One of my favorite parts of my practice is counseling men who have been court ordered to see me because they were convicted of domestic violence. Some people can hardly believe I say this. They cannot believe I would even consider helping these men especially being a domestic violence survivor myself. “Why not?” I ask. “Who else is going to?” They usually aren’t in jail and most of the time they are back home with the victim. I explain I would much rather educate, motivate, counsel, and help men become better men, better spouses and partners, better parents, better friends, better co-workers.
I have found treating these men with dignity, respect and kindness has actually made a difference. Most of the men who have been ordered to see me are likeable, hard working, smart, decent people. Most of them were taught how to interact with women and others by their parents and caregivers. It is generational like most things. You might also note our society tends to teach men it is ok to be angry or happy, but certainly not sad. And for godsake DON’T CRY! They have pushed feelings down and internalized their sadness, disappointment, and shame. They have used this as an excuse to harm their partners and others.
Let me make myself perfectly clear. Domestic violence is not ok. Hitting people and calling names and controlling people is not ok. These men are asked to be accountable for their own behaviors and not blame their victims. I help them learn to realize that no matter what someone does to them, they are still responsible for their own behaviors.
Our curriculum is based on the Duluth Model. We discuss power and control they use towards partners and children and how it has affected everyone in their lives. I educate them on ways to manage emotions and use them properly. I give them an opportunity and encourage them to tell their story without judgment in a safe environment with other men who have behaved the same way. It is fascinating and, many times, amazing to see them help one another through situations.
We give these men a place to come if they ever need to return before they abuse again. Many times they ask for couples counseling, individual counseling and even counseling for their children when they complete their court ordered domestic violence group counseling. It is a true joy when they realize it is a good thing to have feelings, discuss them and heal from their past. I call this a win.
Not everyone can be rehabilitated, but I would not be a therapist if I did not believe people can change with the right tools, someone to trust in their process, and make a personal choice to do so.