Groupwork on Breaking the Cycle of Spousal Violence

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“I learnt how not to throw or smash things at home (or in) public and how not to hit someone when I am triggered. Avoid (it) before it happens. I feel like I can be successful,” shared Glen^. 

Tim^ added, “In the past, I would usually vent my anger to communicate to the person (that) I’m angry…   I have now learnt that anger management means I must remind myself to keep cool.” 

These responses are just a fraction of what was shared by participants in a recent groupwork conducted by MWS Family Service Centre – Yishun (Yishun FSC), among men who had used violence against their spouses. 

The onset of COVID-19 saw an alarming increase in the incidence of family violence in Singapore. When the team at MWS Yishun FSC started seeing a slew of clients referred by the Family Justice Courts for Mandatory Counselling Programme, they decided to find out more. 

MWS Yishun FSC has previously conducted groupwork for survivors of family violence. But the rising incidence of such violence got the FSC thinking that the only way to address violence is to work directly with the persons causing harm. The seed for ‘The Gentlemen’s Club: Staying Cool’ was therefore sown. 

Being a pilot study, the programme design, content, implementation and evaluation design were conceptualised from scratch. Working with the principles of trauma-informed care (TIC), the FSC employed activities and therapy that help participants change mindsets towards regulating emotions and transform behaviours in a respectful and empowering manner.

Activities and therapy used to help participants change mindsets about regulating emotions and changing behaviours:

“We incorporated TIC principles in every aspect of the groupwork – from our facilitation to the physical environment to allowing participants to make choices at every stage of the programme – so that they have a safe space to share and learn. When this safety was established, we were able to relate to the participants not by their labels as persons causing harm (PCH) but as people who were also looking for genuine connections,” shared Kanniga Gnanasekaran, MWS Lead Social Worker. 

During the sessions, participants were guided on ways to debunk myths about anger, identify triggers, learn self-compassion, recognise unhelpful thoughts and anger warning signs, and learn coping skills as well as safe and assertive communication. All these were conducted through experiential activities, discussions, and role-plays.

Some of the activities ran during the groupwork sessions:

‘Step Into The Circle’ activity 

Participants and facilitators stood together and form a big circle. Statements that suggest distorted or unhelpful thinking patterns were read aloud. All were invited to take a step into the circle if the statement resonated with them. By the end of the activity, participants and facilitators found themselves all standing together in a tight circle in the centre. The objective of the activity was to show that unhelpful thinking patterns are not uncommon, and that participants should have self-compassion in accepting this. Through this, we also hope to reduce the stigma attached to persons who cause harm.

‘Shaken Carbonated Drink’ activity

Participants were given bottles of carbonated drinks and asked to shake the bottles. They were then asked to open the bottles without spilling the contents. Some participants showed more caution when unscrewing the bottle cap in order to keep the carbonated liquid from bubbling over. Several succeeded while others tried opening but failed to contain the bubbling liquid. Through this, participants saw that despite rising emotions, it is possible to contain one’s anger without an outburst if we learn to control their reaction to the situation.

As I was working with the group, one of my reflections was on misconceptions social workers may have in working with persons causing harm (PCH). I found that when I showed authenticity in connecting with them during the sessions, they reciprocated with the same level of honesty in sharing their challenges and making a commitment to change for themselves and their families."

Benny Thiam, Assistant Senior Social Worker, MWS Family Service Centre – Yishun

Due to conflicting work schedules, several participants dropped out of the groupwork before completion, resulting in it involving only 6 participants. Nonetheless, MWS’ TIC approach created a non-shaming, non-blaming environment that encouraged participants to exercise self-compassion, share openly and commit to change. 

Indeed, as Mike^ reflected, “Life is really short; I want to see my son grow up. There is no point dwelling on certain things anymore. I am learning how to communicate tactfully and I appreciate the facilitators and the way they speak. I want to contribute to society and do better despite my (older) age.” 

With the learnings gleaned from this experience, MWS Yishun FSC hopes to improve on the groupwork programme design before doing more runs. 

^ Not their real names

UV infographics-04

Evaluation Method

• Quantitative: Pre- and Post-test questionnaire, Feedback form
• Qualitative: Group reflections, Participant excerpts

Challenges

• There was a 40% attrition among participants due to work commitments (in spite of the sessions being held on weekends) 

• Due to the limited language aptitude of some participants, MWS had to continuously review and simplify our programme materials

 
 

Do you know anyone who is experiencing or causing domestic violence?

Call the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline (NAVH)
Call 1800-777-0000 or make an online report via the NAVH Reporting Form.

Go to the Police for help
If there is imminent danger to life and safety, please call the police at 999, or go to your nearest neighbourhood Police Post or Centre for help.

What can I do to help?

1. Understand

Take your time to question your beliefs, and find out more about poverty in its many forms. Understand it well enough to explain it to friends/family.

2. Care

Care in your own way! As a first step, you can donate and/or volunteer. You’ll be surprised at how little it takes to help change a life.

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