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12 SE 14th Avenue • Portland, OR 97214 • 503-235-3433 • fax 503-235-4762

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12 SE 14th Avenue • Portland, OR 97214 • 503-235-3433 • fax 503-235-4762

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© 2012-2016 Portland Men's Resource Center

Why I Provide Group Therapy for Domestic Violence Treatment

By Paul Lee, LCSW

I have been working with men who have problems with domestic violence for over 25 years, and have come to the conclusion that group counseling is the best way to treat this problem. When personal or situational factors have prevented men from participating in a group, I have occasionally provided domestic violence counseling individually. Having tried both, I continue to believe that group therapy is more effective.

The groups are “open-ended,” meaning that new members can join any time (rather than a group in which all members start at the same time). When a man enters a group, he meets other men who have been in the therapy process for anywhere from a few weeks to several months. These men tend to discuss their problems without blaming others or otherwise justifying their actions. Through this modeling, new group members are encouraged to be accountable by other group members. As men continue to feel supported, they often discuss behaviors that they have never shared in therapy due to shame.

I teach and encourage men to use specific anger-management skills. The men in the group encourage each other to use these skills. The group may also discuss obstacles to using the skills and problem-solve how to put them into practice in various situations. Men often identify with a situation, a thought, or a feeling described by another group member, and that provides an opportunity to work on a problem he may not have been able to identify in individual therapy.

The group provides men an opportunity to talk about “being a man” with each other. For some, this may be essential to stopping abusive behavior. Many participants have little experience with expressing feelings other than anger. As they listen to other men express anxiety, sadness, and hurt feelings, they often identify with these emotions and feel permission to express them. This often contrasts with their experience as males and their upbringing that taught them to suppress such feelings. Some men are able to use this new vocabulary of emotions in their relationship with their significant other.

In our groups, men are respectful in their discussion of women, and discuss gender differences without disparaging women. This allows re-evaluation of sexist beliefs that might contribute to the problem.

Group also provides an opportunity to practice relationship skills that may be lacking, such as listening, empathizing, and validating others. As men discuss their relationships, it is not unusual for other group members to suggest that they “see it from your wife’s point of view” or imagine what she might be feeling.

Many men are resistant to entering a domestic violence group because of preconceptions and stereotypes about the other men who might be in such a group. Upon joining the group, they are relieved to find that the other participants are much like them, and that the atmosphere is safe and supportive.

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