Showing posts with label Emerge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Emerge. Show all posts

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Cognitive Dissonance in Intervention Work

In my prior article, I took information from the book "Persuasion and Politics: The Social Psychology of Public Opinion," by Michael Milburn to consider methods of understanding attitudes held by people who choose abusive and violent behavior in relationships. As I make my way through the text, I'm finding potential in using the material for intervention work. Writing down my analysis is going to jump around as I process, and as current events spark my desire to explore something within the book.

Like any good psychology student, I remember initially learning about cognitive dissonance, and thought I understood it pretty well. In general, the theory proposes that when an individual has "belief dilemmas" where that person encounters conflict with new information, there's an effort to restore balance to beliefs by changing something within their cognition. Using a direct example from battering intervention work, if I want to control a situation and make my partner do something she does not want to do, and when I do so she becomes upset - and I notice and care about her response - then I will need to change something in my beliefs about controlling her in order to balance my desired result (that I get what I want and my partner goes along with that desire).

The theory is that part of the disconnect with people who choose abusive and violent behavior has to do with not noticing impacts, or caring about their partner's response. So within battering intervention work, we make a lot of effort to raise awareness of impacts on self and others, as well as try to get individuals to be more introspective and self-aware of how chosen behavior is abusive or violent.

But what if it's not that simple, and all these years that I've believed we just need to increase cognitive dissonance aren't exactly striking the chord of changing beliefs and behavior?

As far back as 1958, Fritz Heider proposed "Balance Theory (p. 90 of Milburn's book)" which hypothesizes that triads of relationships that have a positive or negative attribute (valance). He proposed that balance in belief systems needs an odd number of positive relationships (either one or three) to be balanced.
So using current events to illustrate, with the recent Twitter post by President Trump sparking debate about his directly racist statement, if someone supports Trump, but dislikes racism, then to create balance that person would need to either begin to disagree with or dislike Trump, or agree with or begin to like racism.

The problem is that while I learned about cognitive dissonance and balance theory enough to remember them easily, I did not remember the limitations and problems with these theories.

One limitation, and it's a big one, is that when fear or hatred is involved (very strong negative attitudes), individual's cognitions may persist as imbalanced. I cannot count the number of times I have worked with individuals in BIP who hate their ex-partner with such passion that they are unable and unwilling to consider how the damage they cause in that relationships directly damages relationships with their own children with their ex-partner. That hatred is so strong there is no motivation to consider personal choices that are abusive or violent, but rather there is a highly targeted focus on that ex-partner's behavior and why it is wrong.

This means that within intervention work, we need to more strongly consider methods of confronting hatred. Trying to convince someone to have empathy toward a person they hate is most likely going to be unsuccessful because the imbalance in cognition is going to be accepted. No matter the potential harm to themselves and others, an individual entrenched in their hatred will most likely be unable to shift their behavior toward respect and health.

A second limitation has to do with situations wherein an individual holds two strongly held beliefs that contradict each other. The text suggests that researchers were at a loss to account for this inconsistency in beliefs, but offers some suggestions on how people resolve belief dilemmas that may offer insight into how someone can maintain two strongly held beliefs that contradict.

Resolution of Belief Dilemmas:
  1. DENIAL: This is the simplest way to eliminate inconsistencies in belief systems, and anyone who works within intervention understands this. You can enter into denial by changing the way one of the objects is valued, or by denying the relationship between the two objects of denial. Fortunately, this is also the weakest method of resolving belief dilemmas, and denial will break down if there are too many inconsistencies, or if there is too much conflicting evidence of other possible beliefs. In general, BIP does a decent job of confronting denial through both methods - introducing and reflecting on inconsistent beliefs, and by offering evidence of the impacts of abusive and violent behavior. 
  2. BOLSTERING: When someone adds additional elements to an inconsistent pair of beliefs that serve to overpower another belief system, they bolster one side of the belief dilemma in such a way that the dilemma ends. This is a common challenge in BIP classes, and it is mostly framed as "collusion." When group participants support entitled belief systems, they often do so to bolster their individual sense of being right, and diminish the sense that their partner's perspective matters. Again, in general, BIP is decent at addressing bolstering behavior, and working to get class participants to hold each other to a higher standard - to discuss respectful and healthy beliefs, and bolster the side of the belief dilemma that supports changing behavior. It can be useful to be more cognizant of this process, and why individuals use it to continue hurtful behavior, and also to understand how a focus on discussing respectful and healthy alternatives serves to bolster in a positive way.
  3. DIFFERENTIATION: A divide and conquer technique, this resolution involves separating two belief systems into a pair that is consistent, and a pair that is inconsistent - therefore creating an  illusion of balance. There are methods used in BIP to exploit differentiation, and I am not sure I fully agree with the technique, but the ManAlive approach is probably the easiest to describe. As a part of their curriculum, they have individuals in classes identify their "Hit Man" which consists of all the abusive, violent, entitled, and hurtful belief systems. Individuals in the class then compare that to healthy, respectful, and supportive belief systems in an attempt to diminish harm. I am concerned that this can potentially create that illusion of balance rather than actually creating balance by changing beliefs - but I am also willing to recognize that if someone is able to diminish hurtful belief systems through this analysis then that's important work.
  4. TRANSCENDENCE: Methods of analyzing belief systems sometimes involve creating reasoning for the beliefs themselves. This in essence is transcendence of the inconsistencies themselves. The example Milburn uses invokes religious perspectives of God, and a dilemma that if God is perceived as pure good, how can God allow evil to exist? To transcend this dilemma, individuals explain this by considering the concept of "free will" and how it's not God allowing evil, but rather individual people choosing the path of evil. By coming up with this reason, it dissolves the dilemma. Consider how frequently individual participants in BIP want to come up with reasons for their behavior, and how often it focuses on a reason that blames others. In BIP, the methods of using transcendence could involve discussing entitlement and how believing you are better than others, believing others are less than you, and believing you deserve something from others allows individuals to be abusive and violent. If that is the reason for hurting others, then it is reasonable to address entitlement and begin to dismantle it to instead create support and care for a partner and for children. 
A caveat to these resolutions is that the researcher who founded the "Modes of Resolutions of Belief Dilemmas," R.P. Abelson, stated that for people whom believe politics are important will likely be more motivated to resolve belief dilemmas than those who do not. This is very true for BIP work, as facilitators will often be focused on change, responsibility, and accountability while participants may not be interested in any of those things. This is why taking a motivational interviewing approach can be so beneficial. 

Further discussion points out that attitudes that are important to an individual are more stable than those that are less important. So in essence, instilling a sense of importance to be respectful and healthy could go a long way toward motivating change in people who choose abusive behavior. The challenge is that often a sense of righteousness is much more important to entitled individuals than health and respect. This means that BIP facilitators need to be mindful of topics that participants are less knowledgeable of. Often this is in topics of respect and health, and while it is important to focus on and discuss abusive and violent behavior, individuals who have been abusive or violent often believe their innocence is the most important attitude, and will find several ways to prove that innocence and ignore identifying how they have been abusive or violent. If we can bolster health and respect, it is more likely that individuals who are closely tied to their belief of innocence will relax those beliefs enough to find methods of change. Researcher Jon Krosnick suggests that when there are two attitudes of equal importance, the above belief resolutions become possible, but in general people will only change their less important beliefs.

When considering how much we focus on belief change in BIP, we need to be much more aware of how this happens. Ableson suggested in his work on cognitive dissonance that beliefs are like possessions - that people hold on to them, value them, and are often reluctant to let them go. It's possible to directly influence changes in beliefs the more we can shift how people view what's important, and how they can connect with alternate perspectives. Entitlement is often very strong for people who choose abuse and violence, and as a result, this entitlement is also of high importance to them. It's possible to create a stronger importance in respect and health, and how we navigate those discussions can make all the difference.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Merging Efforts: The Intersections of Domestic Violence Intervention, Men, and Masculinities

*The following is a published journal article with citation: "Hall, C. M. (2019). Merging Efforts: The Intersections of Domestic Violence Intervention, Men, and Masculinities. Men and Masculinities, 22(1), 104–112."

Merging Efforts: The Intersections of Domestic Violence Intervention, Men, and Masculinities

First Published March 12, 2019
Feminist-focused activism and domestic violence services have grown in tandem, both developing analysis of systemic interventions for abusive men and in men’s role to address violence against women. Research on men and masculinities create a space for enhancing the view of toxic and healthy masculinities; however, analysis of masculinities without specific discussion on topics of intersectionality can avoid directly addressing men's violent behavior. There is a growing need to combine two focal points of work: honoring the foundations of anti-oppression work by encouraging non-abusive men to address their entitlement and disconnect from women, and motivating domestically abusive and violent men to choose respectful behavior that integrates healthy masculinities. Consideration for LGBTQ+ analysis of masculinities and opportunities for combined work are also explored.

Domestic violence intervention work, often focused on cis-male heterosexual offenders, faces challenges from community support and from offenders themselves when media, individuals, and researchers believe that such men are incapable of change. In doing work to end violence in relationships and to reduce toxic masculinities, change agents must believe in the possibility of working toward respect, health, and progress. The process of this change can be explored more concretely through a strong foundation and connection to women’s and gender studies, and domestic violence work needs to continue this connection rather than forgetting or abandoning it.

The history of domestic violence intervention work involves initial efforts at Emerge: Counseling and Education to Stop Domestic Violence in 1977, with several other initiatives starting soon after to address men’s violence against women (Adams 2003, p. 171).

The most identified and well-known domestic violence intervention program, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program, also known as “the Duluth model” started in 1984 when Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar interviewed female victims of domestic violence and categorized experiences of harm within their “Power and Control Wheel (PCW).” While overall, their approach was designed to involve community involvement, coordination, and systemic review, classroom-style groups of domestic violence offenders focus on using the PCW to educate about their abusive and violent behavior in conjunction with a “control log” activity.

Since the early 2000s, national domestic violence intervention programs such as Emerge and Duluth have attempted to create a broader humanistic approach: Emerge through the use of motivational interviewing approaches and Duluth through a greater focus on their “respect and equality” wheel. Both programs have stressed the need to focus on the change they want to see in abusers, but dissemination of this approach is difficult within agencies and groups that lack coordination and communication with progress and advances outside of their own communities.

Part of the challenge faced by domestic violence intervention has to do with Duluth’s PCW, which identifies a category of control and harm labeled as “male privilege,” which includes examples such as “treating her like a servant,” “making all the big decisions,” “acting like the ‘master of the castle,’” and “being the one to define men’s and women’s roles” (Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs 2014a). While this wedge of the PCW is designed to be a starting point to discuss toxic masculinity and other forms of oppressive and entitled behavior, the challenge becomes that if individual interventionists do not have a nuanced understanding of men and masculinities, or a greater connection to community collaboration as practiced by the Duluth model itself, discussions and interventions can potentially become demotivational, alienating, and dismissive of respectful and healthy masculinities.

The Duluth model, in its work to be more focused on respect and equality, has engaged men by considering “shared responsibility,” but the challenge is that interventionists outside of the Duluth model itself often do not directly address oppressive beliefs and behavior behind toxic masculinities. Suggested items in the “shared responsibility” wedge include “mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work” and “making family decisions together” (Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs 2014b). Individual group facilitators might be able to have an engaging and thought-provoking discussion about sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other oppressions that become domestically violent, but again the responsibility and skill are totally dependent on that individual interventionist.

The Emerge model engaged in a more “political activist” approach in the 1990s, addressing oppressive language and calling abusers out on attitudes and beliefs that were hurtful. While Emerge lacks a concrete display such as the PCW, there are lesson plans addressing “the effects of domestic violence on women” and “disrespectful/respectful communication.” However, like the Duluth model, Emerge does not have any lessons which directly engage abusers in discussions of healthy and respectful masculinity, although it does have opportunities within discussions on respectful communication, exploring effects of domestic violence on women and children, and a consideration of what counts as abuse and violence.

One of the early domestic violence intervention programs, the Oakland Men’s Project, cofounded by Paul Kivel and Allan Creighton made several efforts to engage men in discussions of toxic and healthy masculinities in the form of the “Act Like a Man Box” and avoided use of terms such as “batterer intervention” instead choosing to call their interventions “Men’s Work.” Their call to engage all men in the work to end violence against women and girls has been mirrored by other organizations and efforts, but that work is often separate from direct interventions.

Domestic violence intervention shares many overlaps with research on men and masculinities, in some ways being a practical extension of that work. However, there is little interaction between the two groups, and to build effective interventions and more directly change toxic masculinities in male domestic violence offenders, this connection needs to be stronger and more direct. Part of the challenge in these connections involves the varied training requirements throughout the nation for domestic violence intervention work. State standards and protocols for programs and individual facilitators vary greatly; Colorado has 150 pages of rules (including detailed evaluation components), while three states have no guidelines whatsoever.

There are several reasons why states have created standards, but many do so through court and legislative rulings requiring that individual abusers receive education, intervention, or counseling as a consequence for domestic violence criminal offenses. This creates a certain quality of care for programs, but since this quality is so different between sites, and monitoring of these standards is often minimal, holding individuals and programs to a standard of analysis is very difficult.

As domestic violence is not a mental health issue, it invites analysis that considers belief systems, values, and meaning and where those interplay with toxic, unhealthy, disrespectful, violent, and abusive behavior. As much of the work has focused on where gender role training fits into those beliefs, there is opportunity for natural overlaps between this research and progress. Getting past the issues behind standards of programs and requirements for practitioners could be an excellent opportunity for future work.

Gender studies as an area of research and study has long focused on feminism, as well as LGBTQ+ studies. As time has led to differentiation between the two focal areas, both have often supported each other and worked together within their realms of research. There has been tension and distrust from both groups as masculinities studies have gained ground, influence, and garnered financial support.
A major source of this distrust can be seen in part as coming from elements of men’s studies that is directly and/or indirectly connected to Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) groups. These groups work to portray men as victims of women, victims of society, and victims of other men. Masculinities studies has opportunities to denounce and work directly against such groups by providing research and discussion that keeps men’s potential for violence in the foreground.

Molly Dragiewicz, a sociologist and noted researcher of MRAs, notes when reviewing “Some Men,” a book about men’s experiences in doing antiviolence work, “Some men interviewed in this chapter raise concerns about the use of antiviolence publicity as window dressing to disguise an underlying lack of commitment to organizational policies to address men’s violence against women and the structures that engender it” (Dragiewicz 2016, p. 312).

But why is it that men are challenged by taking a more direct and visible role in calling out violence as a part of toxic masculinities? Sebastián Molano wrote about some of the challenges faced by men by stating, “Many of the men (including me) working on gender issues are self-taught. We have arrived in the gender landscape as a result of different circumstances but rarely due to an ingrained interest. This is explained, typically, as men enjoying a series of privileges that do not push them to question the status quo” (Molano, 2015).

This mirrors the challenge with domestic violence intervention work, where engaging men in respectful and healthy masculinities reflections or in confronting toxic masculinities does not necessarily have any sort of guidelines, standards, or rules of foundation, training, or engagement. Molano goes on to state, “men who work on gender issues do not tend to have a solid conceptual framework on gender issues, vis-à-vis women. This affects their credibility but most importantly, it is exposed when men who are working on these issues try to build bridges of collaboration with women’s organizations.”

Men and Masculinities studies need collaborations with feminist organizations and need the analysis of gender through the lens of privilege and power men hold over women. The expansion of that lens to consider the intersectionality of other oppressions needs to be continued.

Research on intersectional oppression and the perceptions of invisibility experienced by marginalized individuals can provide guidance in understanding how women’s experiences are easily overlooked by men. In exploring social invisibility, Pérez and Passini found that the more areas of privilege that individuals held, the easier it was to overlook or avoid people without privilege. Their research focused on multiple layers of identity, including gender and sexism, and their conclusion was that, “participants avoid visual interaction with people belonging to social minorities, presumably in order to prevent them from seeing themselves through the eyes with which the minority would see them” (Pérez & Passini 2012, p. 873).

Since 2017, when #MeToo gained international attention and sparked an increase in awareness and validation for women who are sexually and physically victimized by men, the invisibility has been waning, particularly as Sandra M. Gilbert notes:

Thousands and thousands of victims are cafeteria workers, file clerks, undergraduate and graduate students, ambitious young paralegals and overworked line cooks, electricians and rookie cops, junior high school students, and even, God help us, younger girls, sometimes even kindergartners. The labyrinth is the quotidian workplace—the winding corridors of the school or the office, where sexual aggression all too often accompanies power. (American Scholar 2018, p. 18)
With this rise of visibility, masculinities studies has an opportunity to join with domestic violence researchers in assessing appropriate responses to offenders, discussing the impacts of men’s violence on women and children, and overall working to provide avenues for repair.

Unfortunately, with the arrival of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America, the landscape of masculinities in overall US culture may have serious shifts toward attitudes of entitlement and traditional gender roles, embracing foundations of toxic masculinity that are fundamental aspects of MRA belief systems. This creates a need to be intentional in having conversations with MRA individuals and groups to find methods of analyzing toxic masculinities and to possibly learn more about shifting beliefs toward healthy and respectful alternatives.

As a part of working toward respectful and healthy shifts, Men and Masculinities (and domestic violence) studies need to be cautious to remember how gender intersects with other categories of oppression, otherwise it can potentially lead to other forms of invisibility within the work. Chris Beasley notes ,“specifically naming violence as ‘the problem of men’, with regard to violence in communities which face racist marginalisation, is not straightforward. The strategy may be viewed as not so much as ensuring men are rendered responsible but as potentially eliding histories of racism/colonialism, thereby ensuring that dominant white cultures are not associated with responsibility” (Beasley 2015, p. 574).

A focus on toxic masculinities still needs to be balanced with understanding healthy and respectful masculinities, and while there have been several attempts to be more positive about men, careful balance is critical. Englar-Carlson names the challenge of working within that balance:
For many individuals, the idea of empowering men or identifying strengths may seem foreign or downright antithetical to someone who is working to reduce male power, privilege, and sexism. A central concern could be that advocating for a positive psychology of men, or positive masculinity, may gloss over the dark side of masculinity and may be associated with supporting patriarchal structures. (Englar-Carlson & Kiselica 2013, p. 401)
Englar-Carlson offers an example of maintaining both the sense of the toxic and the sense of the healthy:

Loyalty is commonly identified among men as a desirable trait because it can strengthen relationships, build trust, and show support of others. However, when used in a rigid manner, loyalty has the potential to reinforce traditional positions of male privilege (e.g., protecting other men at the expense of truth and justice) and mask independent thinking. It is the ability to be flexible in the enactment of male strengths and knowing when it is adaptive that is critical. (Englar-Carlson & Kiselica 2013, p. 402)
Being flexible is crucial in understanding the ways behavior, gender role training, and even violence itself can be potentially toxic and destructive, but also where it may be healthy or embody a context wherein the violence is protective to self or others. Research and writing needs to be careful to nuance approaches and make sure both sides are considered.

Intersectional overlaps need to be intentional by including the experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community and other nonbinary sexualities. While masculinities papers and research often consider, or even focus on, gay masculinities, an aspect of sexualities that is missing both within domestic violence intervention and masculinities work is a more expansive focus on sexuality beyond heterosexual/homosexual/bisexual.

Research on asexuality is scarce, and testing instruments on sexuality often ignore or minimize asexual spectrums of sexual identity and sexual orientation (Hinderliter 2009); although there has been some work on developing scales to measure asexuality more recently, relying on open-ended questioning (Yule, Brotto, & Gorzalka 2015). Initially, sexuality research looked at a spectrum from heterosexual to homosexual and categorized any other sexuality as the “X category” (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin 1948). In more recent times, considerations of sexual orientation as something distinctly separate from romantic orientation have been discussed and expanded within asexual communities.

Asexuality sites fiercely debate aspects of sexuality needing to include “romantic orientation” as being separate from “sexual orientation” and the need to differentiate between the two and acknowledge space and presence of those individuals who may not be interested in sexual activity but are romantically and socially attracted to others (Amy/amygdala 2013).

This concept, as a view of sexuality that is inclusive not just of the “big three” sexual orientations, but other concepts behind an individual’s identity needs to be more explored within masculinities as well as the domestic violence community.

One major reason for this need is the probability of male domestic violence offenders having a characteristic of being heterosexually oriented to a female partner, but not being interested in a romantic/social connection to women. This complicated combination of identities can explain some levels of toxic masculinities that have not been fully explored.

Another challenging aspect of masculinities work that focuses on gay and bisexual males is the often-overlooked aspect of sexism among these men. Authors at various LGBTQ+ organizations and media have noted some of these issues, one stating, “The topic of misogyny among gay men is a difficult one to broach. In my experience, men either simply refuse to believe the phenomenon exists, or the conversation is quickly derailed” (Faye 2015).

This is not to say that the study of masculinities within the LGBTQ+ community are demonstrating sexism in their work; however, inclusion of forms of oppression beyond heterosexism and homophobia is still necessary in masculinities research, even from within an LGBTQ+ focus.
Emerge has been working with domestic violence offenders within the LGBTQ+ community since the mid-1990s. Culturally specific LGBTQ groups for perpetrators has influenced their work with heterosexual male perpetrators, leading to greater understanding of oppression dynamics and guiding more nuanced interventions while offering a broader ability to inform and work with victims and survivors.

Much of the challenge in both domestic violence intervention and masculinities research is in seeing sexuality in binary terms, both within orientation, but also within making decisions to explore the “most common” sexual preferences and excluding (or being invisible to) how all human sexuality informs work with men.

Domestic violence continues to evolve within the LGBTQ+ community due to work by experts in the field of intervention as well as within agencies that provide advocacy and support for victims and survivors. Some of these nonbinary sexualities, as they are still being explored and understood, need to also be given support and advocacy for victimization, and perpetrators need to be held accountable for change. To avoid stifling progress, we need to start expanding our understanding and research, and we must become as aware of what we leave out as of what include in our work.

The reality of Men and Masculinities work and of domestic violence intervention is that we are at the infancy of their scholarship and not far removed from the foundations created by feminist analysis. Domestic violence intervention has a history of being corrupted by a lack of connections, distancing programs, and individuals from both national efforts and others doing the work. Siloing of resources, advances, materials, curriculum, and even intervention approaches has prevented progress and created rifts within the field. Negative and shame-based focus on perpetrators has created an imbalance in making individual and societal change toward respect and health in relationships.

We find ourselves in a new stage of development within this field. Where we can become inclusive of nonbinary sexuality and romantic connections. Where we can consider what it means to be balanced within concepts of toxic and healthy masculinities. Where we can confront male apologists and call out misogyny at the same time we can build awareness of the invisibilities we can easily fall prey to.
Tal Peretz lists five reasons to study Men and Masculinities that support this ongoing evolution:
  1. Making Men and Masculinities the focus of research helps to keep men’s hurtful behavior visible;
  2. Gender, as an intersectional matrix of domination, informs our knowledge of other forms of oppression;
  3. Disrupting the perception that men’s experiences are “natural” illuminates the possibility of change;
  4. Research suggests momentum toward egalitarian patterns comes from a focus on masculinities; and
  5. Investigating masculinities offers valuable information for feminist projects. (Peretz 2016)
How better to leverage privilege than by using the study of men to further work to end suffering and harms toward all oppressed populations? A fully synthesized approach could grow both fields in addition to leading us to a clarified foundation upon which to confront oppression.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Emerge Model - An Overview

When I started working at a domestic violence agency on Long Island (The Retreat), one of the first pieces of community feedback I heard from my executive director was from another batterer intervention program in the area who had heard that I had revamped my program to begin using the Emerge Model. He warned my ED that he had never heard of the "Emerge Model" and attempted to attack my work at the agency and undermine our program.

This is not an uncommon response, sadly. While Emerge is the first agency in the world to start batterer intervention, the history of the work and the variety of models available for use is not a commonly understood part of domestic violence intervention. Most agencies in the United States use what is known as a "Duluth-like" model. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Program (commonly known as the Duluth Model) is most commonly known due to the proliferation of the "Power and Control Wheels." For many individuals and agencies, it is the only model that is known.

It is unfortunate that there is not more discussed and known about the many models that are a part of this history (such as Men Stopping Violence, Oakland Men's Project, ManAlive, AMEND, RAVEN) and since I worked at Emerge for nearly eight years, I was exposed to and interacted with people doing this work all over the world - many of whom were using different ways of intervening with domestic violence offenders.

In 2002, David Adams and Susan Cayouette (Co-Directors of Emerge) wrote an article outlining the approaches Emerge takes as a part of its model of intervention. As I began working there in 2002, I was able to see the evolution in action, and grew to appreciate how Emerge has constantly pushed their work forward.

I have always experienced Emerge as an "organic" model of intervention. The techniques used by facilitators adapt based on individuals in the classes, the group dynamics as they shift, and make considerations on how co-facilitator teams work together. There is no stronger example for this than how Emerge approaches intakes for new participants.

Most agencies I have experienced have conducted intakes by using individual interviews of new class members. These interviews ask about background, use collateral information (such as police reports or child protective service plans) as a part of understanding the individual, do simple psychological testing (such as the MAST/DAST or an adapted Lethality/Risk Assessment). These appointments tend to last from 60-90 minutes, and for some agencies these also serve as the full assessment or "evaluation" for a referral source.

Practices like this may be helpful in mental health or substance abuse settings, where individual treatment plans are created, and insurance may be billed (requiring diagnosing of the client), but this is neither the purpose of BIP/DVIP, nor is it likely that such layered belief systems behind a choice to hurt self and family is going to be revealed in a first time meeting.

Instead, Emerge takes a group educational approach to intakes. Initial paperwork orientation collects basic info on each participant (which they tend to fill out on their own, with an orientation worker reading through the answers and asking follow up questions as needed), and has the Danger Assessment scale intermixed with questions about background and history. Initial Emerge paperwork also includes a "Violent and Controlling Behavior Checklist," a simple check-off the box and circle the items instrument that is a simple identification and reflection on personal choices and behavior (prospective Emerge facilitators must also fill this form out to demonstrate awareness of their own hurtful patterns).

The real work of the intake is the eight class "First Stage" wherein eight educational lessons are discussed in a group setting. The lessons are designed to be interactive, and engage participants to consider where they fit without pushing them to admit to specific behavior. Lessons include the following:

  1. What Counts as Violence
  2. Self-Talk
  3. What Counts as Abuse
  4. Quick-Fixes vs. Long-Term Solutions
  5. Effects of Domestic Violence on Children
  6. Disrespectful Communication
  7. Respectful Communication
  8. Effects of Domestic Violence on Women
Each lesson provides a background on the impact of harms, identification of a build-up of hurtful behavior, individualizing and understanding the context of harms, and discussing alternative behavior that might lead to repairs and amends. Throughout these eight sessions, individuals are also tasked with discussing their day-to-day interactions with their partner and children, conflict and challenges, identifying their thoughts behind behavior, and humanizing their family members by naming them (this is referred to as a "Short Check-In"). This works to integrate each individual into the classes and humanize them and their behavior.

At the end of Stage One, an individual is required to complete a "Long Check-In" where they must identify their most recent hurtful behavior, and their "worst" hurtful behavior, as well as the history of their relationships, in brief. This activity helps to build Emerge's "Assessment Report" wherein each individual receives a written report that details the quality and content of their participation, how they describe their hurtful behavior, concerns about the individual's patterns, and recommendations.

The advantage of this approach is that it can create more buy-in to the discussions and allow for reflection over time that may influence a report of harm. I think of it this way - when I meet someone for the first time, I am highly unlikely to tell them about my worst and most embarrassing secrets. Yet in BIP/DVIP, not only is this sometimes expected during a first interview, but is expected each week that someone directly name the reason they are in the classes. This is a shame-based approach that may lead to compliance, but may not lead to work toward changing thinking and behavior.

Emerge's "Second Stage" is more dynamic, and consists of the remaining 32 class sessions (Massachusetts' state requirement by the Department of Public Health mandates all BIP/DVIP to be 40-sessions long). During this time, individuals are tasked with joining in discussions, giving feedback to each other, continuing to disclose the challenges and patterns in their ongoing lives, and to eventually complete an individual activity. The "Relationship History" is the most commonly used exercise where an individual (typically completed somewhere between sessions 25-35) outlines 14 patterns in their relationships. This can be a way for the individual to discover things they had not previously considered, a method of having others in the class see where their patterns may be similar, and can be a great place of practicing respectful and healthy feedback.

Each participant also completes a "Goals" activity in one of their final sessions where their activity is reviewed and they are given an opportunity to outline 5-6 goals for improving their life and relationships while the group separately comes up with 5-6 ideas on goals that might be good for that individual. It is a shared experience that again can expose shared patterns but also is work toward accountability for the future.

Throughout the 40-sessions, Emerge also attempts to conduct "partner/victim contacts" where an advocate initially interviews an abuser's partner or ex-partner by asking for their experiences, then group facilitators check in directly with the partner/ex-partner halfway through the program, and at the end of the participant's time in the classes. All of these contacts involve providing referrals to resources as well as informing about the process of the class sessions and how they work.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Emerge is that it has a much different approach to the Duluth Model in discussing hurtful behavior. Emerge does not use "Power and Control Wheels" in favor of  considering the continuum of harm - how irritating and alienating behavior shift into controlling behavior, which can then shift into abuse or violence. Instead of categorizing harm by type, Emerge takes the approach that any behavior can be hurtful, and the harm is based on the context of the relationship, the history of the partnership, and individual factors that may be involved.

Another major difference focuses on Duluth's primary component: their Community Coordinated Response. This works well within the Duluth city and region, as their population is approximately 250,000 residents and systems can effectively be coordinated to work together and follow similar protocols. Emerge is in Cambridge, MA where the catchment area includes approximately 4.5 million people. With over a dozen probation offices, and about as many individual child protective service offices, it is impossible to create protocols that everyone follows consistently. Emerge follows more of what I think of as a "inside-out" approach, where their reports to referral sources show the values of respect and health, of accountability and responsibility. Facilitators talk to these referral sources on an ongoing basis, answering questions and expressing concerns to hold abusers accountable.

Emerge is a model which engages domestic violence offenders through discussion, like almost all models. There is mindfulness within the agency and model to apply Motivational Interviewing techniques (understanding how to roll with resistance, humanizing interventions, working to understand hurtful behavior patterns that are individualized to the abuser), and their "inside-out" approach provides the ability to interact with community on several levels without coordinating an entire region. Educational activities are designed to be grounded in the complications of relationship issues, while differentiating "normal" human behavior from abuse and violence. Individual activities address unique patterns of harm that may fit for each participant, but have overlap with others.

The agency has also been a national leader in LGBTQ+ interventions in domestic violence, and has both a lesbian and gay men's group. They have been consistent in creating community and cultural specific groups to address varying language and cultural barriers to ending domestic violence. The Emerge model has the advantage of being flexible in how it addresses individual patterns of behavior, as well as considering where unique cultural challenges might need to be addressed in more specific groups. Emerge has a process for developing such groups, and this process involves direct consultation with the communities in question, as well as assessing support and counseling for victims/survivors within the community well before providing services for abusers.

Challenges with the model include the need for facilitators to be conscious of time and agenda setting weeks in advance so that each participant has time to do all the activities in the Second Stage, the need for facilitators to be flexible in discussing topics beyond standard lesson plans, and the need to allow time for weekly check-ins without allowing them to dominate the entire class time. There tend to be more thoughtful and detailed report writing involved as a part of the model as well, which can lead to necessary work outside of classes themselves.

David and Susan recently wrote an end of year newsletter requesting your support, providing an outline of their work in 2016, and discussing some of their referral sources. Another excellent way to support them is to consider attending one of their trainings, purchasing materials, or contacting them for more information. Emerge can be reached at 617-547-9879 or at

Again, in the interest of full disclosure, since I worked at Emerge from 2002-2009, I have a certain buy-in to their model and their methods (I am fond of their administrative practices as well). However, I have also worked to learn more about other models of intervention and try to incorporate other approaches in my own work when I see their value. I hope you join me in making this work a constantly evolving process, both for the individuals in our groups, but also for ourselves as facilitators. In the future, I will try to offer my experience and insights into other models of intervention. Send me an email if you have any questions or would like to see other topics discussed here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Reflecting Forward at BISC-MI 2016 Conference (Day Two)

(Most links within this article connect to the Facebook Domestic Violence Intervention and Education group, where I detailed most of the conference. I apologize in advance for the length of this article, the details and information are extensive so I tried to do them justice in brief, which for the content of a blog entry are not brief at all. I hope those who attended can use this to reflect on the presentations you witnessed, and maybe expand your learning beyond the conference itself. Those who did not attend - I hope you can see the content of a BISCMI conference and join us next time!)

Day Two of the BISC-MI conference started with direct grounding in the work, and board member and homemade cookie maker extraordinaire, Jeffrie Cape stated, "we need to remember, the purpose of domestic violence intervention work is to create safety, respect, and health for victims/survivors of domestic violence." This needs to be stressed regularly, and can be an important measure of a program in how much they have a foundation in this idea of victim/survivor safety.

Lori (last name omitted for safety and privacy reasons - important to be aware of with victims/survivors) shared her experience of living with her abuser, and the various ways he worked to isolate her - and many of the reasons she did not identify his behavior as domestic violence. The time she went through pain and fear - and the reason why she justified her suffering as being unimportant, are messages we need to be intimately aware of. Not just for the partners and ex-partners of the abusers we work with, but for understanding the justifications of abusers themselves.

In my direct work with abusers, I am thankful for the ongoing interactions I have with victims and survivors through the Facebook DVIE group. Listening to stories, providing referrals, or often just having the ability to listen provides me with a depth of understanding that enhances the interventions I work on with perpetrators. I would like to challenge all of you reading who do BIP/DVIP work to consider your own exposure to these stories, and how you make them real in your practice.

A big part of "reflecting forward" is in reviewing systems that have been in place that overall we need to be more informed about. Scott Miller works extensive to train people on how to use the "Duluth Model," and in doing so is constantly needing to separate out the BIP/DVIP group process part of the model, and bring forward that overall their approach is about engaging with and changing community perceptions and messaging about domestic violence. This "Community Coordinated Response" is key to any interventions using the Duluth Model, yet very few groups and individuals using their model fully implement this critical component.

Praxis International, an agency that works closely with Domestic Abuse Intervention Program (DAIP, the "Duluth Model") has worked for some time to counter claims against its work, and to try and raise understanding about both their groups, their community work, and the plethora of "Duluth-like" BIP/DVIP groups who use Power and Control wheels, but do not accurately follow their model. Scott discussed in his presentation that BIP/DVIP should be designed to hold abusers accountable - not just in groups, but within community, by community members including law enforcement, but also connected systems that might be influential in guiding an abuser toward respect and health (examples may be businesses, schools, places of worship, etc).

Scott also brought forward that research on BIP/DVIP sometimes states that the Duluth Model does not work, and base that conclusion on studying BIP/DVIP groups who say they use Duluth, but may only do the group sessions for abusers, and these research studies almost never go directly to the source to research DAIP.

Oliver Williams spoke to looking to engaging communities as an essential part of effectively addressing domestic violence. Unfortunately, I stepped out of the conference to prepare a bit more for the AQUILA "Truth Squad" portion and missed his discussion. However, I have seen Oliver present on similar topics in the past, and can say that he spends time addressing the need to understand communities if you want to work with them. This is a lesson that we need to consider on broader levels in community coordinated responses, and how we can move away from imposing changes and instead work with and listen to communities to understand their challenges, as well as their successes and the work they may have been doing to work toward respectful and healthy relationships. If anyone who attended the conference who has notes from Oliver's presentation, and would be willing to share them, please do so in the comments of this post.

Lisa Nitsch furthered the conversation about working in community, particularly her experience of being a white woman working in a predominantly Black community. She started with a historical perspective of Baltimore and addressed ways the city has been oppressive to People of Color overall, and methods used to divide communities - and specifically how those tactics and historical political decisions have led to Baltimore being the most segregated city in the United States. Lisa made a point to highlight the work of Kimberle Crenshaw to address the intersectionality of oppressions faced by Black women, and where "white feminism" has created invisibility for Women of Color in the differences they experience with domestic and sexual violence within our society. This point is important in exploring her work within Baltimore, as her status as a white woman needed to be considered in how she worked within her community.

Lisa used several examples of the need to consider intersectionality of oppressions in work to end domestic violence, and to do community coordination. Some important points for BIP/DVIP work include considerations of your facilitators matching the demographic breakdown of the community, having a curriculum that speaks to those differences if they exist, the need to cross-train staff on self-care issues that may overlap with hurtful, controlling, abusive, and violent behavior (such as looking at employment issues, connections that abusers have within community, etc), how feedback from group members is incorporated into the program, and making sure that administrators with power and privilege are not making decisions about programming and community engagement without the involvement of the community itself.

Next Ricardo Carrillo brought forward perspectives from his work with the Mexican Latino community, and described some of the unique challenges to addressing domestic violence. He described how many men he has worked with have grown up as children in environments which equated love with pain, a sense of moral correction to match values that stressed male dominance, and a concept of a spirit/soul wound that can create imbalance, internalized oppression, and ongoing harm in relationships. He brought forward how such childhood experiences may lead to difficulties for men in creating healthy attachments, and leading to dismissing behavior in relationships (as a part of being anxious from modeling behavior witnessed in childhood) or a preoccupied, ambivalent attachment in adult relationships (partially based on conflicting emotions from experiences in childhood).

As a result of these experiences, and in a need to address the hurtful connections men he has worked with have developed in their lives and relationships, Ricardo discussed the need to discuss and develop healthy connections in these men's lives. To discuss childhood experiences as a part of exploring internal coping strategies that can build to abusive and violent behavior in relationships. He also spoke to making cultural connections to health and respect that can be found throughout Mexican and Latino culture, and the use of parables, stories, legends, and history to create repairs and internal reflection.

Hoda Amine presented on the Muslim community responses to domestic violence, and referenced the Muslim Code of Behavior that puts forward community rules that overlap with respectful and healthy behavior discussions that often are a focus of BIP/DVIP groups overall. Some examples of this code include truthfulness, sincerity, unselfishness, humility, patience, forgiveness, purity and cleanliness, honesty, goodness and kindness to others, courage, consideration and respect for others, moderation, and cheerfulness. These values and behavior guidelines can be critical for all discussions during group sessions, but can also be a way to discuss specific movement toward ending domestic violence with Muslim men.

TA Bashir followed up by reviewing history of the Islamic faith, and the challenges that came from moving a people toward new patterns of worship and community value. Many patterns of behavior by men toward women stayed with older traditions that were oppressive and destructive, and these traditions are still coming out today hundreds of years after the formation of the religion. TA talked about creating connections to a womanist tradition, and guiding men to be more aware of the history behind their faith, and the challenges in working toward health and respect.

In looking at how faith can inform and transform change in men who are abusive, Chris Moles engaged the audience in methods of analyzing belief systems without judgment. He states that, "we do what we do because we want what we want," then further described, "we want what we want because we think what we think." This distillation of motive and reason behind abusive and controlling behavior allows for critical viewing of selfishness and a lack of value for family and self. He describes himself as a complementarian, but in a fashion which sees the natural balance and equality of men and women, and how relationships involve working together. Christianity and church services, he explained, have often become gatherings of performance art and socializing with little room for growth of respectful and healthy belief systems - and engaging abusers in their beliefs behind their faith, and their values behind their relationships can be excellent angles for interventions.

Staff from Emerge (Susan Cayouette, Ted German, and Erika Robinson) finished the day by detailing their work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender, and Queer domestic violence offenders, as well as their work with heterosexual female perpetrators and anger management clients. This work has helped in better informing their work with heterosexual male domestic violence offenders as they have struggled to consider differences in power dynamics, levels and overlaps of entitlement, and has grown knowledge of the need to analyze reactive violence within male heterosexual abusers.

In the next post, I will be finishing up my summarization of the BISC-MI conference by detailing the third day. Again, feel free to visit the DVIE group on Facebook or visit the DVIntervention Twitter feed for links and more information. For links to conference materials, including presentations, click here.