When the abuser needs heal­ing

Me Too move­ment leads to more men seek­ing coun­selling ser­vices for abuse: prac­ti­tion­ers

Valley Journal Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - BY COLIN CHISHOLM HANTSJOURNAL.CA

Edi­tor’s Note — This story may be dif­fi­cult to read for peo­ple who have lived through, or are cur­rently in, an abu­sive sit­u­a­tion.

Wendy Keen has a mil­lion-dol­lar view of the Hal­i­fax Har­bour, but she’s work­ing with a shoe- string bud­get.

“We look very im­por­tant here on the ninth floor of an of­fice build­ing, but we’re a char­ity case when it comes to run­ning things,” Keen said, cof­fee mug in hand. “There’s not much left at the end of the day.”

Keen is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of New Start, in Dart­mouth, which helps men who use abuse or have used abuse against their part­ners, whether phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally or ver­bally.

Keen gave up work­ing two of her five days a week in or­der to pay salaries for more ther­a­pists. She sees this work as vi­tal to stop­ping abuse at the source.

She’s been with New Start since 2009, fol­low­ing a long ca­reer in the depart­ment of com­mu­nity ser­vices. Be­fore that, she worked for Bry­ony House, a shel­ter for women and chil­dren leav­ing vi­o­lence.

“When I was at Bry­ony House, peo­ple were ask­ing, ‘well, who’s work­ing with the men?’” Keen said.

It’s a ques­tion she’s hop­ing New Start, and or­ga­ni­za­tions like it, can an­swer.

New Start be­gan as a small, weekly coun­selling pro­gram at Veith House called Project New Start, run by a so­cial worker. It has since ex­panded into its own non­profit organization and so­ci­ety.

It’s part of a net­work of Men’s In­ter­ven­tion Pro­grams (MPIs) spread out over the prov­ince. The MPIs in­clude Fam­ily Ser­vice As- so­ci­a­tion of West­ern Nova Scotia in Bridge­wa­ter, New Di­rec­tion in Amherst, New Leaf in New Glas­gow, Bridges In­sti­tute in Truro and New Start in Dart­mouth.

Fund­ing

The ma­jor­ity of New Start’s fund­ing comes from the pro­vin­cial depart­ment of com­mu­nity ser­vices. But, Keen said, the group is strug­gling with grow­ing de­mand and limited re­sources.

“We’re funded on a model that’s a lit­tle bit out of date and doesn’t fit the ac­tual qual­ity and quan­tity of work that we’re do­ing now,” she said.

A re­cent in­jec­tion of fund­ing is now com­ing in from the pro­vin­cial jus­tice depart­ment af­ter the for­ma­tion of a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence court, which looks ex­clu­sively at that type of case.

The do­mes­tic vi­o­lence court opened in Hal­i­fax in March 2018, and New Start has seen its num­ber of clients ex­pand through that ini­tia­tive.

Nova Scotia op­er­ates two do­mes­tic vi­o­lence courts in the prov­ince — one in Syd­ney and one in Hal­i­fax.

The Depart­ment of Jus­tice is pro­vid­ing $220,000 in 2018-2019 to Corner­stone in Syd­ney re­lated to this work. In Hal­i­fax, New Start, in part­ner­ship with the Peo­ple’s Coun­selling Clinic and other providers, are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the as­sess­ment and in­take process and pro­vid­ing in­di­vid­ual and group ses­sion coun­selling. The depart­ment is pro­vid­ing $170,000 to New Start and part­ners in 20182019 to­wards this work.

“We’ve been very in­volved with that roll out, es­pe­cially when it comes to treat­ment plans,” she said. “Also, be­ing able to demon­strate that the work we do here is valu­able. Peo­ple who have used abuse and vi­o­lence be­gin to heal the harms that they have cre­ated.”

New Start pulls in ap­prox­i­mately $20,000 a year in fees from clients, ei­ther di­rectly or through health­care in­sur­ance.

Keen said it’s part of a more restora­tive ap­proach, rather than a strictly puni­tive one.

“Our fo­cus is on help­ing them heal. They don’t have to get back to­gether, but man­age that harm that’s be­ing cre­ated,” she said. “Some of the men we’ve helped have said, ‘if I had known there was New Start when I was a teenager, the first time I beat up my girl­friend, I wouldn’t be where I am now.’”

Coun­selling abuse

Jane Dono­van, a regis­tered coun­selling ther­a­pist at New Start, has been with the organization for 10 years. She’s seen hun­dreds of clients – the abusers and the abused.

“Some men come in quite con­cerned that they’re us­ing abuse and have done what they can to heal their re­la­tion­ship, but want to do more to en­sure they’re on the right path,” she said. “Some men come in and are on the other end of the spec­trum, kind of con­fused about what’s go­ing on. And then every­where in be­tween.”

Dono­van said the first step is usu­ally ac­knowl­edg­ing there is a prob­lem, say­ing many abusers are of­ten in denial about what took place.

“From what I’ve seen, all men know it’s not right to hit your part­ner,” she said. “The rea­son they’re in denial is be­cause they’ve trans­gressed an im­por­tant value.”

The fact that these clients feel shame and want to change is a good sign for Dono­van. Re­morse shows they un­der­stand what they did was wrong.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence has been that the less I push them or ac­cuse them and just lis­ten to them, and they hear them­selves speak, and they hear the un­truth of what they’re say­ing, they start to say things like, ‘I’m not re­ally an angel,’” she said.

“They tend to start hear­ing them­selves. Many men tell me they don’t have some­one they can talk to and given the op­por­tu­nity, they start to be more hon­est with them­selves.”

The change in be­hav­iour usu­ally doesn’t hap­pen right away. Dono­van said even the most ea­ger clients usu­ally need at least seven or eight ses­sions be­fore they can be con­sid­ered ready to move on.

“Some guys get it so quickly, and some peo­ple re­ally strug­gle,” she said. “They may have other things go­ing on in their lives. Poverty, un­em­ploy­ment, racism.

She said toxic mas­culin­ity can also get in the way of mak­ing pos­i­tive changes.

“Men of­ten say ‘I just lost it, I was out of con­trol, couldn’t do any­thing about it,’ and some- times that does hap­pen, we lose con­trol,” she said. “When we get trig­gered, the amyg­dala in our brain, which con­trols our emo­tions, gets cut off from our frontal lobe, which al­lows us to make de­ci­sions. If we get in such a state where we’ve been cut off from our frontal lobe, we have quite lit­er­ally lost con­trol.”

That’s when fight or flight kicks in, a relic from hunter/gath­erer days. The key is to in­ter­rupt that or pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing.

“We blush when we’re em­bar­rassed, we have a phys­i­cal re­sponse to emo­tions, and if we start to get in tune with that, it can be very help­ful,” she said. “It’s im­por­tant to learn that ev­ery time your stom­ach gets tingly, it’s not al­ways anx­i­ety, you might be ex­cited. It’s not al­ways anger when your heart’s pump­ing rapidly, it can be love.”

But not ev­ery­one can be helped. “If peo­ple come in, re­ally deter­mined not to make a change, there isn’t re­ally a whole lot I can do with that,” she said.

#MeToo im­pact

Tod Au­gusta-Scott is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Bridges In­sti­tute in Truro. He’s been there for 20 years now and has seen a cul­ture shift in how men’s abuse is per­ceived.

“The work that’s be­ing done in Nova Scotia is get­ting na­tional and in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion,” Au­gusta-Scott said.

Some of that at­ten­tion is thanks to A Bet­ter Man, a doc­u­men­tary that has screened at nu­mer­ous film fes­ti­vals and pre­miered at the Hot Docs Cana­dian In­ter­na­tional Doc­u­men­tary Fes­ti­val.

The film fol­lows two peo­ple, At­tiya Khan and her for­mer part­ner, just called Steve in the film, as they go through abuse coun­selling years af­ter the in­ci­dents took place to come to terms with what hap­pened and try to heal.

Khan ex­plains how she feared for her life, how she didn’t un­der­stand why he wouldn’t stop if he felt sorry about it af­ter­wards.

Au­gusta-Scott is one of the coun­sel­lors that helps them through the process. Hear­ing ‘Steve’ take responsibility for his past ac­tions was cru­cial to heal­ing.

“What we’re do­ing is re­ally giv­ing women who’ve been abused, ha­rassed or been through do­mes­tic vi­o­lence an op­por­tu­nity to have the harms re­paired by the per­son who did the harm in the first place,” he said. “It’s about cre­at­ing more op­tions for women.”

It’s of­ten the women that will ini­ti­ate the coun­selling, he said. They want it to end or heal from his­toric harms.

“It’s a mis­nomer to call it a Men’s In­ter­ven­tion Pro­gram,” he said. “The cen­tre of the work that we do is with the women and work­ing with the men to make them un­der­stand that they’re re­spon­si­ble.”

Au­gusta-Scott said the in­ter­est in the work he does at Bridges has sky­rock­eted as the Me Too move­ment con­tin­ued to make waves in­ter­na­tion­ally and here at home.

“In some ways, these pro­grams are an an­swer to the Me Too move­ment. Guys were try­ing to apol­o­gize af­ter these events and it was clear they had no idea how to do that,” Au­gusta-Scott said. “Our work re­ally could help those men sup­port the women they’ve hurt.”

Au­gusta-Scott has had peo­ple from as far as the United States reach out ask­ing for help.

Men are step­ping up. One of Au­gusta-Scott’s clients, who can’t be iden­ti­fied due to pri­vacy rea­sons, came for­ward af­ter harm­ing his part­ner over 30 years ago. Now the part­ner wants to deal with it too.

Au­gusta-Scott said many of the vic­tims aren’t sure if heal­ing is pos­si­ble, if the men can ac­tu­ally change.

“It doesn’t hap­pen in all cases, but when it is pos­si­ble, we want to sup­port it,” he said. “Some guys are high risk and can’t change, so we won’t do it in those con­texts. But in most cases men can change. The high-risk ex­am­ples that get on tele­vi­sion are the mi­nor­ity of the work.”

De­spite the in­crease in in­ter­est from clients, Au­gusta-Scott said there’s no ques­tion that more re­sources are needed.

He’s hope­ful that things will con­tinue to im­prove, es­pe­cially as Me Too and other move­ments con­tinue to keep the is­sue in the spot­light.

“Over the past 20 years, we were very cyn­i­cal about men chang­ing. We never dreamed that the men would not only stop abuse, but also look at the ef­fects of what they’ve done. I’ve had con­ver­sa­tions today that I never thought pos­si­ble back then,” he said.

“I’m in­spired by the men and women that I work with. I can see that heal­ing is pos­si­ble af­ter vi­o­lence.”

Pro­vin­cial pri­or­ity

An­drew Preeper, a me­dia spokesper­son from the depart­ment of com­mu­nity ser­vices, said the prov­ince takes do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and abuse se­ri­ously.

“Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and abuse can hap­pen to any­one. No one should live in fear,” Preeper said in a state­ment. “We are com­mit­ted to dis­rupt­ing the cy­cle of vi­o­lence, and to sup­port the pre­ven­tion of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and all forms of gen­der-based vi­o­lence in our com­mu­ni­ties.”

Cur­rently the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment funds tran­si­tion houses, women’s cen­tres, hous­ing, and or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide men’s in­ter­ven­tion pro­grams, like New Start and Bridges In­sti­tute.

The Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Ser­vices pro­vides $836,574 in an­nual fund­ing to the five MIPs across the prov­ince.

Preeper said the depart­ment is also in­creas­ing its fo­cus on child wel­fare pre­ven­tion and early in­ter­ven­tion strate­gies and sup­ports. This will in­clude look­ing at our cur­rent pro­grams and ser­vices, such as men’s in­ter­ven­tion pro­grams, to iden­tify gaps and pro­gram­ming needs.

“Some of the men we’ve helped have said, ‘if I had known there was New Start when I was a teenager, the first time I beat up my girl­friend, I wouldn’t be where I am now.’” — Wendy Keen, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of New Start

COLIN CHISHOLM

Wendy Keen, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of New Start in Hal­i­fax, and Jane Dono­van, a coun­selling ther­a­pist with New Start, are hop­ing the work that they do can help lead to heal­ing and change.

COLIN CHISHOLM

Ther­a­pists Stephanie Wells and Jane Dono­van in one of New Start’s coun­selling rooms, where in­di­vid­u­als or part­ners dis­cuss cur­rent or his­toric abuse.

SUB­MIT­TED

Tod Au­gusta-Scott, a coun­sel­lor at the Bridges In­sti­tute in Truro, ap­pears in the Cana­dian doc­u­men­tary, A Bet­ter Man.

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