Increasing the Success of Men's Programs

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This interview with four leading practitioners -- Cindy Baskin , Jean Bernard, Alysa Golden and Alayne Hamilton -- explores the factors that makeprograms for men who are abusive successful.

What would you define as successful outcomes for a program for men who abuse? 

CB [Cindy Baskin]: First of all, I think that we are trying to change behaviour.  In other words, stopping the physical violence.  Then, we are striving to change the values and attitudes that go along with physical violence.  My program also considers other things successes.  For example, we get a lot of men who are court mandated or pressured to participate. The men who stay in the program after their designated time period are successes.  Another success is seeing the men who come through the program start to pick up Aboriginal culture and spirituality.        

JB [Jean Bernard]: While the focus of the intervention is on men, their behaviours and attitudes, the ultimate reason for the existence of a program like Changing Ways is to have an impact on the safety and quality of life of  women, children and men involved.  Outcomes must be measured in terms of increased safety for women and children and a reduction of fear and intimidation for the woman whose partner is in the program.  There should be a demonstrated increase in men of positive behaviours, pro-social anti-violent attitudes and egalitarian relationships, as well as an increase in their taking responsibility for their behaviour and for their work to change. A relationship may or may not be repaired, but the key factor must be a resulting condition of safety as the only successful outcome.

AG [Alysa Golden]:  The only outcome that I would define as successful in a men's program is a man being able to successfully cease all controlling behaviours.  Because this outcome is unlikely at the end of a limited group (anywhere from 16-24 weeks) I tend to modify outcome measurement by looking at realistic outcomes. These include: 1) the man being able to reach for an understanding of how his abuse has harmed his partner, 2) the man being able to take responsibility for his abusive and controlling behaviour without minimizing or denying that it happened, 3) the man being able to firmly situate his abusive behaviour within the context of power and control, and not within the context of  'anger'.

AH [Alayne Hamilton]: As a member of ACAM, the BC Association of Counselors of Abusive Men, my goals are set out by established Guiding Principles, which are accepted by the provincial government as the standard for programs for abusive men.  The primary principle is 'the safety of women and children is paramount'.  The treatment goals are to stop violence against women, to reduce the whole array of abusive and controlling behaviours, and to encourage equality in relationships.  Successful outcomes, then, include the increase of women's safety, the end of physical violence and the decrease of the whole range of abusive and controlling behaviours.

What philosophical frameworks and/or approaches have you found most effective in increasing the success of men's programs?

CB: We basically use a combination of a feminist model and a culture based approach.  For example, we combine the models based on the cycle of violence and power and control with models based on Aboriginal teachings and culture.  We find that the men respond better to the cultural programs and the values of those programs.  The programs are more effective when the men are held accountable within our culture and community.  We see that it is not enough to try to hold them accountable to the criminal justice system alone, because it does not mean a whole lot to them. 

Another piece is that we have intentionally chosen an Aboriginal Woman to lead this program, making the men accountable to the women in the community. This has a big impact.  The principles of culture-based justice  to restore balance for all people involved and to the community itself -- are a major part of program.  The men become accountable to the victims, their families, and the community. They are responsible for doing something about the harm that they have caused, such as making amends and compensation. 

In the program, abusive men may be required to make apologies, acknowledge his abusive behaviour, and show what he is doing to change it, to both the victim and the community itself.  In terms of making amends and compensation, we hold a lot of ceremonies and healing practices for the women and children which the men are required to prepare.  Specifically, the men take care of our sweat lodge, and do the fire keeping for those ceremonies.  We believe that when the men are held accountable to the community, then the silence that allows the abuse to continue is broken.  Once the silence is broken, it becomes more difficult for men to 'get away with' abusive behaviours.

JB: We believe that woman abuse arises out of systemic and systematic abuse of power and control, supported by sexism and male privilege and we have built our program around that paradigm. We focus on keeping men accountable by challenging men's abusive tactics in group therapy, avoiding collusion with them, and constantly returning them to their responsibility for their own behaviours. We take a strong psychoeducational approach and a lesser 'therapeutic' approach.

Men's programs must participate in a coordinated community effort.  Any anti-violence program, no matter how strong, sophisticated, or intrinsically effective, will not be effective in a community where anti-violence efforts are not coordinated. A community's coordinated effort must include a judicial response, the consistency of correctional and probation systems, availability of safety mechanisms including shelters and counselling for women, legal assistance for women, and strong public education and advocacy.

AG:  I believe that the most effective philosophical framework and/or approach for increasing the success of men's programs is a feminist philosophy and approach.  This framework includes the following elements:

1) vigilant partner contact to make sure that the partner has the counselling and practical supports that she needs.  This element sends a message to the man that he needs to work constantly at not being abusive because his partner is no longer isolated and silent.

2) Having at least one woman or man involved in the program who has frontline experience working with women who have experienced abuse.  This element ensures that the women's perspective is always front and centre, making it difficult for the man to hide from the impact of his actions.  This challenges the man to be accountable for the effects of his actions, which is crucial to stopping his controlling and abusive behaviours.

3) A feminist perspective ensures that the abuse is primarily and consistently dealt with.  In non-feminist approaches, the past abuse or other precipitating factors may be the focus, while stopping the abuse is minimized.

AH: It is better to do a men's group program that focuses specifically on a man's abusive behaviour in his relationships with women, rather than doing individual therapy, men's support groups or couple counseling.  Although group programs are the accepted approach, we are only beginning to know the success of men's treatment in general, but we do not have enough knowledge to determine which specific programs are most successful.  What we do know is that although we need to change men's behaviour, especially physical violence, it is not enough to change behaviour. We need to change the man. 

Short programs are reasonably successful in changing the physical abuse, but it takes longer to change how a man sees himself and his relationships with women.  Getting rid of the array of abusive behaviours involves a long term, concerted effort on the man's part.  It is not the program that changes the man; rather it is the man who changes the man. In talking about recovering men, Edward Gondolf describes the process of change in terms of personal growth, in which they accepted responsibility, became empathetic, and redefined their manhood. (Journal of Family Violence, Volume 2, # 2).

What steps/measures do you take to increase the safety of women in programs for men who abuse?

CB: We are in contact with all of the partners or ex-partners of the men in the program during the man's time in the program.  We see how they are doing, how we can help them, and it's a safety check to monitor how honest the men are being in the program.  Because it is family and community-based, our program also has programming for children and women.  So ideally, the partner of the man would be attending the women's component of the program. Confidentiality is another issue. Confidentiality is limited for men due to partner contact.  This is different from a lot of other helping professions, which have a huge emphasis on confidentiality.  For example, if we suspect that a man is going to become violent and a woman is at risk, we would contact her.

JB: Contact with the men's partners is a crucial element in increasing the safety of women. This strategy brings its own dangers and its implementation is enormously important. Checks on the woman's safety in participating in a partner contact activity and respect for her wishes in this process are essential to the success of this strategy. We ensure that the women are knowledgeable about the program and the material that the men are exposed to. We ensure that they are aware of the uses and potential abuses of program materials and that they have safety plans in place. We refer them to other services in our community.  Furthermore, we work with the men to help them develop their plans for keeping their partners and children safe.

AG:  It is my belief that the approaches within a feminist framework help increase the safety of the women. The only other element that can significantly increase a woman's safety is if the woman is receiving counselling.  Counselling for women whose partners are in a men's program must concentrate not only on practical issues, such as safety plans, and on therapeutic issues such as women finding their voice and reclaiming their power; but counselling for women must deconstruct the hope that women feel when the men are in the program. 

It is my experience that even though a man is either voluntarily or involuntarily taking part in a program, it is dangerous for women to lose their self-focus by focusing on the hope that the program will help them and their partner.  It is a very difficult thing for a man to stop controlling and abusive behaviour to a point where he and his partner will be engaged in an equal and mutually beneficial relationship.  If a woman focuses her energy on the hope that the group will cure him, then she is more likely to stay in the relationship even if he is not changing. She may not put as much effort into planning for and keeping herself safe, because 'after all, things aren't as bad now and I need to support him because he is getting help.'

AH: The guiding principles specify some of the issues about women's safety.  For example, we must start women's safety programs before beginning men's treatment programs.  Then on-going contact is required for assessment purposes and to assure her safety.  We can not allow ourselves to hear only the man's story; we have to have the courage and the intelligence to live with the conflict and the ambiguity of knowing the woman's experience. As the woman leader, I talk to the partners of the men in my group, so I know the pain of the woman.  We keep contact during the program and have women's programs to help her, focusing on her safety and needs, not on the relationship needs or the man's needs.  Although it is true that men are less likely to be violent while in a treatment program, a woman's safety is not assured.  We encourage women not to make the Family Violence program their safety plan.  We tell her, 'look at his behaviour, not at his attendance in the program because nothing is okay until he is okay'.

Do you find that men who abuse increase their emotional/psychologically abusive behaviour as they decrease physically abusive behaviour?  How can/does you program address this issue?

CB: I would not say that there is an increase in emotionally or psychologically abusive behaviour. However, I would say that these are the forms of abuse that continue after men reduce their physically abusive behaviour.  According to Aboriginal culture, abuse happens in different ways: emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual.  Physical violence does not exist without these other forms of abuse  it all goes together.  Our program works with the men on all of these areas.  When we define what violence is, we include all four aspects.  We are raising awareness with the men about those issues, getting them to identify their abusive behaviours in all of these forms of abuse, and teaching them how to stop these behaviours while learning new ways that foster equality.  

JB: It is our basic assumption that this typically happens.  Abusive behaviour does not just go away once a man starts our program and stops his physically abusive behaviour.  Our program is designed to develop an increased awareness of all of the tactics of abusive power and control.  It is designed to help each man discover how he manifests those tactics and how he can develop non-abusive and egalitarian alternatives.

AG: I have found that it is a lot easier for men to reduce their physically abusive behaviour than to reduce their emotional/psychologically abusive behaviour.  Many men have to do a lot of work just to be able to name their behaviour as controlling and abusive and detrimental to their partner if the behaviour is not physically abusive.  Most men understand that if they hit their partners, it is abuse (even if they feel that it is in self-defense or use other minimizations). He undertakes countless behaviours that are emotionally/psychologically abusive in order to control his partner.  If a man feels a need to control his partner, and he is focusing on not being physically abusive, he will often choose a non-physically abusive and controlling behaviour. 

The programs that I have been involved with address this issue by putting all controlling behaviours in the same abusive pot.  Women know that physical abuse and emotional/psychological abuse are equally destructive to them and their children.  Many women find that the emotional/psychological abuse is more destructive than the physical because of its constant and sometimes subtle nature.  If all of these behaviours are dealt with under the heading 'Power and Control', then they all become equally important to stop.  The man needs to become aware of all abusive and controlling behaviours, their impact on his partner, and what he needs to do in order to choose to do something different with his feelings.

AH: This has become an article of faith and yet there is no research to support this statement.  In fact, the research shows just the opposite  when physical abuse decreases, psychological abuse also decreases, but to a lesser degree. Formal evaluations of BC programs show a significant reduction of psychological abuse, although not as large a reduction as physical abuse.  (Mark Bodnarchuk, ACAM conference proceedings, 1997).

We have to ask ourselves where this belief comes from.  Physical violence does not happen in isolation from psychological abuse. Rather, if we eliminate physical abuse, we are left with the enormous psychological abuse that already existed.  This abuse is intolerable for the woman, so her experience is absolutely right.  However, the emotional / psychological abuse is not born out of the reduction in physical violence because it was there all along.  In addition, while a man may change a lot, he still may not be a healthy partner for the woman.  If a program does not deal with psychological abuse, we should not expect a significant decrease.  In our program, we are very up-front that a decrease in psychological/emotional abuse is expected and we encourage women to raise their expectations.

What experience have you had with evaluating men's programs?  What was the methodology?  What were the results?

CB: We evaluate our men's program once a year.  At the beginning and the end of each program cycle, we ask the men to complete a written set of measures about their understanding of violence and their abusive behaviours.  Secondly, near the end of the cycle, the men complete a written evaluation form about what they have learned in the program and what changes they have made.  Finally, near the end of the cycle, the men are interviewed by an independent researcher.  The evaluation also includes information from partners, probation officers, other service providers, and people within the community. 

We have just finished our third year and the results indicate that in three years, one man has re-offended.

JB: In the early 1990s, we ran a project for 2 ½ years, to assess our program participants over a period of one year. The research measured a number of behavioural and attitudinal variables in program participants at the time of intake, at the end of the treatment, and approximately one year after the intake.  The treatment sample consisted of men who were defined as 'program completers' (men who attended more than 75% of the program) and the control sample were men who had dropped out of the program after three sessions or less. Information was collected from the men themselves, from counsellors and from partners. Data analysis showed significant differences between the treatment and control group in a few areas. The treatment group showed: more positive behavioural and cognitive skills for coping with anger; less maladaptive behaviour and arousal intensity; lower physical and emotional abuse levels; and less traditional views of marriage and family.

We currently have a doctoral candidate conducting research in our program examining characteristics and process of change in program participants.  We expect to learn what combinations of characteristics of men and aspects of our program are most likely to lead to positive outcomes.

AG: I have had no real quantifiable experience in evaluating men's programs.  Keeping in contact with the partners of men who abuse and being able to keep in touch with their experience, both in terms of their growth, and his behaviour, seem to me to be a particularly effective way of measuring success.

AH: In the past year, we decided that we will make outcome evaluation an integral part of the program, rather than relying on external evaluations.  Our aim is to try to provide indicators of success within the limitations of budget and expertise of a small non-profit agency. What we need to do is admit that we can not prove the success of men's programs, but we can provide strong indicators of success. 

We contact the men who complete our program and their partners at 6 month and 18 month intervals after he has completed the first phase.  As well as collecting data, this intervention allows supportive contact with the woman and it may increase her safety.  It serves as a reminder to the man and may bring him back into treatment if there is a need for it.  We are planning to add a three-year follow-up and to compare men who drop out before completing the first phase.        

The most interesting indicator is what the woman says; particularly those who have frequent contact with the man.  59% of the couples still live together while 23% live apart but are still in a relationship. It is important to ask the question, 'do you feel safer as a result of his attendance in the program?' In a pilot study of 17 interviews, 100% said they felt safer.  This may be either because he has changed or that she ended the relationship.  We consider this a success.  None of the women interviewed reported physical abuse and 77% reported a decrease in psychological abuse. 

The BC Ministry of Attorney General tracks recidivism rates and the results are positive, showing that program participants' recidivism rates are half of non-participants.  So these are very positive indicators of success of men's treatment programs, especially when compared to other efforts to change human behaviour. 

Resource details:

Cindy Baskin is the Coordinator of the Mino-Yaa-Daa Program. She is a culture-based therapist and trainer who has worked within the Aboriginal community in Toronto for 15 years.

Jean Bernard has been Executive Director of Changing Ways in London since February 1995. Prior to coming to Changing Ways, Jean spent thirty years in the children's mental health field in Quebec and Ontario as a clinician, educator and director.

Alysa Golden, MSW, CSW has been working with abusive men for eight years through three different comprehensive "Ending Violence Against Women" programs through three different Family Services Associations and currently works individually with abusive men in private practice.

Alayne Hamilton works at The Family Violence Project in Victoria, BC. The Project provides a community program for men who are violent and abusive in relationships with women. We offer programs in jails both at the provincial and federal level. We run a support and education program for women partners of the men in the program. Our Women's programs are offered in cooperation and coordination with other groups serving abused women