This special edition of the Silent Witness newsletter introduces you to Rose
Mary Boerboom's treatment and prevention approach to perpetrators called the
Self-Mastery Workshop. She has taught this method to treatment providers in
several states and has received rave reviews. Her treatment guides will be
ready shortly and she is available for training sessions.
Self-Mastery Workshop: Domestic Violence Treatment and Prevention Program
Philosophy Rose Mary Boerboom, Licensed Psychologist, Treatment Supervisor
Having worked in the field of domestic violence for the last ten years, I
know that there is no one answer or model of treatment that will be
effective with everyone. Even though that sounds so obviously true, I think
we sometimes forget that. We are passionate and committed to what we have
known to be true. We have come a long way and worked very hard to get to
where we are now. There is much left to do. Sometimes, we forget that we are
all in this together (men, women, treatment, advocates, shelters); that we
are allies in a common cause. We can be threatened by new ideas, new
approaches, and by each other. We are, at times, skeptical and even cynical
about the possibilities for real change. Our caution, our passion, our
commitment are good. We must, however, be open to new information, new
ideas, and new hope for all the men and women we work with, for their
children, for ourselves, and for our communities.
The domestic violence movement has been a grass roots movement fueled by the
pain of women who suffered its brutality. Through their courage, they have
forced us as a nation to look at the issue of domestic violence and how it
effects all of us. Out of their experience came a new analysis of the
problem which put an end to the easy-out of victim blaming and labeling such
behavior a "private family matter." This socio-political analysis of
domestic violence sees it as a tactic in the oppression of women in a
patriarchal society; a tool which men have been socialized to use to
maintain the power and control over their families that they had been
entitled to in the culture. The changes brought about by this vision have
been tremendous, far reaching and necessary.
Good political theory is effective for social, political and legal change.
It has not been shown to be as effective in the treatment of perpetrators or
victims. Recent developments in the understanding of how the brain and
emotion function show why this is true. Most treatment approaches have been
cognitive and behavioral models which have tried to get men to change their
behavior by changing their minds. They have focused on getting men to
believe in the value of equality with women and give up ideas of
entitlement and the desire for power and control. In addition, they have
taught anger management and/or communication skills.
Self Mastery and the New Brain Research
Unfortunately, for treatment effectiveness, the cognitive part of the brain
(the neocortex) is easily overwhelmed by the emotional part of the brain (the limbic system).
What you know in your thinking brain is not available to you when you are
upset. The more upset (emotional) you are, the less what you know matters.
Emotion, especially anger and fear, have been so vital to our survival as a
species that the brain gives it the power to "hijack" the thinking brain
whenever strong feeling is triggered. Based on this new understanding, it is
imperative that treatment addresses issues of "emotional regulation" and
"emotional intelligence." Emotion is a more powerful force and motivator
This is true for all human beings, regardless of gender, race, or
socioeconomic status. Why then do some people behave abusively and others do
That difference indicates the importance of self-mastery. Self-mastery
includes the following skills which can develop throughout life:
the ability to regulate emotion;
personal responsibility for thoughts, feelings and behavior;
a strong sense of self which is not dependent on the approval of other or
controlled by external events;
and the ability to tolerate pain and distress by soothing and comforting
People who lack these skills try to control or change what they are
experiencing internally, by attempting to control or change others
(especially loved ones) externally. This is, of course, not possible and
leads to increasing levels of anger, anxiety, blame, resentment and power
struggles in relationships.
The Self-Mastery Workshop is designed to deal with the issues of emotion in
a way that will increase participants' understanding of emotion, their
ability to regulate their emotion, and begin to heal the pain that underlies
negative emotion. This is the primary focus of the groups. A second, yet
important focus of the groups is for participants to understand what
significant relationships can and cannot provide for the individuals
involved. Much pain, anger and abuse results from demanding that my partner
give me or do for me what I can only give to or do for myself. I need to
depend on myself to take care of my physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
I need to approve of and support myself emotionally. I must develop a strong
and separate sense of self which is not dependent on what
other think of me. This makes it possible for me to be who I really am and
also be close to those I love. I do not have to give up parts of my self
for your love and approval. I do not expect you to do that for me either.
The natural process of relationships is to have problems or issues that
force us to grow and to define ourselves as individuals, while remaining
connected to loved ones. People frequently flip between extremes in
relationships. They give themselves up for the other or need to
withdraw/distance to maintain their sense of self. Learning to balance the
need for closeness and the need for autonomy in a relationship is an
essential skill for successful relationships.
The Self-Mastery Workshop is based on the following beliefs:
People can change and will be eager for change when they are given credible
information and effective tools which they themselves experience as useful.
Learning and change occurs best in an atmosphere of respect, acceptance and
Change happens when we stop trying to change or control others and focus our
efforts on ourselves. We must give up blame and accept responsibility not
only for our behavior but for our
feelings, thoughts, and attitudes.
Understanding our internal experience will change our external experience of
ourselves, others and events.
Underlying negative emotion and behavior are deep feelings of hurt and
Fundamental Skill in Self-Mastery
The fundamental skill in this course is a technique for emotional
regulation called STOP! This technique is a simple and effective way to
honor and heal this pain. It puts participants in touch
with their pain and gives them a way to counteract and eventually heal it
through repetition and practice. It is not necessary to go into the
particular details of how the person was hurt, how often, how badly, or by
whom to do this.
When people understand their emotions and their internal world, they will
experience more real power. They will no longer be at the mercy of other
people and external events. Real power comes from within and self-control
demonstrates its reality.
Understanding my humanity, makes it possible for me to begin to understand
and appreciate the feelings and behaviors of others. I can see the hurt and
pain beneath their actions, as I see my own. I become more accepting, less
judgmental, less critical and have compassion for myself and others. This
process leads to increased feelings of self-worth, well-being and improved
Men and women, regardless of what label has been attached to them ("victim"
or "perpetrator") need help to heal. Humans are social by nature and will be
in relationships. It is important to have a realistic picture of what we can
and cannot get from our relationships. Much abuse is the result of demanding
that our partner do or be for us what we can only do or be for ourselves.
The Self-Mastery Workshop, at this time, is a twelve-week psycho-educational
program for men. It is a program in the process of development. It can be
used as a stand alone program or may be added to
another curriculum or program of greater length. For example, it could be
used with the Duluth curriculum. Teaching the skills of emotional regulation
first would greatly reduce resistance to the rest of the curriculum and
deepen the level of emotional intelligence and interaction in the group.
The groups are two hours in length and are co-facilitated by a male and
female team. A five minute break is given midway through the group. Each
week there is a short check in. The first week a simple relaxation technique
(focus on breath) is taught. It is practiced every week in group following
There is a great deal of information presented in each group and much of it
in lecture form, with handouts to participants covering key points.
Interaction between participants is somewhat limited in the first four or
five weeks of group until the foundation of emotional regulation is
established (the fundamental skill of STOP! taught and practiced). After
that the issues brought to group by the men are addressed by focusing on how
they could, did or did not use their new skill in their interactions. There
continues to be content added weekly in each group but the focus on
emotional regulation remains throughout the twelve weeks.
There is an attempt to address the differences in learning styles by use of
videos and other learning activities. This is an area that needs further
It is made clear to the men from the first group that this is not a therapy,
support or recovery group. The focus is on change through new information,
skill building and personal responsibility. It deals with the present as a
preparation for a better future. The details of the past are
not as important as what happens from today forward. The worth of each
person is supported, even though behavior must change. Advice and solution
giving by facilitators or group members is discouraged. Each person's life
is so complex. It is not useful, and may in fact be dangerous, to try to
respond to issues, questions, and problems based on the biased perception
the individual in group is presenting as fact. This also tends to quickly
eat up time in the group which takes away from accomplishing the group
goals. It can be a way for the group to avoid the work of change and stay
with the familiar complaints and conventional wisdom. The best answers will
be ones that come from within the individuals themselves. The group's goal
is give men more skill and better information to apply to their lives, in
their own way.
It is my hope that the Self-Mastery Workshop will provide a new focus and a
more effective model of treatment that can be used with men or women. Since
the skills of self-mastery are needed by every adult, it can be used in a
variety of settings and with voluntary as well as court-ordered
participants. It will be essential to measure the program's effectiveness
with solid research.
The format of the groups will allow for any skilled facilitator to begin
using the manual and program after a one or two day training. The format is
educational, not therapy oriented so will not require facilitators with
extensive education or credentials. The main requirements for being able to
facilitate are: understanding the material; effective communication and
group facilitations skills; the willingness to learn and develop
self-mastery skills (practice what you preach by doing STOP!); a belief in
the possibility of change; and basic respect and acceptance of participants
as having worth, even if their behavior has to change.
For questions email Rose Mary Boerboom at
call her at 952-936-0973. Special