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Preventing Violence Against Women Through Effective Menís
Counselling: The Role of the Helping Relationship
by Dale Trimble, MA
Counselling for men who use violence in relationships began
in BC in 1977 due to the frustration expressed by womenís
shelter workers about seeing the same women return again and
again. My premise is that these programs for men are often
effective in preventing future violence. For those who are
interested in the research, Jeffrey L. Edleson (1995) provides
one of the best analyses of the issues in his brief article
"Do Battererís Programs Work?" I base my faith on
the effectiveness of our own program (Alternatives to Violence,
Vancouver), and on the changes I see in the men Ė especially
when confirmed by the women who are their partners. It would
be useful to examine which men will benefit from these programs
and which will not but that will need to be the subject of
would like to examine current trends in counselling programs
for men who use violence. I am concerned whether these trends
will truly be effective in preventing future violence. One
trend is the standardization or "manualization"
of programs. There is a proliferation of manuals, curricula,
modules, books, exercises and videos. They contain valuable
exercises and approaches to the work. In BC we have our own
homegrown, self-directed workbook for men entitled Moving
towards the light: A self-directing manual for men who want
to end violence and abuse towards women. Furthermore,
our province has developed the Respectful Relationship
Program: A Pre-Treatment Program for Men Who Assault Their
Partners (2001). Probation officers are being trained
to deliver this program. As well, members of the BC Association
of Counsellors of Abusive Men (ACAM) are currently working
with the Corrections Branch to finalize a "Best Practices"
manual for use in menís counselling programs in BC.
I find very useful material in these manuals, Iím concerned
by what has not been examined. There is very little
written and little discussion amongst colleagues about the
nature of the relationship between the client and the counsellor.
There is even less about the qualities of the counsellor which
best facilitate the work to help men end violence and establish
respect in their relationships with others. Exceptions include
the work of Jenkins (1990), Calhoun & McGrath (2000) and
is this? Part of it may be an expression of the information
age we live in. As evidenced in our fascination with using
computers and the Internet, we are in love with information.
In the field of working with assaultive men we want a module
or exercise on each aspect of menís lives. I have been asked:
"What do you do on jealousy?" or parenting, menís
conditioning, pornography, sexuality, sexism, etc.? To carry
the computer metaphor further: we tend to see a violent manís
attitude of entitlement as if it is a dysfunctional software
program that requires removal and subsequent installation
of the new and improved "Respectful Relationship Man,
Version 1.0." If only the man had the right information.
we suffer under what might be called "medicalization".
In medicine, the problem or symptoms are isolated and treated
with appropriate medication or surgery. In counselling violent
men, we make a diagnosis: this is a man who uses power and
control with women. Then we prescribe a specific treatment:
16-sessions (the standard in BC) in an assaultive menís program.
Iím not saying this is all bad and in many ways itís progress.
At least it moves us away from such solutions as coupleís
therapy, communications skills, or medication for depression
as primary interventions for menís violence. These interventions
carried various degrees of risk and ignored the central goal
of ending violence and threats of violence. So itís as if
we treat the symptom Ė violence Ė and assume we can prescribe
a specific antidote while ignoring the "doctor/patient
are important qualities in a counsellor who works with assaultive
men? How important is the relationship between the counsellor
and the client in the goal of ending menís violence?
When dealing with the some of the most challenging issues
in assaultive menís groups, I believe that curiosity, ability
to handle intense emotions in oneself and another, and a commitment
to finding health in even those men who seem unreachable,
are necessary counsellor qualities.
examine two very familiar challenges in menís work, "resistance"
and blaming. We often hear the following refrain at the beginning
of a new group: "The system is against men. She hits
me and nothing happens. I defend myself and Iím thrown in
jail. Why arenít there groups for women?" Here are some
of the answers Iíve used and heard other counselors use: "Weíre
here to talk about you, not about her." "Maybe she
was violent but womenís violence is often in self-defense.
What were you doing?" "Weíre not here to talk about
we argue back, we are implicitly saying, "Iím not willing
to hear you. Your anger doesnít have a place here. Your feelings
of unfairness donít count." How is this different from
the message of power and control that he has been giving his
partner? Does the fact that we are saying these things for
the right reason make it acceptable? How different is our
response from that of the parent who spanks their child "for
their own good?"
I hear "resistance", anger and blaming, I now seek
to follow the principle of "Inviting All of the Man into
the Room." Arguing back and overpowering the man by virtue
of the counsellorís authority (authority granted through the
manís probation order to attend) accomplishes one of two things.
He may decide to go along with the counsellor and be agreeable
and become a puppet. The risk is that his true values and
feelings become unavailable to both himself and to us in the
work. This leaves him just as dangerous as when he came in,
if not more so, since his true attitude is buried under a
correct façade of agreeableness presented to please
the counsellor. Or, there is the man who will continue to
argue with us. His argument solidifies him more strongly in
his position the more often he states it. He stays angry and
blaming in the group and that stance becomes his protection
against looking deeper. It can also strongly affect the attitude
of the other men in the group.
may feel weíve done our job because we challenged and confronted
his lack of responsibility. However, no change has occurred,
and it may be less possible than it was before. What do we
want more, to hear him state our point of view or to see a
change in the manís behaviour for the sake of the safety of
his family? When a counsellor is confronted by a hostile and
blaming attitude in a man who uses violence with women, it
is a rich opportunity. It means that the counsellor is witnessing
the very attitude that allows and perpetuates his use
than the counsellor trying to superficially "correct"
the manís attitude or somehow try to implant the "right"
attitude, the man can be assisted immediately to begin examining
this behavior. Eventually, he can begin to apply it to his
life and his relationships with his partner and children.
Curious and respectful questions from the counsellor (Jenkins)
can assist the counsellor to examine the manís controlling
behavior. "Do you want your wife to agree with you because
she has chosen to out of respect for you, or because she fears
your reaction?" These kinds of questions provide men
with tools for self-examination that will assist them to continue
their changes outside of the group work. This stands in contrast
to the instructional model in which the expert tells the men
the right values. To quote the Christian parable, this approach
amounts to "teaching men how to fish" rather than
giving them a fish that may only feed them for one day.
values is another avenue of working for change. An exploration
of the values men profess forms the foundation for each man
to examine his violent behaviour in light of these values.
Dr. Stefanakis introduced a series of questions on values
into our group work. We have discovered that most men in our
groups hold values similar to those of other people: respect,
honesty, responsibility, kindness, etc. Men who have done
great damage to their family use these very words. When we
challenge men to examine their behaviour with their family
in light of the values they profess, a sober moment of self-reflection
is created in the group room and opportunity for real and
lasting change is presented.
you assist men to uncover their values of decency, you support
them in finding that part of them, no matter how hidden, that
wants to take a stand against violence. Changes in behaviour
can then be based upon a discovery of their own dignity and
upon a willingness to face the times they fall short of their
self-discovered values of respect.
first guiding principle in our work is: "the safety of
women and children is paramount." A carefully structured
curriculum may give a counsellor the feeling that they are
doing the right thing. However, when counsellors have the
courage to encounter men as they are and assist them
to examine their behaviours and values, then I believe we
move much closer to making real change Ė change which will
prevent menís violence in the future and create safety for
their families. b
is a counsellor who has been working with violent men for
24 years. He provides group, individual and coupleís counselling
as well as training and supervision. He can be reached at
604-253-8641 or [email protected]
Columbia Association of Counsellors of Abusive Men (ACAM).
J., Bell, J., & Hamilton, A. (1996). Violence against
women in relationships intervention programs for men: Guiding
principles for services in British Columbia. Vancouver,
BC: Institute Against Family Violence.
A. J., & McGrath, F. The Genesis Group: Narrative therapy
with men who use abuse. Paper presented at the National
Conference of the British Columbia Association of Counsellors
of Abusive Men: Bridging the Gap Across Canada, October 29,
J. (1995). Do batterersí programs work? Domestic Abuse
Project Research Update, (7), Summer 1995.
A. Invitations to responsibility. (1990). Adelaide,
South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.
H. Caring and compassion when working with offenders of
crime and violence. Paper presented at Love and Compassion
conference, Vancouver, BC, DATE 2000.
B., & Robson, J. (2000). Moving towards the light:
A self-directing manual for men who want to end violence and
abuse towards women. Saskatoon, SK: Changing Men