I am no stranger to trauma.  However, entering the women’s prison was different.  The experiences that incarcerated women have had in their lives often takes trauma to a new level.  

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The Folly of "Fixing" Those Who Batter

repair manI remember, all too well, my early days as a battering intervention facilitator.  I took my job very seriously.  I focused on holding those in my classes accountable. I listened very closely to how they blamed their partner, minimized their behavior. If I ever heard the participants refer to their partner as “my old lady” or, “my old man”, I would demand they use names, pointing out that their language was just another way to dehumanize their victims.   I learned the language of a facilitator and I used that language well in my classes.   I was going to “fix” those who battered and in doing so, was going to protect victims of domestic violence.  I did not understand that my way of thinking said more of my immaturity than about those I was serving, and probably did little to protect anyone. 

I remember the first time I was introduced to the idea that maybe those who batter are not in need of being fixed.  Maybe they weren’t broken. Maybe, instead, people who have used violence in their families needed help in healing.

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Anger Management: Barking up the Wrong Tree

Barking up the Wrong treePeople commonly come to battering intervention programs thinking they needed help with managing their anger.  Many have taken anger management classes in the past, but the problem continued.  I normally listen as they explain many of the ways their anger has disrupted their lives.  They believe that if they could get a handle on their anger, life would get better.  Eventually, I explain that I have some good news and some bad news for them. The good news is that while I have met many who believe they have anger issues, I have never met anyone who actually did have an anger problem.  The bad news is that the real problem is much more difficult than addressing “anger”.  I offer that If we are going to address this problem, we are going to have to talk about what the anger is protecting. We are going to have to talk about fear. Addressing an anger problem without addressing fear is literally like barking up the wrong tree.

Anger is commonly defined as a response to a perceived threat to either one’s self or others. Therefore, by definition, anger is a response to fear.  Battering behavior is never a result of an anger problem.  Battering behavior is a pattern of behavior desigend to  dominate and control another. There are plenty of other tactics that serve the purpose of dominating and controlling another. Anger is just one of many. 

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Having Fun in Battering Intervention Classes

laughter bubble

Working with those who batter is serious work.  The damage that domestic violence inflicts on partners, children, extended family and friends is no laughing matter.  However, in the effort to help people change, humor can help.  Building relationships has been shown to be the single most powerful tool in the helping professions, and one of the most powerful tools in relationship building is laughter.  With the best of intentions, groups facilitators put on the “accountability mask” week after week, creating a group experience that is serious and can be intimidating and unenjoyable to those we are trying to help.  Change can be a painful process, but it does not have to be painful all the time.  Facilitators become better at their craft when they can incorporate fun working with those who batter.

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Getting past the “Cover Story” in Battering Intervention

My Story PhotoI recently read about the challenges facing veterans returning from war.  Many had lived through unimaginable trauma during their service…experiences that will likely remain engraved in their memory for life.  Often, veterans, like other victims of trauma, create stories upon their return, based on truth, that can be shared with family and friends without too much emotional risk.  Soldiers do not have to go into details and reexperience the emotional intensity of their entire story. They can remain safe in their retelling of their “cover story” without having to risk emotional activation and the stirring of their traumatic memories.

Participants in battering intervention programs have cover stories too.  It is often too vulnerable for participants to initially acknowledge and be accountable for, not only the violence bestowed upon their partner and children, but also the violence and cruelty that had been bestowed upon them long before they could do anything to be safe.  While the cover story is designed for psychological safety, part of the change process is to help move the conversation beyond the cover story, toward genuineness on a deeper level.

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Addressing Battering Behavior and Childhood Trauma

Change

Battering intervention is changing.

Recent neurobiology findings show that early trauma experiences literally change the brain.The Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE) has provided us with insight regarding the impact of family dysfunction through the lifespan.   Adverse experiences have been linked to a wide variety of difficulties, including increased dysfunctional behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and even early death. One noteworthy finding of this study is the more adverse experiences one has, the more likely a person will use violence against their partner. Battering behavior is, unfortunately, all-too-common when one has childhood experiences of family dysfunction and other forms of cruelty. It is time for facilitators to integrate this information into our approach. 

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Battering is a Choice, But...

DV is a choice

I remember listening, as a passionate intern got frustrated with a group member and blurted out, “Battering is a choice...a simple choice. It is not hard to make another choice. People can simply choose to stop battering!” I watched, as most of the men in the group mentally “checked out”. I shook my head and smiled, remembering how I had wanted the change process to be simple in my early days of this work.  Describing battering behavior as a choice, while true, is an oversimplification that does little to help those who batter choose differently. This intern needed to understand some of the driving forces behind “why”, as well as “who” makes violent choices in relationships.

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Let's Stop Sending DV Victims to Battering Intervention Programs

LookStop Woman no further than a judge in Kansas determining that a 13 and a 14-year-old girl were “aggressors” when they had sex with a 67-year-old man to understand that our legal system can really screw things up. We see this happen often in domestic violence cases: a victim of domestic violence uses some form of illegal violence in a situation that leads to their arrest.  This use of illegal violence is not the same as “battering”, as that term requires an ongoing pattern of domination and control of a partner.  Without examining context and patterns, victims of domestic violence are often arrested, charged, plead or are found guilty and then ordered to complete a battering intervention program. It seems obvious, but victims of domestic violence, even if they use illegal violence, should never be sent to a battering intervention program (BIP).

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