Men’s Behavior Change — it’s not about doing therapy with the men
Victims of domestic abuse are often curious about how Men’s Behaviour Change Programs work — what the programs do, and how the facilitators of those programs understand and go about their task.
Part of our mission here at this blog is to awaken seminaries, pastors and Christian counselors to the need for more training on how to respond to domestic abuse. We have published recent posts illustrating how much room there is for improvement in how seminaries teach about domestic abuse. (We used the case study of Dallas Theological Seminary, but other seminaries may be not much different from DTS in the way they address domestic abuse.)
Note: These programs are known by different names in different countries. In America it might be called Batterer Intervention Program (BIP), Domestic Abuse Intervention Program (DAIP), or Domestic Abuse Intervention & Prevention Program (DAIPP). In Australia it’s usually called Men’s Behaviour Change Program (MBCP). In the UK it might be called Domestic Violence Perpetrator Program (DVPP).
With those two ends in mind, we are showcasing here an article by Rodney Vlais who works for No To Violence, Victoria, Australia.
Elements of DV Perpetrator Program Work is written for professionals working in the field of Men’s Behaviour Change. Below are excerpts from the article which I think will be of particular interest to our readers. I have removed the scholarly citations; academics and professionals should consult the original article for full citations to the research to which Rodney Vlais refers.
Note: We make no pretense at this blog to be on top of the field of Men’s Behaviour Change, but we do get the impression that it can vary quite a bit from place to place. So do not assume that the things you read about below will necessarily characterise your nearest Men’s Behaviour Change Program.
Also note that this article is in Australian spelling (what a relief, says Barb!) because Rodney Vlais is an Aussie. 🙂
If you find this a hard read because you are so under the weather with PTSD, scroll down to the subheading Real Apology — you will probably find it balm for your wounded soul.
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. . . Australian minimum standards of practice do not view therapeutic healing as having a central place in Men’s Behaviour Change Practice (MBCP) work. This is because a focus on healing can:
- support men’s ‘victim stance’ that can lie at the heart of their violence-supporting narratives, strengthening their justifications and rationalisations for their use of violence
- centralise the ‘triggering’ of (undeniably) intense emotions due to attachment-based or other interpersonal experiences, rather than men’s use of gender-based privilege and entitlement to perpetrate violence and control as a way of coping with these emotions
- lose focus on the central place of women’s and children’s needs and voices
- take too long if it is viewed as an essential component of change – those affected by his use of violence can’t wait for the years of healing to occur before there is a significant reduction in risk.
Importantly, MCBP can acknowledge and work, to a limited extent, with family-of-origin and intra-psychic issues without necessitating a healing approach. This can extend to working with men’s emotionally maladaptive reactions (as distinct from behavioural responses) without a focus on healing the psychological hurts that might in part be feeding these reactions. (p.5)
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Not about doing therapy with the men
. . . A number of risks can arise through privileging therapy above the other elements of the work, and in failing to ground the use of therapeutic tools within conceptual underpinnings that centralise the needs and voices of women and children. First, as mentioned previously, metaphors of healing can creep into the work, undermining other aspects of the program.
Second, a focus on building a ‘therapeutic alliance’ between the facilitators and program participants – an important building block in many therapeutic contexts – can take priority over women, children and others affected by the man’s violence being the primary clients of the program. While nurturing rapport, trust and emotional safety within facilitator–participant relating is vital, and while facilitators can be allies to men in their attempts to change, this is not necessarily the same as building an alliance.
Third, there is the danger of men’s genuine experiences of victimisation (particularly family-of-origin) being highlighted and privileged over their feelings or beliefs of being victimised based on male entitlement and privilege. Men’s genuine experiences of victimisation can provide important ‘grist for the mill’ in men’s behaviour change work. However, for many men, the most potent contributor to their ‘victim stance’, and their feelings of righteous anger, is when their partner, children or others act or fail to act in ways that the man expects, with these expectations being unfair, unjust and fuelled by male entitlement and privilege. Doing therapy runs the risk of marginalising the vital work needed to address this latter sense of perceived/felt victimisation that is based on men’s recruitment into exercising patriarchal power and thinking.
Fourth, facilitators might become caught up in the enthusiastic participation and engagement by the men with particular therapeutic processes, and the perceived value and impact, without linking this back to women’s and children’s voices and needs. This can lead facilitators to perceive that the activity is ‘it’ – the pinnacle of the session – rather than a part of a process towards family safety and the human rights of family members.
In practice, this means grounding the activity with processes before and after that enable the men to reflect on and work through what the discoveries or impact of the activity might mean for how they can support their family’s safety and dignity. Whether it be through invitational questioning, small-group work or creative visual or movement-based exercises, processes that link the ‘therapeutic’ activity to commitments, beliefs and actions that the men can take towards other-centredness are vital. Otherwise, the self-centring nature of many therapeutic activities may strengthen men’s self-focus at the expense of the voices and needs of others.
The difference between adopting therapeutic processes and tools, and doing therapy, can be seen in how facilitators contextualise a particular activity within the group setting. [One program], for example, has outlined an emotion-focused approach to men’s behaviour change work, which on the surface could be seen as doing therapy. This approach assists men to become aware of maladaptive emotional reactions that in some cases might stem from family-of-origin attachment based experiences, or genuine experiences of victimisation based on social class, race or violence by other men. It does not, however, attempt to address or heal these hurts. Rather, it works with men to take responsibility for these emotions, to not draw on their male privilege and entitlement to use these emotions as an excuse to choose violence.
[This program draws] on emotion-focused techniques due to a concern about the limitations of relying solely on psycho-educational or cognitive-behavioural tools, though these are woven into their program. Therapy is not done with the men, rather, emotion-focused approaches are used to work towards men taking emotional responsibility and to choose non-violence. (p.7-8)
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Support is another somewhat contentious term in men’s behaviour change work. Providing men with support, when disconnected from the elements of accountability and struggle on behalf of women and children, can place men too much into the centre of the work. (p.9)
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Change sustainability revisited
As highlighted previously, many men’s journeys towards non-violence are very long-term, and might require more than participation in a three, six or even 12-month program. Indeed, in [one] sample of long-term domestic violence desisters, many of the men reported that they had actually not left the program, despite completing it two to seven years previously. They expressed the need for regular ‘top-ups’ by maintaining some contact with the program. Some had also made significant changes to their lives, interests and networks to immerse themselves in a social milieu supportive of non-violence, and to express the still newly forming identities based on a different sense of what it means to be a man, partner, and in some cases, a parent. In stories compiled of men committed to sustainable change journeys in the U.S., [one researcher] found common themes of the need for continual vigilance, and deep explorations of what it means to be a man, and the desire to be a better man. (p.11)
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. . . [Some practitioners] argue:
. . . for a man not to abuse his partner, whether with physical force or psychological undermining or assertion of dominance, is a choice. Perpetrating domestic violence is so embedded in a sense of entitlement, hierarchical beliefs, and cultural devaluation of women that it “comes naturally”. Resisting those habits, norms, and absorbed models of male behavior requires a conscious, deliberate decision. Giving into them does not. (p.12)
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… for men to offer a real apology for their behaviour they need to work towards, among other things:
- acknowledging with specificity and directness, and without minimisation or justification, the fullness of their violent and abusive behaviours (for example, “I raped Jane in the room next to our children’s bedroom where they were almost certainly lying awake, have terrified her and our children on many occasions through physical threats and breaking household items, have over 100 times called her a … and … directly in front of our children, choosing these exact times to have the greatest impact to belittle her and to make our children ashamed of her …”)
- understanding the possible consequences (“My actions have terrified and traumatised Jane and have affected every aspect of her life … my daughters are now rightly terrified of men, and my son has been socialised to believe that being a man involves using violence and power to get what one wants at the expense of others, and that women are incompetent and inferior …”)
- planning how to stop perpetuating the damage (“I will attend a men’s violence program, and will ask Jane about whether it’s best for her and our children if I find somewhere else to stay, at least for now …”)
- engaging in repair work (“I need to work hard on treating Jane with respect so that our daughters can develop some sense of trust that not all men rape and dominate women … I will draw on every positive, non-violent male role model I know or can introduce into our family’s networks, as I can’t repair the damage I’ve done to my son’s socialisation into manhood alone …”). (p. 17)