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At the first group meeting, we ask participants to take turns reading the rules out loud. After each rule is read, we ask if there are any questions. Our purpose for reading the rules out loud is fourfold: (1) It offers an opportunity for participants to express disagreements or differences of opinion; (2) it communicates that the group process will involve participation and effort; (3) it confirms that each participant has had the opportunity to learn, understand, and if necessary challenge the "rules of game"; and (4) it helps us determine if anyone is illiterate.
Challenges to facilitators are most common during the first meeting. Open presentation of the rules allows participants to evaluate whether or not they will be treated with respect. This decreases challenges to facilitators. Because the rules are based on a common sense approach to human interaction, most challenges are easily addressed with a brief discussion and explanation. The majority of participants find it easy to support the rules and find it difficult to go against the facilitators when one participant presents a challenge. All rules are explained matter-of-factly, with respect, and without confrontation or argument. We convey the practical and useful nature of the rules, emphasizing that they serve everyone's interest. We also note that the facilitators are accountable to the group and mention rules that have specific implications for the facilitators.
We are very clear that we expect a time commitment from the participants. This rule communicates that the group is important and has value. It also conveys that their involvement has a purpose and that important work will be accomplished. We will not tolerate lateness or participants missing more than one session. Participants are told that a lot of hard work has to be accomplished in a short period of time, so it is important that they attend all sessions. We do not want them to miss anything that will be of value to them.
Rule 2. Violence
We let the group know, right from the beginning, that we take a very serious stand against violence and will not tolerate violence of any kind either inside or outside of the group. Normally there is little, if any, response to this rule. We explain that if any participants are violent, we must report it to the probation department, and they will be terminated from the group.
Rule 3. Confidentiality
We discuss this rule at length. We convey that participants issues are respected as private, and that we want the group to be a safe and confidential environment. We explain that participants should not tell spouses or friends who is in the group. We note that they may discuss what they are learning in the group but may not reveal information about other participants. We explain that some participants may share highly personal information and may become vulnerable in the group. We note our professional obligations regarding confidentiality and share examples of how we protect individuals' confidentiality. We specifically describe what information we are obligated to share, with whom, and under what circumstances. Often we explain how we would handle "bumping into them" in the community. We note that we will not respond to them unless they initiate an interaction, and we will protect their privacy if this occurs. Safety and respect are serious issues for our participants. Many participants have not had the experience of feeling safe or vulnerable in a group situation, and we work hard to offer them a safe, confidential environment.
4. Alcohol and drugs
We make it completely clear that we expect participants to be fully present when they attend the meetings, and that any use of substances will not be tolerated. We also want participants to be aware of the consequences of breaking this rule. We explain that if we smell alcohol or sense that a participant has come to the group under the influence, we will as him or her to step forward and leave the group for that day. If no one is willing to come forward, the whole group is dismissed, resulting in the scheduling of an additional meeting for all participants and the facilitators. We ask that all individuals be respectful of other participants, because everyone is potentially affected if this rule is broken. Since we initiated talking about participants' responsibility to each other and the manner in which everyone can be negatively affected, we have had very few violations of this rule.
Participants are expected to complete a number of assignments. These assignments are designed to help participants think about certain subjects that may be a resource for them in their search for solutions. We explain that we are not interested in spelling or grammar but are interested only in their thoughts on these subjects. We ask participants to read or talk about their homework assignments during group sessions, and have found that this stimulates very useful group discussions.
Those participants who are illiterate are informed that they are accountable for finding someone to write their thoughts and ideas for them so that they can accomplish the required task.
Rule 6. Group discussion
The purpose of this rule is to let participants know that they and their opinions are important. We are interested in and value their input. This rule also conveys that we expect them to be invested and active in the group process. Participants report that they have learned a great deal from each other during group discussion. The underlying message is that everyone has the potential to contribute and that when we work together, we increase our potential. When discussing this rule, we stress that everyone must participate and note that often a shy person may offer important and unique perspectives that otherwise would go unnoticed. This often is followed by comments by participants about their own shyness and their willingness to do their best to comment. In some cases it results in a shy individual setting up a goal to be a regular contributor.
Rule 7. No blaming talk
This rule implies that participants are responsible for and will be held accountable for change. It helps to eliminate much problem talk and promotes efficient use of group time. It lets participants know that the group is not going to be a gripe or blame session but will focus on what they will be doing to create meaningful change in their lives.
Rule 8. Goals
Initially some participants believe that simply attending the sessions will be sufficient for completing the group. This rule introduces the basic requirements of a goal without specifying the details. It informs participants that they will have to work in and outside of the group, and it implies that they can make a positive and important difference by planning and taking action. A goal must lead to a change that will improve the participant's life, and potentially a relationship, and the change must be apparent to other people.
Do's and Don'ts of Rules
The assignments that we use are designed to increase the participants' sense of competence, confirm their motivation for change, and increase their commitment to continuing their efforts after the group is completed. Assignments are given at the end of a session, so as not to distract from the work that needs to be accomplished at that particular meeting. We tell participants that for each assignment they must write at least one full page on a legal-sized pad of paper and bring it in to the next group. If less than a page is turned in, we hand the paper back with a request for a complete page of work. We always completely review all expectations when we first give the assignment.
The first assignment is to write a page on "the small things that make a relationship work." We emphasize the small things because we believe that little changes translate into big changes and because we believe it is most helpful when people focus on small, doable tasks. We are essentially asking people to recall what they believe makes for a good relationship. This allows participants to bring to consciousness behavior that has worked in the past that they may have forgotten, as well as to consider new behaviors. The discussion of this question also creates an opportunity to learn from others in the group.
Another assignment is to have participants write about someone who has influenced them in a positive way. It often results in participants recalling useful information about how they themselves want to behave in relation to others. This information also relates directly to the goal work that participants are doing. The memories that are triggered by this assignment often increase participants' desire to work even harder at their goal efforts.
The final assignment is always given at the end of group seven. It asks participants to review what they learned in the group that was helpful and asks them to evaluate their commitment to their goal. Participants are asked to rate their commitment to continuing their goal efforts on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being highly committed and 1 being virtually no commitment. This prepares all participants for the discussion of these issues at the final group. This assignment also helps participants identify any adjustments or additions that they may want to make so that they can continue to be successful.
return the last assignment to the participants 3 months after the final group
meeting. We include a letter that compliments their work in the groups and also
conveys a personal memory from us that reflects our appreciation of them as people.
We mention that the last written assignment might still be of value to them and
therefore we are returning it to them.
Mo Yee Lee, Solution-Focused Treatment of Domestic Violence Offenders. Oxford
University Press, Oxford, UK, 2003.
Reflection Exercise #5
Online Continuing Education Question
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