I trained as a teacher of modern languages and as a 30 year-old attended an intensive co-counselling course, authored by John Heron. I learnt a great deal about myself - it was almost as important as learning to read. As a 40 year old I additionally trained as a couple counsellor. In 1994 at a DV conference a Canadian export told us that violent men were all the same and they would not change, the only thing for a woman to do was to leave. I was incensed and decided I would stuff the statistics down her throat, figuratively speaking, at a later date. For most of the years my co-facilitator has been Mrs Denise Knowles, a couple counsellor, psycho-sexual therapist, family therapist and supervisor. Together we've completed work with about 900 men and 100 women, in mixed gender groups. We work about 20 - 24 weekends per year. Supervision is by Harry Tough, a now retired consultant psychiatrist, a specialist in the running of groups.
September 2018. A very recent article in the Times highlighted the sheer lack of progress with the perpetrator programmes, Duluth and hybrids of course. Linked here is the article and my comments in blue!
Cafcass – the Children an Family Court Advisory Service – has been working up a programme to tackle the child abuse involved in “Parental Alienation”. This is due to be put before parliament very soon and a pre-view of the changes is to be presented in October.
My working partner, Mrs Denise Knowles and I, are due to go to pre-view next week of a film commissioned by the BBC into our work with domestic abusers. Our fingers are crossed that it is a “fair” representation of our work. It is due to be broadcast before Xmas.
I attended a NIA conference earlier in the year where two speakers from Duluth were still advocating their “power and control wheel” – despite the recognition in 1999 of their guru, the late Ellen Pence, that “power and control” was not an issue in the vast majority of men with whom she worked but that she and her colleagues had nevertheless taken every opportunity to point out to the men that they were so motivated and merely minimising and denying their behaviours. Eventually she realised that they were only finding what they set out to find! The link to the book and quotes is here.
Before you can have an evidence based practice you have to have a practice upon which to base your evidence.
If you only have 1 practice there is no opportunity to compare and contrast and establish a better practice. Without a better practice, there can never be a best practice and best practice, as a superlative, is an illusion, it exists only, if at all, in a moment of time.
Our practice is 21 years old and it flies in the face of a great deal of “traditional practice”. We reckon it is pretty damned good although there will definitely be improvements which can and should be made.
Fly in the face number 1
Coming from couple counselling backgrounds we knew much more about couple relationships than we did about the politics. We knew very much more about the interactions between men and women than we ever did about criminals. So although we accepted the UK DV figures of 1994 that only 4.9% of DV was attributable to women our course was designed to work with male abusers but without excluding female abusers. So, for 21 years we’ve worked with male abusers and female abusers, in mixed gender groups. Internally there have been very few problems with this. Externally you’ll perhaps be able to imagine the troubles! About 1,000 men and 100 women have completed the 36 hours of our programme.
Fly in the face number 2
We went for a closed group. We recognised that when John Doe from family X meets Sheila Oz of family Y there will be many differences in their expectations – based on what they learnt from their family of up-bringing. If someone, very reasonably, only knows their own family then he or she will tend to believe that all families will run like that. Meeting people from different families will help him or her to understand some of the differences.
We want the clients to talk together, as much as possible, intimately. We want them to exchange as much information as possible about one another. Like women on labour wards, through the sheer intimacy of the situation some of the men and women will make friendships which will last and be mutually supportive. We felt enormously supported in 2012 when we met Dr Louise Dixon whose very critical paper of RESPECT – the accreditor of perpetrator programmes in the UK – coincided with our practical understanding of their nonsense, and also her conclusions about similar work being needed by females also matched ours. (It has also been very refreshing that so many of her ex-students have continued to contribute to the greater reality of the IPV agenda.)
Fly in the face number 3
Emotion drives behaviour, not, in the vast majority of cases, a desire for power and control – read Ellen Pence’s 1999 confession about her notions of power and control ! Duluth and Beyond.
As clients talk about their emotional experiences in their families in a very large percentage of cases what pops up? Well, yes, you guessed it, as the research tells us, their own abuse at the hands of their parents, and others. And what does that “put the client in touch with” ? – Their own sufferings, which when they explore and understand a little also brings their own behaviour, often in front of their children, into stark relief. Most of the people we work with are seeking to regain (or keep) contact with their children so it is important that they understand the impacts of parental behaviour on their children (as well as their partner). The “emotional wheel” provides a very much better focus than the power and control wheel: it is immediately relevant to the clients themselves, their children and their partner. Clients “take it on board” with alacrity – rather than having the power and control wheel welded onto them, somehow. (Our emotional wheel version differs a little from Plutchnik’s; rather arrogantly we think ours is better! Open to debate!)
Fly in the face no 4
The amount of time and the format. Traditionally counselling runs an hour, 90 mins, 2 hours per week. We want to run a closed group. Over longer periods of time people fall ill, get conflicting appointments, etc . etc. A prolonged closed group would disintegrate with drop-outs! Training for professionals very often occupies full days. The most important course I ever took lasted 4 whole days. Men work. Many men work moving shift patterns. You cannot satisfy all the various needs but you do need to be satisfying most. Men provide. If you “stop them from working” you stop them earning and this interferes with many men’s ideas of their roles as providers. So you avoid that as far as possible. We work at weekends, Saturday and Sunday, 2 weekends, about 1 month apart. The results – 90 – 95 % of the people complete all the work. This year we’ll work 32 of the 52 weekends – that is a very high social cost to us – we feel like martyrs! – but the real importance is for the clients who can engage, and in the longer run for the benefit of their children and their partners and their future partners, too. If we ever totalled them up it would seem like a very small cost to us, compared to the benefit to most of them.
Fly in the face no 5
In the UK 7 Duluth-style programmes run by 4 Duluth-style projects could scrape together 36 whole male figures on whom to base £1.2 worth of research, MIRABAL. The researchers drew some percentage style conclusions in the executive summary which lead you, if unwary, to think “Wow – that’s impressive!” On page 8 of the fuller report you get the explanation – based on 36 men!
That year, our little organisation completed work with 55 men, 33 of them referrals by social services. So far, 12 months later, we have heard of 1 man from that cadre that has been violent again. I would bet that more than 45 of those men would have been willing to undergo the research afterwards. Our annual income? Less than £15,000. Buy some research with that!
We have a practice. We have some evidence but nothing like enough. Our independent evidence mainly focusses on the profound changes brought about in 1 client who would have almost certainly been concluded as having a “severe personality disorder” although those words were not written. The examining psychologist’s remarks – 13 years ago – were: “That condition is not supposed to change, they’ll have to re-write the text books.” A client who completed this weekend showed many of the same signs of very profound changes (and of course there was another who showed relatively little sign of change. )
Professor Daniel Siegel and many others have been doing just that, re-writing the text books, that is – and no doubt his definitions of The Mind and emotions and their inter-relationship with the brain and relationships will, no-doubt, earn him a Nobel Prize or some equivalent in the future. For all of us “professionals” who became skilled at applying the various DSM’s diagnoses and, in our training, didn’t get any information about “the mind”, 95% plus of us to all appearances, Siegel’s work is likely to help us develop understandings of what constitutes a healthy mind, as opposed to merely diagnosing an unhealthy mind and then having very little idea about what to do with that to help improve the individual’s situation!
Emotion is a noun but with Siegel’s insights based on his definition he states : “emotion is a verb”. Temper is both noun and verb, more the latter than the former!
Evidence based practice. Practice is a noun: unfortunately the verb is with an s! How does evidence based practice practise? Does it get trapped by attempting to apply a diagnosis without knowing what it is seeking to achieve?
Can I just say what a sheer relief it is to find some constructive dialogues giving potential alternatives to the nonsense that is “Duluth”. The late Ellen Pence did have the decency to admit in her 1999 book that she got the “power and control” thing wrong”. The trouble seems to me to be that because of the vested interests nobody in the UK wants to read and understand the implications of that!
Our experience of running mixed groups has overall been very good, although we have of course completed work with 900 plus men and only 100 plus women. With a maximum group size of 8 there are very often groups with no woman, my co-facilitator apart, but we have also had groups where there have been 3 women and 3 men. We do not, however work with couples in the same group; if both partners need to attend then they attend in separate groups.
As couple counsellors we saw no real problem with this. Our experience suggested that many of the problems faced by a female would be very similar to those faced by males, and in terms of couple relationships there is no reason not to include both gay men and lesbians in that mix although over 21 years we’ve only had two of each.
We were very relieved in 2011 to discover that Dr Louise Dixon’s paper suggested that in her opinion, based on criminological need, there was no academic reason for separate courses. However the stumbling block we saw in her prolonged format, which we manage to largely avoid in ours, was one of “two emotionally vulnerable people” being given plenty of opportunity to “get their heads together”, using the course as the alibi for where they were going. Our format is so compact that although people get to know one another very well the opportunity does not really exist to develop a relationship whilst still on the course. Outside the course those people become adults in their own right.
We could also add that by and large men also need to learn about women, and the differences, woman to woman, and also, of course, women need to learn about men, man to man. There is no better way I suggest of doing that than having them working together in considerable intimacy. So the last woman we worked with, for example, was able to give first hand experiences of having a baby by caesarian section, very important for two of thee men there.
On the subject of research we’ve found that men are by and large very willing to take part, women have been very much more reticent to talk “publicly” but are willing to talk off the record. I think that the men tend to think they’ve done something very wrong and having addressed their problems they usually feel very much better about themselves and women are not sure that they have done anything wrong and at the end they have become much more aware of the potential damage they have caused, which perhaps links up with a potential “bad mother” private image. So for a researcher in urgent need of data we could quickly find 30 men. I would have thought we should have been able to find 10 women – but as it was only two came through!
I see another group of members suggesting facilitators should be mental health trained practitioners. My reading of Dr Dan Siegel’s work suggested that mental health professionals were highly skilled in diagnosis but seemed to have had very little training in what constituted good mental health and how that might be achieved. His long overdue definitions of emotion and the mind and the role and importance of relationships look to me as if they will be a very positive contribution for the next couple of decades.
I was also delighted this morning to find Dr Tonia Nicholls’ Youtube clip.