Paul Hegstrom and Life Skills International — an organization we are reluctant to endorse
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, Lifeskills 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.
Lifeskills 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 has shared her experience of an LSI women’s program:
I wanted to comment about Paul Hegstrom 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.