Miranda’s Experiment: Role-playing in Men’s Group

Posted by on Oct 10, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

IMG_0180“This is never going to work.” “My partner won’t understand.” This is the pushback Men’s Therapist, Miranda, would receive over and over again as she worked with the guys in her process group to create their self-control plan – their plan to avoid using abuse.

In the men’s program at Domestic Abuse Project, guys don’t always want to be there.  Many are court ordered – they aren’t in group by choice. They can be resistant to the fact that they did anything wrong, or they can downplay incidents of violence they have perpetrated.

The men’s program is long, at a minimum of 24 weeks, so that therapists have plenty of time to work with the men – helping them move away from this resistance so that they can take ownership of their violent behaviors and learn ways to control their actions.

With so much resistance to the plausibility of the self-control plan, Miranda came up with a new idea. Role-playing.

Miranda wasn’t sure how the new idea would go over. Role-playing can be difficult for a lot of folks, let alone the guys who really struggle with being open to a new process. Miranda worked to create scenarios that truly reflected the experiences of the men, giving each “partner” a description of the history of the relationship, allowing them to adopt this role. The men had to practice sharing their self-control plan with their “partner” and their “partner” had to accurately reflect how the discussion might evolve – the partner worrying due to a history of violence, of substance abuse, or even just a pattern of unwillingness to communicate about any issues in the relationship.

Miranda was surprised by the results – the guys were into it! Sitting in a semi-circle they leaned in close, drawn in to every interaction. They kept yelling, “scene!” to start and end the role-plays. Once one of the guys starting blaming his “partner” or using unproductive language, the other guys immediately would call him out on it! Other group members jumped in, adopting the “partner” role to add other plausible reactions, helping the guys practice in a scenario as real to life as possible.

More than that, the “partners” played their role well – engaging in a difficult topic in a true to life way. They used all the emotions that bubble up when discussing safety after violence. Many of the men portrayed their “partner” as compassionate and understanding. Every single pair was able to reach a positive resolution by the end of the role-play.

Usually when the clock nears 8pm, the guys are itching to get out of process group. But this night they wanted to keep role-playing, so much so that Miranda had to cut them off at 8:15. The guys urged that all men who write a self-control plan should have to role-play sharing the plan with their partner. And they wanted to help write the role-play scenarios themselves.

The hard work these men had done in the therapy group was paying off – they could take the perspective of their partner in an empathic way, they could call each other out on any partner-blaming or defensiveness, and they could successfully reach a resolution without resorting to abuse.  These are the moments that show that the slow work of therapy leads to a future without abuse for these men, their partners, and their families. This is the everyday work of creating a world free of domestic violence.

Leave a Reply