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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The Roots of Entitlement in Domestic Violence

                                              

entitled photo

If you have led domestic violence groups, you have surely had conversations about entitlement.  It is common to hear group participants discuss entitlement beliefs and attitudes such as, “I am in charge because I am the man”, or “I make the money, so I get to decide how it’s spent”.  Facilitators have been coached through the years to help participants examine these entitled beliefs to help participants pursue a more equal, non-violent relationship.  While entitled beliefs are commonplace in intervention classes, facilitators do not often recognize how these beliefs can come from different sources.   Understanding the different roots of entitlement can be useful in intervening with those who batter and can help to elevate safety for those living with an abusive individual.

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Moving Beyond Accountability for Those Who Batter

accountability picture

If you have worked within the movement to end domestic violence for any length of time, you have heard the mantra, “Victim safety and batterer accountability”.  This mantra sums up the focus of the fight to end gender-based violence.  The proliferation of battering intervention programs was one of multiple ways the system has worked to establish “batterer accountability."  While accountability is a critical element for getting those who batter into our doors, and to keep them there, it is an unfortunate shortcoming for facilitators to rely on accountability as the primary focus of the intervention. It often requires much more to be effective.

I admit that early on in my career, I thought accountability was the answer in working with those who batter.  I wanted them to take complete responsibility for ALL their abusive behavior, and they were going to recognize the impact that their behavior had on their partner and children...whether they wanted to or not.  I saw myself as protecting women by holding participants of my program to a high bar, and I would be satisfied with nothing less.  I was going to get these men to change, as there was simply too much at stake to not. 

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“It is a Scary Time for Young Men in America”

 

scared young manI have been moved by the experiences shared by so many during the the recent  Kavanaugh hearings. However, I took pause when our President said, “it is a scary time for young men in America”. The argument is that Judge Kavanaugh has been the victim in the Senate proceedings, and now young men everywhere need to be afraid, as they, too, can be potential victims of false allegations. What struck me, however, is how many times I have heard this “victim” position claimed by perpetrators of domestic violence.  

In domestic violence intervention classes, it is common for participants to initially use the defense of, “I’m the real victim here!” They argue that their partner is the one who was violent: “I was protecting myself and I was the one arrested!” They like to point out that if the police come to a domestic violence call, it is the man that is going to be arrested. We hear this frequently as people try to avoid accountability and present themselves in a positive light.  While there is no doubt that there is a rare case of someone being falsely arrested and convicted, the clear majority of those who claim this defense are guilty of the crime. In fact, the vast majority of those who were arrested, but not convicted, are also guilty—there just wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction.  

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A Facilitators Worst Nightmare in Domestic Violence Intervention

 

I rFacilitators Nightmareemember him well.  He struggled at first in the batterer intervention class.  I believed he was trying.  He wanted his partner to come back home. She had left him after he had been arrested for beating her.  She was living with her parents.  He was seeing their kids on infrequent visits. He wanted his family back.  He knew he had to complete our class if he was going to have a chance to get what he wanted.

He was a charming, charismatic guy.  He had a sense of humor that he used often to make us all laugh.  People liked him.  He expressed concern for others and tried to be there when others needed him.  At the same time, he struggled to be accountable for his own cruelty in his relationship.  He liked to blame his partner for his violence.  He tended to make excuses for his violence.  He was afraid that he was going to lose his wife and kids.  He was not sure if he would have a reason to go on living if she ever decided to leave him for good.  He was desperate to do what he had to do to get his family back.  He had talked once in class about a heated argument with his wife because things were not moving fast enough for his liking. He just wanted her to come home.

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“All Women are Bitches”

4 diverse women

I was completing an initial assessment with a young man who had been referred to our battering intervention program. He clearly did not want to be there, but he was doing his best to show that he would cooperate.  His answers were short, to the point and he came across as angry in his general demeanor.  When I asked him for basic information about his partner, he called her a “bitch” and said that he did not really want to talk about her.  When I asked him questions about his mother, he again, used the term “bitch” and described qualities that he did not like about her, including the fact that she had left him when he was young. I decided to dig deeper, so I pointed out to him that I had only asked him about two women in his life and he had described both as “bitches”.  I asked him if he felt that way about women in general or was it only these two.  He jumped out of his chair startling me. He took off his shirt and turned to show me his back.  Tattooed in large bold letters across his shoulder blades was “All Women Are Bitches!”  He then turned back toward me and said, “Any more questions?”

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The Victim Who Lied...and Changed My Work Forever

Couples Counseling PicI must admit that when I entered private practice I thought I was on my way.  I was a trained therapist.  I was going to focus my practice on individual and couples counseling, with a little batterer intervention on the side.  I had been trained through graduate school and supervised practice. I had learned how to diagnose mental health concerns and I had learned the fundamentals of a variety of therapeutic models.   My education was good, but I had no way of knowing what I did not know.  Looking back, there were so many things that I thought I knew, but… 

When Sherry and Bill came to my office for couples counseling I had no idea what I was about to learn. They were an older couple, from rural Kansas where they had farmed together for most of their adult lives. Sherry did most of the talking while Bill listened.   

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Thoughts vs. Feelings...Chicken or the Egg?

                      

Chicken or the egg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

One topic that seems to get considerable discussion among BIP facilitators is "the chicken or the egg" conversation regarding "thoughts or feelings". The discussion centers around which approach is better. While there are plenty who would argue that focusing on "thinking and beliefs" impacts feelings and is the best approach, there are others who vehemently argue the focus must be first on feelings. The Family Peace Initiative would say that there really is not a "chicken or egg" conundrum on the topic.  A facilitator needs to have the ability to work with both thoughts and feelings with those they serve. The inability to do so limits the effectiveness of BIP work. A better question to be asked is not whatto focus on, but "how" do we focus on both simultaneously.

Commonly, participants in BIP classes have strong beliefs about emotions.  Participants will say how they were taught to avoid expressing sadness and fear in their childhood. It is normal to hear comments like, "My step-dad told me that he would give me something to cry about if I kept crying", or, "If people knew that I was afraid, they would think I was weak and would take advantage of me".  Participants live in fear of being seen as weak, soft, and unmanly. They mask this fear through aggression, addiction, and a host of other defense systems. 

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Excellent Victim Services Will Not Stop Domestic Violence

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In 1989, my wife, Dorthy, was serving as the Director for a shelter program for women trying to escape partner abuse. When she realized that her agency had served the 7th victim of the same abusive man, she recognized that something had to change in society’s response to domestic violence. While serving victims effectively is critical for their and their children's well-being, serving victims after they have been abused will never end domestic violence.  Dorthy knew that getting the abuser to change was the only way to stop the violence. Her efforts to start a program for those who batter in those early years formed the foundation of what is now the Family Peace Initiative.

Since the movement to address domestic violence began, the focus has been on victim services. While there is a continuing need for additional money for victim services, battering intervention programming remains almost entirely unfunded. There are beliefs that contribute to this.  Here is a list of some:

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Promoting a Change of Focus in BIP

Internal FocusI had the pleasure of listening to Chris Huffine present last November at the BISC-MI "Miles To Go" Conference in Michigan.  Chris has a remarkable skill of describing with clarity what he is trying to accomplish within his Allies in Change Program in Portland, Oregon. One topic that Chris discussed was the overall goal of helping move participants from an external focus to an internal focus. I wondered how many professionals listening to his presentation realized the importance of what Chris was saying.  Moving people from external to internal focus is exactly what we ty to accomplish at the Family Peace Initiative as change is unlikely to occur without this. It is an extremely important facilitator skill and may be one of the most challenging to master.

Dominating and controlling another, blaming and the anger that our participants often express, are all forms of external focus. Conversely, internal focus consists of managing, being fully aware of, and being accountable for oneself.  Chris Huffine talks about the need to help participants become aware of the emotions behind the anger.  He teaches that anger is seen as some other emotion plus blame. Helping participants examine the "some other emotion" without the blame helps them to move toward a calmer, less reactive internal focus.

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How Do I Start? The Group Check-in

 

How do I Start

John Gottman says that the way an argument is started helps determine the way it will end. I believe that the same is true for battering intervention program groups: a good beginning can influence how the group ends. I have to confess, when I started doing this work, I didn’t give much thought to how the group started. It was only after I was involved in this work for a while that I noticed the impact of the start-up, whatever it might be. I hear of some programs using mindfulness activities to begin classes, with good results. One man told me of meditative readings that he uses to set the tone for his group. While there are countless approaches to beginning a group process, I’ve noticed that quite a few of us use a version of “check-in” to start group--but the purpose and way it is administered varies greatly.  After trying to use the check-in in a variety of ways, we’ve found a relatively simple version gives both facilitators and participants good results, but for different reasons.   

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Beliefs Can be Beautiful Doorways to Change in BIP

37468682 sMuch the way a vehicle is propelled by a motor, in many ways, people are propelled, or “driven” by beliefs.  Rarely do we make a choice of what we say, do, or not do, without a belief “driving our car”. A central aspect of many batterer intervention programs is bringing the beliefs that serve to "justify"  cruel behavior the surface. Examples of these beliefs include, " I am the man, so I am the boss" or, "When I am violent, it is because she pushed my buttons".  Many group facilitators have been trained in the cognitive behavioral strategies for identifying these beliefs, and discussing them with participants. However, when using a trauma-informed affective approach, these moments can be used to accomplish even more.   

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