I have been interviewing men who have participated in Integrated Domestic Abuse Programmes (IDAP) (UK) recently for three reasons
- their voices have not been recorded in UK or USA research beyond a few sentences in a Home Office paper (Bullock et al, 2010) in which two men appraise the programme positively.
- men coming to me for Empathic Anger Management would often need to debrief and process negative experiences of IDAP before we could begin the necessary therapeutic work. I was disturbed to hear them using phrases including
- feeling dominated and controlled
- it was the facilitator’s way or the high way
- felt bound and gagged
- I was brainwashed
- they messed with my head
Ironically, these are the very behaviours which the ideology of IDAP assumes that group participants will have been engaging in in their intimate partner relationships and aims to eradicate.
3. I attended an International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) conference in 2010 and listened to speakers discussing ‘the psychology of totalism’ and referring to Lifton’s (1989) eight components of ‘ thought reform’; as I listened, the men whom I had worked with and their stories came to mind and wondered if they had been subject to a form of indoctrination
So far I have interviewed a small sample of 3 men from London and the East and West Midlands; white males, two are white collar workers and one is blue collar; in the 35 – 50 age bracket. I am going to map their experiences against the eight components of through reform which are milieu control, mystical manipulation, the demand for purity, the cult of confession, the ‘sacred science’, loading the language, doctrine over person and dispensing of existence. I will briefly define each component and offer extracts of the men’s stories which, in my opinion, illustrate that a form of mind control or thought reform is at the core of this programme. These components co-exist, they are not discrete phenomena and my attempt to separate them out is somewhat artificial; they will inevitably overlap so for example, milieu control has to be present for all the other components to exist, the demand for purity is linked to the cult of confession and the sacred science is inextricably connected to doctrine over the person.
This relates to the control of all communication within a given environment including both the individual’s inner communication as well as their external, inter-personal communication. Milieu control is maintained through structuring all group dialogue around the power and control wheel and the equality wheel. When these two models stand-alone they finely calibrate a wide range of constructive and destructive inter-personal behaviours which make a considerable contribution to our understanding of what constitutes harmful and unharmful relationships. However, those I interviewed described them being used in conjunction with a radical feminist ideology which holds a cynical stereotypical view of men who are all viewed as rapists or perpetrators of domestic abuse or potential rapists and perpetrators of domestic abuse.
The men I interviewed told me
- “make no mistake about it, we were left in no doubt that men are bad”
- “I was assumed to be a serial offender; you were not allowed to say “it only happened the once”
- “you knew that if you didn’t agree with them you’d be off the course; ‘off the course was code for ‘back to court’ or ‘prison’
These highly structured groups restrict participant discussion to the eight abusive behaviours on the power and control wheel and their eight non-abusive counterparts on the equality wheel. The men I interviewed told me that they were assumed to have committed harmful behaviours from each of the eight categories and were discouraged from saying
- “actually, I never sexually abused my wife”
- “I never financially exploited my partner”
- “I didn’t use the children to manipulate her”
Facilitators argue that ‘the driving force [of domestic abuse] is the hub of the wheel…. power and control – not alcohol, stress, drugs, poverty, bad childhood experiences or anger problems (REFERENCE).’ Each of the interviewees had reflected on their behaviour and all of them had a complex narrative of why what happened had happened; invariably they resolved that there were multiple personal and interpersonal factors that had contributed to the single, abstracted event, with the single explanation, which facilitators, magistrates and judges focus on. They quickly learned that these other kind of explanations would not be tolerated. When the milieu is being controlled individual autonomy becomes a threat to the group and those men I interviewed who challenged the notion that all men are bad, denied that they hadn’t committed a category of abuse or offered an alternative explanation from ‘the party line’ (participant) were told they were being
- not engaging
- in denial
- making excuses
and were threatened with being removed from the group.
Lifton (1989) says ‘intense milieu control can contribute to a dramatic change of identity which I call doubling: the formation of a second self which lives side by side with the former one…… the boundary of the self is chipped away at, pressure on the internal milieu [participant’s inner life] to introject [swallow / take on board] the external milieu [the feminist ideology]’.
The research participants reported
- “presenting what they [facilitators] wanted to hear”
- “showing a false self”
- “telling others to keep their heads down, do what’s expected and don’t rock the boat”
‘When the milieu control is lifted, elements of the earlier self may be reasserted’ (ibid); participants described being more real in tea, cigarette breaks and in any contact outside of the group environment.
Lifton (ibid) describes how humans naturally ‘strive towards new information, independent judgement and self-expression’; all three men told me they were optimistic about learning something about themselves and relationships when they entered the group; milieu control thwarts this organismic process.
Bullock K, Sarre S, Tarling R & Wilkinson M, 2010, The delivery of domestic abuse programmes: An implementation study of the delivery of domestic abuse programmes in probation areas and Her Majesty’s Prison Service, Ministry of Justice Research Series 15/10 July, London, Home Office
Lifton RJ, 1989, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, North Carolina, University of North Carolina
To be continued…………