I have been working as a domestic violence counselor educator in Illinois for most of the last 20 years, with court ordered clients, as there are very few volunteers.
My work in the field began as counties in Illinois began to implement a State of Illinois protocol which was heavily influenced by the Minnesota Model of prosecution and education of court ordered perpatrators.
Perhaps the first thing to know is that domestic violence counselors in Illinois are not doing therapy, they are doing psychoeducation, and that has a tremendous bearing on the tools available to use in work with clients.
Psychological testing, diagnosis utilizing the DSM IV, and treatment planning, for example, are not options for domestic violence counselors in Illinois, for example, as a result of the focus on education as opposed to mental illness, which was a compromise made designed to make men accountable for their abuse of women.
Over the years, research has brought some of the assumptions of our early model in to question though.
For example, Michael Johnson,Ph.D., has suggested that their are at least two faces to the issue of domestic violence, one based on the data that comes from the Conflict Tactics Scale research which indicates that men and women hit each other about equally.
Johnson calls that kind of domestic violence common couples violence, and it appears to be much more spontaneous than the other face of domestic violence,which arises from the data collected by women's shelters. That face of domestic violence is called patriarchal terrorism by Johnson, and it is the kind of violence that is frequently deadly to women.
Patriarchal terrorism is the kind of violence to women which comes to mind when the words domestic violence are used.
Donald Dutton has done some very interesting research over the years trying to determine a personality type for perpatrators of domestic violence and he has come up with a diagnostic picture of the perpetrator which moves the issue squarely into the mental health field by indicating that perpetrators have insecure attachments to women, which makes them hypersensitive to any threat of abandonment.
Please understand that the above comment is my interpretation of Dutton's work, and should not be taken as gospel. Please read his work for a clearer sense of his model.
Domestic Violence Counselors Do What Then?
Well, in my program, we teach the difference between power and control beliefs and offering choice.
I want my clients to get a sense that change is possible, and I imbue my group work with my experience of changing myself.
We need to address the issues of confidentiality, and build trust, which we do by introducing ourselves, psychoeducators and veterans all, and then the newbie tells us what happened during the event which brought them to the program.
At that point we can begin to illustrate power and control belief systems that make it OK to engage in controlling behaviors, and if the veterans are doing the confrontation, so much the better.
There are many tools that I will utilize as a domestic violence counselor, including a number of the ideas from the John Gottman,Ph.D. and Julie Schwartze-Gottman,LCSW, model called The Art and Science of Love, which I believe illustrate the concept of offering choice and mutuality including the concept that any relationship requires frequent fine tuning.
I include ideas from the Psychology of Flow, from the book FLOW by Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi, and I often have my clients try out a heart rate variability biofeedback tool which teaches them to be aware of heart beat by heart beat changes in their physiology and how fast changes in thinking and breathing impact their physiology. (When you achieve a coherent heart beat, you are accessing an affiliative and cooperative physiology, which is a helpful offering choice physiology).
I teach listening skills, and I believe that if the folks in my program learn to listen, they have begun to move away from the habitual power and control beliefs which our culture teaches us.
I have taught models of appropriate grieving, which is not something that most men in our culture are given permission to do, and many, many of the clients I see have been abused or have lost important people, or had their trust or innocence taken as kids, been divorced or betrayed in relationships, and have never done any grief work, so we educate, and make possible the safe space to begin to trust that healing is possible.
Addictions are frequently an issue, so we will discuss the need for sober decisions in regard to power and control or offering choice, and how models like the 12 Step models teach that offering choice is important.
Domestic violence counselors may also utilize REBT of CBT as well. Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy help clients begin to look at the patterns in their thinking, and I love to teach about neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, in the context of brain fitness, which speaks to the need we humans have for connection in relationship. Not violence, but mutuality, which actually grows the brain.
I often teach about perceptions early in the process of domestic violence counseling, because it is an excellent way to get past the issue of "He/She pissed me off so I hit him/her".
I ask my clients where they see me, and mostly they say they see me across the room, which is incorrect. They see me in the visual cortex, in the back of their skull, and no one can argue that fact.
Each individuals interpretation of sensory data happens inside their own head and the thoughts that they have about those perceptions are their own, and they are responsible for those thoughts, including the disputation of automatic thoughts.
I love to teach about the speed at which the Central Nervous System does all that processing and interpreting too, which according to Csikszentmihalyi, is 1/18th second, twice as fast as one can blink their eyes.
I also think it is important to understand something about non-verbal communications and how we respond physiologically to those faster than we can create words of interpretation.
Another issue which sometimes is important is codependency, and what is an important degree of responsibility for a mate's addiction or even disability. Care givers need to learn how to take care of themselves.
I use parenting as a lever, and it is only the hardest of clients who will not acknowledge that they want their daughters to have a loving, respectful mate. Attachment and the role of fathers in the healthy development of sons and daughters is a very useful tool, and I use videos.
A very helpful video is the Frederick Wiseman documentary called Domestic Violence filmed in a shelter in Florida. Very often the men in my male perpetrator groups are unaware of how extensive the issue of domestic violence is. The documentary speaks to the number of women's shelters in Florida, and when you add in the number in Illinois, participants begin to see how widespread the issue of domestic violence is.
The Wiseman video shows interviews with children who have witnessed domestic violence, and most are very surprised to hear what the children have to say about Dad's violence in their houses.
I am sure every domestic violence instructor has their own tool box, and the concepts listed here are based on my experience, and have been of value to my clients.
Michael S. Logan is a brain fitness expert, a counselor, a student of Chi Gong, and licensed one on one HeartMath provider. I enjoy the spiritual, the mythological, and psychological, and I am a late life father to Shane, 10, and Hannah Marie, 4, whose brains are so amazing. http://www.askmikethecounselor2.com