UPDATE Feb 2022 After considering all the comments made on this post, including those from Joshua Kaus and Judy Hegstrom, I have made alterations to this post.
Things I no longer believe I have
struck through. Things I have added are in purple. I have removed Life Skills International from our Hall of Blind Guides: Christian Authors and Ministries in Our Hall of Blind Guides.
Paul Hegstrom was an abusive husband and father. His pattern of abuse and reactive behavior drove him to divorce his wife, abandon his children and nearly lose his life. He has since made a complete recovery, remarried his wife and restored his family.¹
The life story of Paul & Judy Hegstrom was the storyline of a movie, which depicted ‘Paul and Judy’s life experience with domestic violence and Paul’s recovery’.²
The above quotes are taken from Hegstrom’s Life Skills International website. While these quotes sound like a hopeful resource for a victim of domestic violence and abuse, there are several reasons that we are not comfortable with endorsing Paul Hegstrom’s books, movie, or his program Life Skills International (or the other programs which come from people who seem to be modelling their programs on Hegstrom’s example).
We are not convinced that Hegstrom’s approach is fully sound. We are wary because he uses the term “arrested development” for the psychology of abusers.
This could give the abuser an excuse for the fact that he is actually choosing to behave abusively. We know that LSI would say “there is no excuse for abuse” — but in reality, the “arrested development” concept could give abusers the idea that their thinking and beliefs are not the problem, but instead their emotions and “arrested development” are the problem. We do NOT buy that notion. Joshua Kaus says, “What I teach my men in my program is that these historical traumas they experienced do not give anybody an excuse, but it does help us understand the “why” behind certain behaviors.”
Even the language Hegstrom uses about himself seems to have residual but perceptible qualities of “abuserese”. Look at the quote at the top of this post —
….His pattern of abuse and reactive behavior drove him to divorce his wife, abandon his children and nearly lose his life. He has since made a complete recovery….
- reactive behaviour….reacting to things outside himself, reacting to what other people say and do….shades of victim-blaming?
- drove him….he was unable to help himself because he was “driven,” he was acted upon, he wasn’t the actor
- nearly lose his life….he uses the passive construction “lose” his life, not the active “took” his life, 0r “recklessly endanger” his life….avoidance of personal responsibility, portraying himself as pitiable
complete recovery….the word “complete” suggests he’s probably boasting
- recovery….this makes his pattern of abusiveness sound like an unfortunate disease. We recover from illness, accidents, and misfortunes. We repent from wickedness. We reform bad character.
We agree with Lundy Bancroft and Dr. George Simon when they say that the abuser’s problem is his WRONG BELIEFS and his WRONG THINKING, not his emotions or feelings. Hegstrom’s language suggests to us that he still has some wrong thinking.
We also find Hegstrom’s site to be very heavy on marketing his own products.
In our view, Life Skills International is a money making machine for its founder Paul Hegstrom. That is off-putting.
And we have some skepticism about men reforming and then teaching other men, especially when they have set up their own organization and run it like a business.
When male abusers think they have reformed, they seem to often think that they can teach other abusive men how to reform. If they appoint themselves into the role of teacher and leader, it’s almost certain that they have not reformed but are just wanting to take the limelight once again. We believe that if an abusive man were to truly undergo deep reformation he would not appoint himself into the role of teacher of other men.³
We know that a few of our readers have read Hegstrom’s book and / or participated in a Life Skills International course. Almost any book or course that tells some truths about domestic abuse is helpful for someone who is at an early stage of the learning curve. Any drop of water is wonderful, in a desert.
But for the reasons we have discussed above, Paul Hegstrom and his organization is on our Hall of Blind Guides: Christian Authors and Ministries in Our Hall of Blind Guides page, and instead, we recommend Lundy Bancroft’s book and Dr. George Simon’s books way over Hegstrom’s.
Life Skills International run programs for men and women. The men’s program is aimed at men who have abusively controlled others; the women’s program is for women who have been abused. One of our readers (link) has shared her experience of an LSI women’s program:
I wanted to comment about Paul Hegstrom’s Life Skills International. I did take the full course. They interview you and you pay on a sliding scale (it was a reasonable price). The course is quite intense as far as the commitment and homework, etc. I don’t know how the program differs in other locations (although I know the curriculum is VERY quality controlled) but the classes I took had women’s classes and men’s classes. They are not designed to help your marriage (as the abuse could be from any relationship, not just intimate man / woman relationships), but to help the individual find healing and change perspective / actions as they see fit.
The women instructors always let me vent, never tried to steer me in any particular direction, gave me ample opportunity to share my anger, my sorrow, my emotions, etc. It is not a Biblically-based curriculum, i.e., it doesn’t quote scripture or doctrine, (and I sure needed a break from that!) but is usually done at a church setting (which I was leery of at first), and the instructors were Christian. They absolutely do NOT adhere to the “marriage at any cost” lie! The women who were running the program were victims of abuse who had been through a lot and had experienced individual healing. Three were divorced and one was still married with big changes in her marriage. I was never made to feel guilty for contemplating separation or divorce and they never tried to “advise” me on what to do.
The curriculum gives a LOT of spot-on info about abuse, abusers, the cycle, what to look for, what a healthy relationship looks like. I do agree with you, Barbara, that it is “commercialized” and the program does give information on “arrested development” but I think that was more for an abuser who is actually looking for answers to understand WHY he does things and gives him something new to shoot for. Some of these men don’t even know what normal IS (I’m not saying they don’t know they are doing wrong, but rather, they don’t know anything else). I never got the impression that they were teaching me about “arrested development” to get me to go easy on my abuser (as in “see, there’s a REASON he treats you like crap so be patient and hopeful and don’t give up, etc.”), it was just part of the curriculum.
I got some valuable information and developed some friendships in the class that continue to be helpful. I am not advocating or discouraging, just sharing my own experience. I, myself, would tweak and adjust the program based on what I have learned about abuse, healing, self-esteem, etc. and it was a 26 week commitment for the 4 or 5 Aha! moments, but I can confidently say the program won’t hurt anyone and may help (certainly more than my clueless church counselors did).
While the women’s programs run by LSI may be helpful to some women, we have no confidence that the men’s programs are effective in getting male abusers to reform.
¹ Quote from Hegstrom’s 4-DVD set “Confronting Your Anger” from the LSI website.
² Quote from an advertisement for the movie from the LSI website.
³ If such a man were to be given a teaching or counseling role by competent, well-trained professionals, he might be the real deal. See this video for an example: Working with men who use violence: Ivan Clarke. Some important things to note about Ivan’s story: he participated in a secular program for men who use violence; he didn’t try to create his own program after that; he was invited by the program leaders to join them on staff.
[May 31, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to May31, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to May 31, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to May 31, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (May 31, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
Parched for truth — dehydrated — victims appreciate ANY water, but it’s better to give them pure rather than muddy water.
54 thoughts on “Paul Hegstrom and Life Skills International — an organization we are reluctant to endorse”
An abuser claiming they did not know that what they were doing was wrong, is indicative of them never experiencing the heart change that comes with the new birth.
Old things never were passed away.
This is a “tell” on their heart condition.
Mine always used ignorance as an excuse to justify cold words and behavior.
“Why I didnt know that I wasent suppose to treat you like this.”
“I was never taught how to treat a women.”
How about the Holy Spirit pal?!
Well that about sums it up.
IF he was truly born again, his heart would be changed and he would NOT be doing the things he does to hurt his spouce.
Jesus said “By their fruits you will know them”.
I will just say that I think the excuse that an abuser does not know what is normal, is just that – an excuse. Lots of women are emotionally, sexually and physically abused as children and they all know it is not normal. They also do not grow up and abuse their own children, because they don’t know what normal is.
All of us have within us the knowledge that God exists. All of us have an initial sense of right and wrong. It is only those who continue to drive this knowledge away by abusing or making themselves God (i.e. Worshipping the creature instead of the Creator) that use the excuse “I don’t know what normal is, so I abuse”.
Yes, lots of women marry abusers because they grew up in dysfunction and they know nothing else and it is a familiar zone to them, or they don’t know enough about abuse to choose differently. But I will bet that if you ask victims of childhood abuse whether they believed their dysfunctional or abusive homes they grew up in felt “normal” to them, they would say no.
Just my thoughts. Really sick of finding new excuses for the devastating sin of domestic abuse.
And if abusers really don’t know what is ‘normal’, don’t know right from wrong, good from evil, why then do they do it in secret? Why do they act ‘normal’ in public and behind closed doors, the wolf takes off his mask?
In my case, ex is an ordained minister, so he does the total opposite behind closed doors from that which he preaches in public. Interesting that he does NOT preach publicly that which he is doing behind closed doors.
“Wise as serpents…” This is what we need to be!!
Thank you for pointing this out. I just heard the lie recently that he didn’t realize he was behaving badly. He said a man can be doing those terrible things, and not know it’s wrong.
But he never did them with other people around. He knew when to wear that mask of “normalcy.” So in fact, he knew perfectly well how he ought to behave. He just CHOSE NOT TO, behind closed doors.
Thanks so much for this very insightful post. You’re doing a great work.
Thanks Ruth. 🙂
Thanks for posting this. My ex husband and I went through an intensive Life Skills training with one of their affiliate psychologists back in the mid 1990s. I have to say it opened my eyes in a big way, because it helped me finally define the relationship as truly abusive (I had been physically abused, but still didn’t admit it, because it was so sporadic in nature). However, it was mostly the Power and Control Wheel that helped me see that. There were some other videos that helped me see why I was so dysfunctional as to put up with, and cover up, the abuse for long, so I am grateful for what I got from it. Back then, there just weren’t very many Christian DV resources at all!
The most troubling part of the program was the arrested development issue, because we were left with the impression that if my husband didn’t figure out which traumatic event from his childhood caused him to be that way, he would never be healed, and he was not interested in exploring his painful past. In his own testimony, Hegstrom said he asked God why he hadn’t changed him after years of individual therapy, and after crying out all night, a small voice said “Because you havent had a teachable spirit.” That sounds more like wrong thinking and pride rather than an uncontrollable impulse. There were several elements in the program that seemed to contradict.
Another downfall of the program was a lack of accountability for abusers. Hegstrom said the only therapists who could help batterers with individual therapy were those who knew how to “get in the abuser’s face” and hold him accountable, so if there is any success with the program, I’d say it comes when that dynamic occurs, but that certainly didn’t happen for us in a one week ($3000) session with no follow up. When the abuse reared its ugly head a few weeks after we completed the program, I called LSI and spoke to Paul’s wife Judy. She did give me sound advice to leave, and let go if my husband was not willing to change. Overall, I’m grateful for the help I did receive, but I beleive there are so many more sound programs around now. I don’t recommend it either.
Not a good program. I stayed longer, I believe because of this program.
They have structured separation. They assume dad is a good guy and should have children every other weekend. Not good.
Bill Gothard is credited with supplying some of the information for this program.
I was made to feel badly for not wanting to reconcile. I did not have anything specific to point at. Just the Holy Spirit telling me he had not changed. He was so covert in his manipulation. I was so in a fog.
I listened to these people and trusted them because they were Christians.
They did help me in the initial getting away, but what good is that if we just got back together months later and then years later he is still being abusive? So glad God rescued me from an evil man set to destroy me and our children!
Get this, they have you go on dates with your abusive spouse!
With this program, I never got the distance- the break from him I needed to feel the difference of not being continually demeaned and harassed by him. Away from him, I feel alive again! 🙂
What helped me most was Lundy Bancroft and his books. Thanking God for your ministry!
I for one did see the film and checked the web site.. yes, it’s very commercial, but so is almost everything in this day and age.. Don’t most Christian or non-Christian councelors ask for payment for their services, helpful or not? It’s a dilemma I don’t know how to reconcile: professional help of course is professional, but… Money should not determine whether one is eligible to receive words of wisdom and sound advice.
As for ‘arrested development’, I had heard that expression elsewhere and came to understand it as one possible underlying reason, NOT an excuse or permission to do whatever.
My own family is full of emotional immaturity, and my Dad (who was very abusive when I was a child), definitely had those arrested development issues – he was in many ways like scared 9 year old boy – which does NOT justify his rage or violent explosions…
In order to get help, I don’t believe one has to know all traumatic details of what caused what, but be willing to ask God for grace to be changed. Lack of compassion in the childhood is what has caused me plenty of grief, but I pray daily that I will not use that as an excuse to hurt others. Instead of repeating the cycle, I want to extend the love and grace I never had in some areas, and learn to live in the compassion I want to receive from others.
When I was still living with my abuser I read “Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them.”
I believe reading this book prolonged the abuse, as it essentially made a plethora of excuses for why my abuser was damaged or “programmed” to abuse from his childhood. Even though Hegstrom stopped abusing his wife, I saw no such change or inclination towards change in my abuser. Essentially, this book gave me no hope, leaving me feeling more trapped than ever, because I was still listening to the “no divorce, ever, except for adultery” mantra.
Honestly, it’s pretty worthless for us to “understand” that a dysfunctional childhood is at the root of a man’s abusiveness. So what? Not all abused children end up as abusive adults. So why does this excuse him abusing me? At some point it is clear that he is abusing me because he wants to. He enjoys it. He likes the perks. He gets a thrill out of it. Who cares if he lived with someone who treated him that way, years ago? He’s deciding to do it to me, now.
Just because Hegstrom decided to stop abusing his wife doesn’t mean he (or his program) is able to change the minds of other abusers. As Lundy Bancroft has observed, these guys have very little motivation to change, since the perks are pretty sweet, and they believe to their very core that they are entitled to those perks.
For these reasons, I would never recommend anything that comes from Paul Hegstrom.
When a program (or video) only deals with violence, it only scratches the surface. So many don’t understand the (emotional) violence done to a woman simply by the “hardness of his heart” that Jesus references when asked about Moses’s allowances for divorce.
Programs that DO give credence to the harm of “emotional violence” are VERY MUCH a drop of water in an otherwise very parched desert. Broken promises are so painful – esp when a woman kept going back so that she could fulfill “God’s call to forgive” and be able to live with herself. Its easy to see the injury of a physical wound. The trauma of an emotional wound is deep and hard to imagine unless you’ve experienced it. Thinking that I “got it” I used to counsel ladies … God had another plan and now the shoe is on the other foot. How foolish I feel now for assuming that I knew what I was talking about. The emotional effects are horrendous. God truly knows what he is talking about when he uses the words “violent’, “hardness of heart”, “cruel” and “overwhelming”. I had no idea. I wish I still didn’t..
When I went, I was not working. They had a sliding scale. I don’t remember having to pay anything for my sessions. I think my husband had to pay $20-$40 for each session.
It was not an outrageous amount. I think it is why he agreed to it. Of course, now he can claim how great he was for “doing everything I asked him to.” He told them what they wanted to hear and they believed him.
This time (final separation) I am not asking him to.do anything. He is lost and has no idea how to be a good man or husband or father.
He doesn’t need me, he needs Jesus, but he won’t take the crown off of his head and surrender.
When abusers are willing to take FULL accountability for their actions, and are willing to cry out to the Lord in true repentance and go before Him as that of a beggar seeking forgiveness and a changed heart, and when they are willing to SUBMIT to the One Who alone is ALL powerful and worthy of worship and praise, then and only then do they have a teachable spirit, displaying they really do want to change. Short of this, and because they are self-deceived continue on in this game, which is sport to them, to deceive us with their large-and-in-charge, puffed up modern-day Pharisee righteousness.
Hegstrom found another way to hustle, and it appears to be lucrative.
My husband and I were involved in this program a couple of years ago in Aurora, CO. We got to know the Hegstroms quite well. God did do an awesome work in their marriage and like all of us, He’s still at work in their lives.
The process of the Life Skills program was brutally difficult and in the end did not help significantly. There were a couple of insightful teachings that have helped with our understanding, but not the healing. The program’s philosophy is that if you learn why then you will change and be set free. It’s very similar to our current pastor’s approach who believes he just has to “proclaim” the truth to us and if we get it, then we will be healed. We do need the truth, but we also needed help walking it out in a very deep manner. The issues that lead to abuse are very complex and healing must address the core issues, which will be very individual.
There is a bit of arrogance regarding the solution of the Hegstrom’s program and applying it to everyone. About half way through, the Holy Spirit told me that healing would come through Him, not a program, not a counselor, and not a church (although each of these things could be helpful).
As we have experience great growth and healing, it is only to God’s glory. God will not share his glory and our testimony is to the work of the Holy Spirit. My husband has a mental illness and learning about it from psychology, including Life Skills, has helped apply scripture and hear from the Holy Spirit. However, I would not suggest Life Skills, unless God tells you to do the program. It is not the “holy grail” that the desperate person is looking for. It is a long road to a healthy life when abuse is involved, but with the Holy Spirit, it is worth the journey.
Thanks Jean. 🙂 And welcome to the blog. 🙂
Thank you for your comments. I am 72, and was involved as a Pastoral / Family counselor. I have given some thought to being an “instructor” as to Life Skills International. And if “instructor” is not the correct term, it just reveals how little I know about this program. Much of the criticism (minus the ad hom stuff), I agree with. Just wondering how much latitude a counselor working with this program, really has. Is he free to “digress” from Life Skills content, or is “content” a prescription that must be followed. At any rate, I am leaning away from this program for now. Problem: We can get so critical of such efforts as Life Skills that we wind up doing nothing. Most folks know that simply talking to a Christian friend, often (very often) helps to reset our priorities as to marriage (whether the need to leave or to stay). Anyway, thank you all for your comments.
I suppose the trouble with any kind of human attempt to take from what is God’s and fashion it into a system of some sort by which we may say ‘I’ve got this now’, or by which we attempt to isolate and control the parts of the source that ‘work’, is that we can step out of submitted, trusting relationship and into idolatry. Perhaps that explains why some of the most theologically correct churches can also be the most dead, religious bodies full of parochial thinking and Pharisees, who are so absolutely certain they are on the cutting edge of truth, that it is almost impossible to convince them they are poor blind and naked and in need of eye-salve. Had my own struggles with this malady of prideful self idolatry, religious control and arrogance, both as giver and receiver, and realize how hard it is to be parted from it.
Makes me think of the OT story where the Israelites were told to only gather enough manna for the day and trust God to provide the next day. Some disobeyed, attempted to ‘manage’ the supply and it spoiled and became vile and inedible. It`s interesting to me that throughout Israel’s history, as soon as they got cocky and thought ‘I’ve got this done to a system’ and either switched dependency to another nation or god, or ran out ahead of God, they got their butts kicked and suffered extreme consequences. That kind of thinking can amount to depending on our own righteousness, depending on our own strength or trusting in the arm of flesh to save us.
Barbara, I really appreciate your honest critique; and also that you would post the positive critique from a reader, to give an alternate view. Thank you for all the good info here, and on the rest of your site.
Thanks for the encouragement, T.L.
And welcome to the blog! 🙂
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… I just watched the movie. Commendations to the late John Ritter. He made me hate him.
I was in an abusive relationship over 40 years ago. Thank God I got out. He would have killed me eventually. These men who do this do not think they are ever wrong. They think women are their property. How sad.
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Hi John Smithson,
Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog 🙂
Actually, what often happens when a Christian who is being abused in marriage talks to their Christian friend is that the friend tells the victim to stay in the marriage. There are multiple reasons for this: the lack of identification by both victims and their friends that the problem is actually ABUSE; the church’s unbalanced teaching about marriage, gender roles, forgiveness, suffering, reconciliation, etc., and the church’s commonly held idea that abuse is not grounds for divorce. Sometimes a victim of abuse is fortunate enough to disclose to a friend who really gets it about domestic abuse and teachings of most churches which endanger victims of abuse. But often the friend doesn’t have a clue, and advises the abuse victim to stay with the abuser.
At this site, we do not advise victims to leave or to stay. We simply give them information and biblical teaching which helps them make up their own mind about whether they want to stay or leave. 🙂 You might like to check out our FAQ page.
I took this class ten years ago after leaving my second abusive relationship. It was a six month course, and it was intense. There was homework every week, and I felt the instructors were knowledgeable about the subject matter. Arrested development was discussed at various times during the course, but it was never offered up as an excuse for violent behavior. In my experience, the course focused on helping the victim identify patterns in relationships (why we choose the people we choose), recognize early warning signs of abusive behavior, set boundaries for acceptable behavior, and implement a safety plan for leaving an abusive relationship. It was like a reset button for me. It gave me the tools I needed to start over, and the strength and encouragement I needed to get myself and my children out of an abusive relationship. It saved my life.
Hello Joyce, thanks for sharing your experience of this class.
I’m glad to hear your opinion that the facilitators didn’t offer arrested development as an excuse for violent behaviour. I still wonder, however, about the way abusers would interpret what the facilitators say about arrested development. I know of at least one man who went thru that course and purported to be changed: he set up his own ministry with his wife as his partner in ministry…but I know his change was not genuine because I’ve heard from women who went to that couple’s ministry and eventually realised that the guy leading it was a bully.
Also, you said that one thing the course did in the women’s class was help the women understand “why we choose the people we choose”… That focus may be helpful up to a point, with some women, but it gives me some concerns. It doesn’t sound like the LSI course recognises how skillful the abusive men are at selecting, targeting and manipulating their victims. It therefore could put blame on women who are not at all to blame for succumbing to the skilled abuser’s manipulative tactics.
So while the LSI course was helpful for you, I’m still dubious about how good it is overall.
The part about “why we choose the people we choose” sounds like good ol’ victim-blaming. The fact is abusers are deceivers. None of them lay out their honest intentions but rather it is a trick, a trap, and ultimately a deadly game — maybe not physical deaths for all, but how many have experienced deaths of their once healthy mind / emotions / well-being, etc.? Spiritual death. Abuse is murder. Murders your soul, your psyche, your life.
Why isn’t anyone willing to lay it out and keep going back to the basic reality — that abusers are children of the devil. Abusers are evil. Abusers are toxic. Abusers are poison.
Nobody picks poison (unless suicidal). Nobody gets excited about throwing their life away when youthful, hopeful, energetic, with dreams, interests, plans, goals, etc.
Nobody says, ‘indeed, I want to take the plunge, I want some scoundrel to ruin my life, damage me to the point of suicide, and ensure I am either disabled or dead. I want to become destitute. I want my good health ravaged for no purpose whatsoever. I want pain and suffering — the pointless kind, not the instrumental which can be turned around and used for something good, but rather the agonizing, wasting away, pointless pain and suffering. I want to be isolated, smear-campaigned, have my reputation smeared, and be made out to be the villain in the eyes of my church, my community, etc. …….’
Nope. And the more I think about these classes, books, etc. that teach arrested development, childhood trauma, warning signs, boundaries, etc., I really think such give false hope and also set victims up for feeling even more responsible, ashamed, like a failure when targeted and preyed upon by other abusers and predators.
Just like pedophiles victimize tons of kids, abusers go about abusing all sorts of people and they don’t get caught because they are that good at what they do. Plus, society helps them because it blames, shames, and disbelieves victims.
If this is the couple I think it is, we went to their seminar and spent time on their telephone help line. It was so bad I finally called Paul Hengstrom’s office to ask the secretary about him. She put me right through to Paul. He said, “Oh, I don’t even want to talk about him.” I said, “But that’s why I called.” He said the man forced his way into Paul’s classes and was very disruptive, always trying to blame his wife for his problems. He said the man is a sex addict and so full of himself (I’d figured all THAT out!) and that Paul finally had to kick him out. Paul was NOT happy that the guy used his materials.
I also emailed another couple who had been part of that ministry (not Paul’s, the other one) and they said it was bad. They took advantage of their helpers and were into the prosperity ‘gospel’ and were pushing their pyramid scheme as part of the seminar, which I found extremely rude. I know some couples who were helped in spite of it. God works in mysterious ways. (some got much worse, so I’m not defending)
Thanks Sunflower, yes, I think we are talking about the same couple.
In reading your response to [an] individual’s positive comments, it appears that you find it necessary to reply with negatives. As I read all these responses I find many judgmental statements about the program that are not factual at all. I wish you could hear of the positive life changes in the lives of many of the men and women who have benefited from the classes that both my husband and I have facilitated.
Hello Dee, perhaps you and I will just have to differ in our opinions….
In hindsight – I’m doing a lot of that these days – the original post would have stood me in good stead.
…I did not recognize I was abused.
…I did not recognize the LSI website’s iffy language.
…I did not – on any level – have the wherewithal to participate in the course.
…I did not – on any level – have the capacity to disbelieve what I had been “taught” as “truth.”
Untangling a life built on believing someone else’s lies means believing I now know the truth.
I’m sorry but I do not agree with your philosophy that I am an abuser [who] is not qualified to teach. I won’t go into a long dissertation, I just want to say look at the life of Saul who became Paul. He killed all the Christians and then once he was saved he became the greatest teacher of the New Testament.
It is true that before his conversion, Paul was attacking the church. But he was NOT abusing his intimate partner. There is a big difference. He was hostile to Christians because in his Pharisaic mindset he thought he was serving God by crushing the people who called themselves Christians.
Paul persecuted the Christians thinking he was serving God in doing so. Paul thought that the Christians were wrong in what they were teaching about God.
Paul thought the Christians were wrong in saying that Jesus was the Messiah that God had promised. Paul thought their teaching was blaspheming God and was doing much harm to God’s people.
Paul persecuted Christians because he did not believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Paul was on a religious crusade to crush the idea that this dead guy, Jesus, was the Messiah.
Then Paul was confronted with Jesus, and he realised he was wrong! He instantly realised how wrong he was. He instantly realised that Jesus was and is God. With that realisation, that conviction, Paul immediately asked Jesus “What should I do?”
An abuser, by my definition, is a person (most commonly a man, so I’ll use the male pronoun) who believes that for his own selfish gratification he is entitled to disrespect, mistreat and wield power and control over those he targets with his abuse.
Paul was not motivated by mere selfish gratification in his persecution of the Christians. Paul thought he was serving God in his attempts to crush the Christians.
In his persecution of the Christians, Paul did not evidence the base fleshly lust that characterises the abuser’s mindset and conduct. Paul did not think ‘It’s all about me!” Paul thought, “It’s all about God.”
Paul wanted to obey and serve God, he just hadn’t yet believed that Jesus was God. In contrast, the abuser never wants to obey and serve God. The abuser actually wants to BE God. And the abuser wants his targets to treat him like God.
To all reading this, my parents also went through the LSI Learning to Live, Learning to Love program. Both my wife (then fiance) and I went through this program and it gave us a great foundation for our marriage and how to understand our behaviors. I am nearly done with my Master’s Degree in professional counseling and I am now seeking to start either an LSI program or some similar program so I can help others effect the same change I experienced with this program.
I’m not sold out on the LSI program exclusively, but I will say that the information presented in my 26-week Life Skills program helped set my trajectory for a career in mental health. As I went through the Phase 1 men’s class, I never witnessed the facilitator or any of the curriculum blame the victims. Dr. Hegstrom’s videos did not blame the victims. I think some of the class material was outdated and low-tech, but it was very good information. My wife and I have been seeing some wonderful CBT-based Christian counselors (a married couple) for a couple years now and much of the same psychoeducational material presented in the LSI program has been presented in our individual and couple’s sessions.
No program is perfect and LSI Learning to Live, Learning to Love is no exception. I can say that while miraculous healing is not impossible, it is not the norm for many relationships or habits. This article does make some claims about the program that I cannot corroborate. I also think it is helpful for former abusers to impart their experiential knowledge to those trying to break free from their sinful cycles of repetition. I think the best way to continue to grow is to teach the material to others. Decades of abusive dysfunction, ingrained in patterned behavior, does not usually just stop when someone becomes aware of it. It took decades of repetition to become as bad as it is and it will not change overnight. Healing is a process and it takes hard work. For those who fully-engage in the program, there may be transformation, but it is still a choice. The LSI program is a great resource, but it is no substitute for counseling.
Thank you for sharing your experience and your views, Joshua K.
I attended the Life Skills program twice, the first was in the midst of my DV relationship and the second was after I left. In my opinion, the men’s class may have helped my abuser to become a less abusive father to his kids (after learning about the effect of shame on child development) – but it also gave him more tools to use against me (much like couple’s counseling often does in DV situations). I have no idea what went on in the men’s class, but at the conclusion of the 6-month program, he couldn’t name a single childhood event that would have caused him to “arrest;” I think he took the class for the same reason Lundy Bancroft says his group participants do – to learn how to become a “kinder, gentler abuser,” in order to preserve the relationship.
After his abuse began escalating, I told him I absolutely would not stay unless he sought counseling. We first went to a couple’s counselor, but she turned us away because she IDed DV. So then we tried Life Skills. At first, he complained about the time and expense, so I told him “Fine, quit” – but he knew I would leave him if he did. So he finally shut up and DID attend every week, and even gushed about how he was learning so much great stuff, but it didn’t seem to make that much of a difference. He loved to talk about how much worse all of his classmates were, and he only lessened his stranglehold on me by increments; ultimately, he was still quite attached to keeping his one-up position.
The one thing the women’s class did for me was help me to identify that I was indeed being abused and develop the strength to get out. I took the class a second time because I thought I would get more out of it by doing so with a clear head (NOT while in the midst of being abused), which would help me to avoid men like him in the future.
The biggest failure of this program is that it is not comprehensive enough. The men’s group instructor never once spoke to me (like Lundy Bancroft does), so how are they supposed to hold the men accountable for their behavior? Pretending like you are making a difference in a primary aggressor’s relationship without ever talking to his victim is utter bulls*****. The whole time we attended the class, my abuser still required me to submit to clothing checks, listened in on my work day by making me keep my Bluetooth headset on continuously, and insisted on complete access to all my email, voicemail, social media, etc. (which Life Skills’ Dr. Buss called “stalker behavior”).
After all that time and effort, and all his supposed “Aha moments,” nothing really changed except the name calling became less intense. The whole time, he never let up on coercive control, not for a minute. He kept telling me he needed more time to adjust, that it took 2 years to reprogram – “Healing is a process….” – what a line! And whatever small improvement he showed, he would eventually backslide.
Last I heard, his current girlfriend “fell” and ended up in the hospital for a month; apparently she now has brain damage. This is EXACTLY what I was afraid would happen to me. (Gee, I wonder what really happened?) I am so grateful I got out, but feel guilty I never called the police. That poor, poor woman.
This program is helpful for women once they are out, but may actually be dangerous while IN an abusive relationship by giving them a false sense of safety when there is absolutely no oversight of the abusers’ behavior or accountability. I have recommended it to survivors who are trying to process their trauma, but I can not recommend it to couples.
Thank you Elizabeth, this is the most comprehensive testimony I have heard about the Life Skills International Program. I’m so glad you took the time to put your comment here. I think many other people will benefit from reading it.
I want to repeat this part of what you said, because it is so good:
And yes….that poor poor woman who has brain damage. 😦
We have two posts about strangulation. Strangulation (choking) can lead to brain damage. If you are in touch with that woman, and if she is able to read these posts, you might like to point her to them.
Most victims of strangulation will not have visible external injuries
Have you been strangled? Or smothered so you couldn’t breathe?
I was never strangled or hit, and do not believe his current girlfriend was either. He literally would push me around and would grab and squeeze, leaving bruises. He seemed very proud that he never hit me – what he considered “real” abuse – but shoving me and throwing my body around was A-okay, and just a function of “being a man.”
Of course, it was always my fault for getting in his way or, say, not closing the door fast enough (so he was just trying to keep the heat in the house)…. One time he swatted me with a rolled up magazine like a dog and claimed “I was just throwing it on the floor, I can’t help it if you stuck your arm out!”…. And then accused me of playing the victim. (I did no such thing and he knew exactly what he was doing.)
This was AFTER Life Skills.
The gaslighting was nothing short of maddening.
When he threw me into the furniture and busted my face open, he coached me to tell people that “I fell” – which was the story I heard about his current victim. It seems unlikely that she just fell, know what I mean? I do hope she finds this site and the other resources out there, although the damage is done.
Thank God I found the strength to leave before it got any worse. Though I am in a healthy relationship today with a kind, wonderful man, I still bear the scars of this horrible evil – emotional scars of psychological abuse, deteriorated health after my heart attack at 42, and a physical scar on my face….
At least my brain is intact, unlike that poor other woman! Life Skills did nothing for her. 💔
I took Family Life Skills and it is a Godsend. I was a thirty year old man with very low self-esteem. I thought and felt that if I could control and manipulate others, even with harsh language and physical abuse I would be a good person.
Family Life Skills taught me that when I got out of control it was my choice, and the program offered tools I can use to help control my feelings and actions to better suit the situation even if I had to walk away.
You have no idea how many people you are hurting by not supporting this organization.
Pay the money, which builds responsibility, and please take the program.
Did you notice how you gave an order in your last paragraph. You said:
Well, as you may have been told at Family Life Skills, abusers often order their victims around. So your way of saying that went down like a lead balloon with me.
It is okay for you to write about your own positive experience of the program. But on this blog it is not okay to issue orders to our readers. Most of our readers are victims of intimate partner abuse, and your words could easily offend and trigger them.
As for your claim that I (as the leader of this blog) am ‘hurting many people’ by not supporting the Life Skills International, I reject that. I am not obliged to support or endorse any particular organisation or program. As part of my duty of care for victims of abuse, I speak my mind about programs or organisations or public figures who I believe are not teaching well-rounded truth about the dynamics of domestic abuse.
Okay, you got something out of the program. But what makes you qualified to claim that you know I’m hurting many other people by not supporting the program?
I can’t help but notice that Mr MacNeil did not address your argument or ideas, Barbara, but chose to attack you instead. Same old, same old ad hominem.
Eric, your own words demonstrate that you need a refresher course.
Eric, its good that you got something personally out of Paul Hegstrom’s program. But your comment that Barbara has no idea how many people she is hurting by not endorsing the program is a bit extreme. Maybe you shot from the lip without thinking as we all do sometimes; but really the statement bothered me too.
For one thing it’s quite a heavy guilt trip. I don’t think anyone here objects to you offering a differing perspective on why that program was good for you. You are quite free to share what you experienced and why you think it’s good. But it’s not the ONLY program out there helping people in DV situations and so Barbara is not guilty of holding out on abuse victims the only life ring which could be thrown to them.
Saying “pay the money” and “please take the program” makes it sound as if the only right choice is to do as you have said. Surely you can appreciate that for those who have suffered abuse, they need support in feeling that they have the right to choose and that it is okay to choose something different if that is what is best for them, not being told that they are wrong if they don’t support the choice you are pointing them to. Not meaning to clobber you bro, just explaining why avoiding imperative, commanding language is very important when dealing with those whose will and sense of basic human rights has been crushed.
Taking the Life Skills class was a lifesaver for me, in terms of my family relationships and dodging some bullets in my post-divorce dating relationships with Christian men. I took the class four times. Twice in order to become an instructor, once as a way of facilitating healthy communication with my sister, and, lastly, with a young woman that I was mentoring who had aged out of the foster care system and, having been abused by both of her adopted parents, was having difficulty adjusting to adult life and it’s demands.
In the very first class we learned that we are 100% responsible for our own behavior and the consequences those behaviors bring. Many of the exercises that I walked through during the first class became incredibly effective in terms of connecting the dots in subsequent classes. I remember in the fourth go around actually asking the instructor if this material had been recently added and our class having a good natured laugh that, having heard the material before THREE times, it had only recently been “heard”. This was true of several exercises as well. The men and women had identical classes. You were encouraged to take the classes together, however, class details were kept confidential for the sake of privacy. We were never pressured to take a pre-packaged formulaic view of the material, but were allowed to reach our own conclusions at our own pace. Paul Hegstrom was the first person that I ever heard the term brain plasticity from. He was excited to pique our interest in the scientific discoveries that were just coming into view.
After the first run through, fifteen years ago, my negative self-talk stopped. It has never returned. That one thing has changed my life completely. Though we were required to sign agreements that we would not duplicate or share the materials in any way, I received permission from Paul to share the 30 Day Self-Talk sheet with the at risk teens that I worked with, as they were unlikely to follow through with a teen version of Life Skills, as it was not being given at that time. I found it powerful to listen to a man being completely transparent about his past and present failings in an effort to identify with participants and offer the hope of a turnaround. I still thank the folks that told me about Life Skills every time I see them.
Though I agree with the criticism that the training materials were behind the times, they were nonetheless effective and utilized in context. I know very few people that could afford or would have time to seek out twenty-six weeks of intensive, three hour weekly counseling sessions. But a class that challenges us in a safe and general way to really look at time-out plans in a heated moment, lies that we were led to believe in our childhood and dirty fighting techniques that we may not recognize is a good thing. And, while not overtly Christian, Paul very clearly used the truth of God’s word as the plumb line and template of healthy communication and a healthy view of ourselves. God bless him for his years of service to the Body of Christ.
You said you took the Life Skills International class twice to become an instructor and two times for other reasons. Does Life Skills International pay you when you work as an instructor in the program? If they do, you have a personal $$$$ interest in promoting Life Skills International.
It bothers me greatly that men and women are encouraged to take the classes together.
I gather you mean that a couple in which one partner was the abuser and one partner was the target of abuse were encouraged to take the class together. In my view (and the view of many professionals who work in the field of domestic abuse) that would be unsafe for the target.
You have not convinced me that Life Skills International (LSI) is a program I should recommend to my readers.
I accept that you personally found LSI helpful in your own family life and relationships. You may have found it so helpful because it was the first time you had heard some truths about the dynamics of abusive relationships. Parched for truth — dehydrated — targets of abuse appreciate ANY water, but it’s better to give them pure rather than muddy water
The things you have said have not changed my mind about the LSI program.
I just wanted to clarify what appears to be an honest misunderstanding. The groups are not co-ed or combined with men and women. I agree, this is not ever advisable in a DV treatment setting. A few notes though:
Firstly, when I was a young man I completed a LSI program in 2009, prior to my marriage. I was not court-ordered, but rather I completed the program because both my parents had done the program, due to their domestic conflicts. My mom told me, “You should do this program if you ever want to have a relationship with another human being.” I would agree, there were some wonderful relationship gems in the program.
Second, my then-fiancé (we’re married now) also completed the program as well. There was a separate men’s group and women’s group, though they ran concurrently. The classes had different facilitators and were never combined or co-ed.
Third, I would add that the material was solid and it afforded me and my wife a common foundational paradigm to resolve conflict and practice healthy communication. We still use some of the “life skills” that we learned in the program.
Fourth, I believe “recovery” is an appropriate term. I teach my DV group members that we are all “controlling jerks in recovery”. When we discover an emotional trigger we did not realize and react in a volatile way, this might be considered a “relapse” into those destructive patterns of power and control that we have actively been trying to cognitively reprogram.
I am now a licensed mental health professional and have been running a domestic violence program for court-ordered offenders for several years. I work with the court system, primarily with military veterans. My experience in the LSI program is a significant part of what motivated me toward the mental health profession. I specialize in trauma and PTSD. What I teach my men in my program is that these historical traumas they experienced do not give anybody an excuse, but it does help us understand the “why” behind certain behaviors. Domestic violence is rampant and it does not follow any socioeconomic lines. I’ve had pastors, teachers, doctors, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, street gang members, motorcycle club members and others come through my program. To echo Judy’s sentiments, I have observed many men that know they did something wrong, but are clueless about how to do conflict better, healthier, or in a mutually beneficial way. In my experience, the core of any successful DV program is imparting Christ-like character. That is something I believe Paul Hegstrom strove to do in his programming. Paul’s work was good stuff, albeit imperfect, but there were some very good truths embedded in his program.
Thank you very much, Joshua Kaus. I appreciate the clarification and I’m grateful for you telling us more about your experiences. 🙂
I am considering adding an Update at the top of this post.
I happen to know for a fact that Paul made a complete change. I was his wife who went through 16 years of abuse. After 7 years apart we got remarried. He wanted to help men and women in such circumstances as many have been to counseling and hadn’t got help. We had many people call and beg for help, so he started the program, not out of pride, but because we knew their pain. It brought our adult children back home before marriages and he was able to apologize and demonstrate his new behavior. He knew he was doing wrong, but didn’t know how to fix it.
We spent 33 years traveling the world to all who wanted the program. The armed services looked at bringing him in for his PTSD program before his sudden death. You can be condemning, but it helped thousands of people. Maybe not you, but so.
Thank you Judy for your comment. I take it on board. My condolences for your bereavement.
I am not capable of writing a more extensive reply to your comment at the moment because I had a car accident recently and several other bad things have happened so I’m dealing with a lot of stress in my life at the moment. A tree branch fell on my windscreen while I was driving; I’m lucky to be alive. The car will be weeks in the repair shop and I live a in rural area so I really need a car, not least to escape on days of extreme bush fire danger. Hopefully that won’t happen this summer (I’m in Australia so it’s summer here). WordPress’s AI system accidentally suspended this blog yesterday so I had to scurry and be very proactive to get them to review that decision and reinstate the blog. That’s only two things in a long list of what is stressing me. I may reply again to your comment at a later stage.
Hi Judy, I have re-read my post and all the comments on the post.
If you have read all the comments, you would have seen that some commenters praise the LSI program, some voice both pros and cons, and some warn against the program. I believe I have been fair in publishing a wide range of views about LSI. My personal view of LSI remains that same, but I am only one person. The composite picture gained by reading all the comments is, I think, more important than my opinion on its own.
If you have not read all the comments Judy, I hope you will do so…and I hope you will comment again to let us know that you have read all the comments.
I have put an Update at the top of this post.
I came across Paul Hegstrom by “accident” when reading the book My time in Heaven by Pastor Richard Sigmund. What was told to Pastor Sigmund, triggered my curiosity to get hold of the book by Paul Hegstrom, Angry men and the woman who love them. I believe this was divine intervention at a time when I was going through a divorce and a myriad of reactive behaviours. Living in Africa I had to settle alone, with my 36 month recovery, with his book and the available videos on the internet. My recovery using Paul Hegstrom’s process started during March 2011. Today I am a free man, happily married with no reactive behaviours, for which I can only thank God.
Based on the fact what Jesus, in Person, instructed Richard Sigmund to carry over to Paul Hegstrom can only be divine Godly intervention.
Greetings from Namibia in South Western Africa.
[Before this comment was published, the commenter’s screen name was changed to “Anon” as per his request. – Eds.]