Celebrating turning up or helping the helpers

Every week throughout New Zealand/Aotearoa, men and women sit in agencies working with men who have been abusive within their families. Think of all those facilitators heading out the door on cold winter nights, off to agencies to run stopping violence programmes. Of course they don’t just turn up. They bring to this endeavour a wide arrange of skills, knowledge and passion to engage with men and women who find themselves in the midst of family violence. This precious and important resource contributes significantly to community safety – if we cannot be safe at home then the world around us becomes a truly unsafe place.

I have been privileged to run a series of advanced facilitation training session for staff from the National Network of Stopping Violence Services / Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga and Relationship Services / Whakawhanaungatanga. The picture is of the group from the Lower North Island programmes who descended on Otaki for three days.

Having worked with these passionate advocates of family safety got me thinking about the ways that we can motivate and move people who find themselves entrenched in abusive behaviour. The outcome we seek is for a person to exit a programme with having taken responsibility and accountability for behaviour, have instituted robust safety strategies, and understood the pattern or habitual behaviour they find themselves caught in.

There are a number of clear strategies that have been found help in a range of fields of endeavour:

Strategy 1: Help must start from the present situation of the person who has walked in the door – not from a “blank slate”. It is interesting to understand the efforts that clients have often taken to try to shift abusive practices in their lives. They often have rich ideas of what has and hasn’t worked. As we say in narrative practice, ‘Listen carefully for the unspoken story of resistance to the dominant narrative’, as well as ‘exceptions to the dominant behaviour’.

Strategy 2: Helpers must see the situation through the eyes of the person sitting across from us—not just through their own eyes. It is tempting to think we know best. Understanding from the inside out does two things – it allows us to find unique interventions while at the same time modelling empathy to the client.

Strategy 3: Help cannot be imposed upon the client – as that directly violates their autonomy. When we are working with abusive practices, imposition of power over a person ultimately mirrors what occurs on the inside of relationships. From a motivational interviewing frame this also creates a ‘righting reflex’ where it is likely to backfire and reinforce existing beliefs and practices of disrespect.

Strategy 4: Help is not a benevolent gift – this creates dependency. Reciprocity is a key idea of change. Relationships are based upon the ideas of looking out and after others. High expectations in terms of change (expectancy theory) is a key to change. Have high expectations and people will reach them. I expect people to come into my groups ready to give their best, to work hard, and be open to the learning. In return they can expect that I will be ready, willing and able to provide a safe environment where they can deal with the tough issues. This is about a working relationship.

Strategy 5: Clients must be “in the driver’s seat” – which is the basic idea of autonomous self-direction. Developing client responsibility is about moving from an external to an internal locus of control. Responsibility develops from how clients present in the room, despite the route that got them there in the first place.

This has been the tenor of the conversation that we have been having. In summary: we need to expect a lot from the clients we work with; be demanding in developing expectations around family safety; and collaborate in creating lasting change. Of course all of this occurs in the safety of a group process that allows the ability to practice these skills.

Published on Thursday, July 1st, 2010, under Announcements, Practice tips and techniques

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