The EX factors of facilitating effective groups of batterers and substance abusers

Success with court-referred clients

Facilitating groups for court-referred clients can be hard work: The truth is, of course, that they are criminals, an indication that they may have lousy attitudes and rebel against authority — not qualities that make them stellar group members. But running groups can be enjoyable and rewarding. Many clients get with the program and make significant change in their lives. They listen and learn: they stop drinking and find ways to avoid abuse and instead treat their partners with respect. Their changes don’t always stick; sometimes they relapse or fall back into power and control, but many of them maintain the changes and stay in recovery, continuing to become even better husbands and partners.

Here are four EXs that will make your groups easier for you and more effective for them.

Expand their consciousnesses. Many may have never really considered stopping drinking. Give them a picture of what life is like when you’re a drunk and what it’s like when you’re sober. Get them to brainstorm a list and put it on the board of characteristics of what a Saturday is like after a night of drinking. Then make a list of what a normal Saturday could be. For batterers, help them envision a disciplined life in which they are not abusive, in which their homes are loving and happy.

Explain to them how recovery works, that it’s one day at a time, that they can plan a successful recovery the same way they map out a vacation with the family: Make plans for what to do when they used drink, how to stay away from people who drink and places where drinking happens, for calling a sponsor or accountability partner at least three times a day, attending AA or some other support group. If they are batterers, explain that they can find mentors to talk to, that they won’t let go of their all abusive patterns today, but they catch themselves and avoid more serious abuse starting now.

Expose them, without shaming, to the seedy and dirty sides of their lives. Describe how it feels to live with an alcoholic or to be a battered woman. Startle them into seeing how much they drink: report the fact that the average American has two drinks per week, not a hundred beers. Urge them to think about their economic conditions compared to those who don’t drink. With batterers, lead a discussion of parenting in which they speak proudly of their love for their children and how much time they spend them, and then confront these men with the fact that if they abuse their partners, they are bad Dads. Explain that because children identify so closely with their mothers, if you abuse your partner, you are abusing them.

Extricate them from lives that encourage drinking and abusive behavior. Tell them that they need to engage in a full court press, to pull out all the stops, and that, to quote Bill W., half-measures will avail them nothing. Encourage them to establish make life-style changes: finishing school or getting a GED; attending AA or church or some other organization to provides support, spending more time with affirmative extended family members.

In your face counseling

These tactics — part of a style we call “in your face counseling” — will energize you and your clients. Take some risks. If they don’t work, you will have at least learned something. And remember, one of the advantages of court-referred clients is that they have to come back!

Find more great ways of running groups in Therapist-Outfitters publications: