This first post contains the first part of an email conversation I had in October 2008 with Frida,  one of my training participants from Sweden.  She attended a training seminar during which she learned about how to facilitate batterer intervention (non-violence education) classes and had some questions.  Her questions and comments are in black and mine are dark blue

Frida (in Sweden):  When we got back to Gävle and presented IDAP at a staff meeting this afternoon, we had to face some resistance from our coworkers. Most of this, I think, comes from the fact that we already have a therapy-group for battering men, and people here absolutely loves this group and the leaders of it, and believe that this kind of treatment is the answer.. I’m not sure exactly how they work in this group, all I know is that they work a lot with self-esteem, emotional support for the men and with separating a man from his behaviour. My believe is that the group is more based on psychodynamic theories, than cognitive/behavioural ones.   (Dr. Cathy): What do they consider success?  Are they working within a framework of safety for the battered woman?  Who is contacting their participants partners to ensure safety?  Is anyone evaluating the program for compliance, non-violence during and after the program or anything like that?  The IDAP program is operating within a strong framework of accountability and efficacy. 

Frida (in Sweden):   This group works nothing with the women, they have no contact with them. The leaders of the group tell me that they do not let the men “get away” from their responsibility for their violent behaviour, but when I listen to them talking, I hear an awful lot of things that could maybe be comprehended as excuses for the violence. “The men are dealing with a lot of guilt and shame” or “What hurts the most; getting slapped or hearing that you are not the father of your children?” (A woman had told her husband this in some example they told me about.) 

It’s very hard for me to discuss this with my colleagues because I’m very keen on working with our educationally structured programs that are based on cognitive behavioural therapy, I believe strongly in these theories. I think I scared my colleagues with my description of how harsh this programme can be on the men. I myself really agree with this point of view not the least because it combines an empathetic approach with zero tolerance for violence.   I am not sure what you mean by how harsh the program can be.  Do you see that the expectation that the participants remain non-violent during the program and accept responsibility for their violence as being harsh?  If not that, then it would be helpful to me to know what you or your colleagues might have seen as harsh. 

It’s the focusing on the violence. The therapy-programme focuses much more on how the men feel, WHY they behave like this, which experiences they themselves have. Also IDAP has a structure that needs to be followed, which (I think) means that there’s not as much room for hugging and crying and talking about what the men needs to talk about right then and there. Of course, if one of the participants is going through something hard or has a need to talk about something, we aswell will offer to sit down with him after the session. But in the therapy-programme, everything circles around this. It’s focusing on the men who batters, not on the battering. The men will feel better about themselves and through that, stop with the battering. Compared to that, I believe that some would say that IDAP is harsh.

Now, I know this is difficult for you to have any opinion on when you know so little about our therapy-group, but I would still like to know your thoughts about therapy versus IDAP and cognitive behavioural theories versus psychodynamic theories, when it comes to treating these men. You said at the training that insight is all good, but it doesn’t make a person change. More thoughts like that, please! =)  I found no evidence in Domestic Violence research literature that insight leads to behavior change.  Therapy that focuses on insight seems likely to spend a lot of time looking for excuses for why a man was violent rather than framing his violence as a social problem and helping him to see alternatives to his control and abuse.  We do not see his violence as individual pathology.  We dont see the participants as sick or look for diagnosable conditions.  Therapy and treatment is for sick people who have a diagnosis, else why would we treat them? 

I agree, it seems quite logical to me that a person has to practice a new behaviour to be able to start using it in real life. I’m sure it can be helpful and comforting for us all to get some answers to why we feel, think and act the way we do, but to make a change, we have to focus on here and now. And practice!

Another question: Many of the batterers were battered themselves in their childhood. What are your reflections on the fact that some of them choose to batter their wives/children, and some of them choose not to? Are there any connection with the need of control that we talked so much about? Why do some of these men react with such a need of control? Or do they all have the same need but choose to handle it differently?  See above, our framework for understanding why men batter is because they can, society and socialization prepares men and women for traditional roles that are based on a power-over, hierarchical/patriarchical structure that justifies mens violence against women and 

This is what makes this subject so incredibly interesting! You have been in Sweden a lot, do you see any big differences between the gender roles here and in the states? My prejudice is that the families in the U.S. in general are more traditional than they are in Sweden. Is it for example common that men stay at home with their kids for some time after they’re born? Is it taken for granted that women work, or is that still an issue? Do you see big differences in the different parts of the country?  

In Sweden, I believe, we think that we’re really advanced in this area, that men and women are equal. This is of course not true. We have the big things, like the fact that women make less money for the same job, that the fathers rarely stay at home with their children as much as the mothers do etc etc. And we can also see smaller things, that one may think are not very important, but which I think maybe are the most important ones. We talked about it a bit at the training: The different colours of clothes we put on our children, the different toys we give them to play with, how we talk to them and behave towards them. All the time, we tell them that they should be a certain way because they are girls/boys! And it’s not just oppressing and discriminating towards the girls! Of course, this is not easy for the boys either. To not be tought how to express your emotions, for example, must make your whole life more difficult.

I could go on and on about this… =)

And another one: Do you think that, by putting all the responsibility for the violence on the men, we sometimes make the woman more of a victim? Don’t get me wrong, of course she IS a victim. But does it make her feel more helpless, worthless and weak, do you think?  I believe that we should always work in ways that identify and acknowledge victim/survivors strengths.  By focusing on his violent and abuse behavior and ways to help him to change, I also believe that we reduce her reaction/belief that she has to find a way to prevent his violence.  Battered women frequently act in ways that suggest that she believes that she can modify or prevent his violence, despite the repetitious nature of his behavior no matter what she does. 

Right. So, through putting all the responsibility for the violence on the men, we tell their partners that it’s not up to them to do something. it’s up to their partners. That doesn’t neccessarily mean that they are helpless etc, it just means that it’s not their job. The ball is not in their corner, so to speak.