Group Observation: Men’s DV Rehabilitation
San Diego State University
This paper is a reaction to sitting in on a men’s Domestic Violence Rehabilitation group. Within it is a discussion of the processes and and group dynamics of the program–which focuses on batteries or the accused perpetrators of domestic violence as order by the San Diego Superior Court system–and potential areas of further study and improvement. The paper also hopes to spurn an investigation into to underlying cognitive disabilities of men in situations of conflict as an approach to rehabilitation.
Keywords: rehabilitation, cognitive disability, domestic violence, men’s issues, gender
1. Introduction about the group experience (group meeting place, group meeting time, group type and stage, number of participants, and your role in the group).
Via my other internship with an entity outside of the Department of Rehabilitation, a Counseling Center, I have been shadowing a doctor. As a clinical psychologist, he has served a facilitator for a men’s Domestic Violence Rehabilitation group. The program serves as a support and resource group for men involved in battery or domestic violence. The program is mandatory and quite intense. I particularly sat in on the Wednesday evening support group which is described on the website as, “Open to men, this group of men work together discussing obstacles and achievements in fatherhood to learn and support one another” .
The first meeting I attended started early in the evening at about five. It was on the second floor of the building in a somewhat large room with couches lining the walls. In the room about thirty men accumulated to discuss an array of issues–a sort of venting session it was. The leader of the session, which wasn’t the doctor to my surprise, was another gentleman. This gentleman was an advocate of sorts for fathers going through the legal system and ensuring they had a fair trial. Along with him were two other senior group members who initiated the group share with their own narratives about the judicial system and its fairness towards accused men. Where I sat, the couch was low, the glare was strong and the air was hot. The atmosphere felt uncomfortable.
The session began with the moderator and the senior participants explaining the benefits of the group and the doctor’s supervisee. Everyone seemed to posit an amazingly long disclosure or personal narrative that took up a long amount of time, introducing how they came to the group. Although the session was laborious to sit through with the blinding light shining at me through the blinds, to be in a group of men relating to each other about similar issues along the lines of gender politics was intriguing. In addition the intensity of the conversation was also invigorating. Most counseling that I grew up seeing or that I’ve analyzed in class was seemingly “kid gloves” oriented. Usually subjects are mainstream subjects discussing mainstream topics, but in this the group’s focus was on a very marginal viewpoint: the man who fails; the men who se don’t want to be. And surprisingly the demographics that made up the room were unpredictable. The participants were a very broad variety of people–Latino, black, white, Asian, etc. They came from a variety of economic backgrounds: upper middle class, working class, poor or homeless. But when they began going into the narratives of each client, there were very similar themes of irresponsibility, inability to control anger, the need for spiteful vengeance… All the issues that brought the men to San Diego Superior Courts and for discipline were very, almost embarrassingly apparent, no matter how matter-of-fact or objectively they stated their “accusation”.
The group’s lead counselor utilized an approach of narrative therapy and sharing, but it seemed that it seemed to go haywire. The lack of focus and structure seemed to go against all the basic of group dynamics discussed in the Coreys’ text. Some members were disruptive; some members upstaged the time of others with long, detailed narratives; the rules were minimal and ambiguous… If this is the place to rehabilitate the men of broken homes and from further breaking homes, the departure from evidence-based conventions seemed to be harmful for the social and civic objective of counseling and the justice system: rehabilitation.
2. Issues discussed during the group session(s).
One told a story minimizing how he ended up in court because he lost his temper and hit his spouse across the back with a chair. Another participant minimized an accusation of him molesting a child. Another minimized any role he had in his court regulated relationship, accusing his spouse of infecting him with herpes. The group was dynamic, dramatic and very unsettling. If there’s a place that needs positive, directive and healthful psychotherapy, it’s especially in men’s groups.
3. Technique(s) used by the group leader(s) and effectiveness of the technique(s).
Narrative therapy, some motivational interviewing and sharing were the main techniques the counselor of the group utilized. But I honestly think with such a large group of men with judicially acknowledged problems, a breaking up of the group into more intimate smaller groups focused on meaningful conversation would have been helpful and therapeutic. It seemed that the process was almost an inverse of Solution Focused Therapy. The choices between disclosure versus anonymity; honesty versus superficiality; spontaneity versus control; acceptance versus rejection; and cohesion versus fragmentation could be configured in better way in the sessions. The group leader and the members were a bit anonymous on the details of their cases. All attempted to present well, but some of their cases were very serious.
I think that even in the case of accusation, there must be substantial evidence of incorrect interaction between both parties. I often heard complaint from male participants that their cases were presented in a one-sided manner in the courts, but in pursuing self-responsibility and accountability, effectively removing one’s self from a murky situation is a social obligation to maintain harmony and stability for all involved. It touches upon the root principle of I’ve always known as a martial arts practitioner: the best strategy for fighting is not to fight. Using a number of theoretical approaches in this group should all focus on conflict avoidance.
4. Knowledge and experience gained from attending/participating in the group.
I got to see the quality of help that exist in San Diego for rehabilitating men. I honestly feel the domestic violence, homophobia, bullying, etc. are indicators of cognitive disabilities in a person and require a CBT approach. I feel that identifying and clarifying goals beyond meeting court requirements and focused on becoming better men has to be the goal of a batterer’s reform group. Bringing a focus that emphasizes mindfulness and anger management would resolve many of the problems the men of the group face. Activities that would break up the group into smaller groups and allow facilitated and reflected venting of one’s issues would allow the men to see their problems together, step back from them and reflect upon them, freeing them to transform themselves and their situations. The men must ask themselves psychological questions such as, “Why am I in this relationship?”, “What do I want out of these situations?”, “Where did I learn these behaviors?”, “What is ideal and do I match up?”, “How do my actions affect others?”, “How did I feel before, during and after?” In addition they need to ask sexually relevant social questions like, “What is manhood to me?”, “Does violence make me more masculine?”, “What examples of fatherhood and manhood am I familiar with?”, “How do I feel about being a man?”, “How does society treat men?”, “How do I treat other men?”.
Finally, I also feel that in addition to breaking the group into smaller, mini groups in a self-conducted workshop/activity format, a focus on creating group rules could bring members to have more trust in each other and the facilitators. Over talking, misogynistic language and side remarks seemed to contribute to tenseness and in definitely hostility especially toward female parties not present. A good set of rules of interaction could move the men more towards a mode of physical, emotional and sexual accountability that may be the underlying issues of their current challenges.
Although the group’s focus may be support and venting about the legal issues that particularly affect fathers, some of the issues—as indicated by the interaction with the legal system—came from the airing of issues in a way that was inappropriate or conspicuous. Focusing on male sexual identity, interpersonal sexual politics, gender theory, Adlerian theory, Solution Focused Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing in a workshop format would allow the men to build their empathetic abilities and hopefully generate their own solutions and rehabilitative strategies in addition to the intervention from the San Diego Court Systems.