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"You Made Me Hit You!" Interventions with Male Batterers
Male Batterers continuing education psychologist CEUs

Section 11
Goal Setting

CEU Question 11 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last track we discussed goal-setting. Have you found, like I, that it is quite common at the initial goal-setting stage for clients to start with a goal that is too vague, broad, or poorly defined? What do you do about your clients who have problems setting goals? I try to encourage my clients' exploration by asking evaluative questions and allowing enough time for them to come up with more useful goal ideas. I find it is often the case that clients need more than one session to fully structure their goals.

The Language of Not Doing
Leo, age 53, came to the group with a vague desire to be different. However, he was without a goal that was specific enough to meet the requirements stated on the previous track that I had outlined during our first session for him. Leo stated, "I quit drinking for over a year and started back again. That's been one of my goals, quitting drinking. Tomorrow, I'm going to see the doctor and get peace and quiet. I'm just working on a lot of new things. I'm becoming a vegetarian, like I used to be."

Using the Client's Language
I found it useful to focus my language on doing, since Leo seemed more focused on not doing. I mentioned to Leo that if he stopped drinking, he could use the time he usually spent drinking to do other activities. I then asked him what those alternate activities might be, and whether they might lead to a goal. Leo continued to resist the goal-setting process with language of "not doing." He stated, "I just want to make myself stronger, because what happened to me, being arrested, is never going to happen again."

Then I asked Leo, "In terms of the specifics about yourself, when you think about this goal, can you talk about what you need to do at this point?" When Leo answered, "I just need to be another person, that's all," I asked him what he would be doing differently if he were this other person. I have found, probably like you have found, that it is helpful to use the client's language, when I ask a follow-up question, so that he is encouraged to evaluate what he has just said.

Directive Questioning
As you know, success is most often far from immediate. For instance, after some directive questioning, Leo still gave answers that avoided physical, goal-reaching actions. He stated, "All I know is I won't be drinking, and that's going to give me a lot more time. I want to work. I want to get my body and mind to work together." To focus on actions, I asked Leo, "How we would know when your body and mind are actually working together?" Leo stated, "I'll know when I start feeling good about myself and I have a smile on my face."

So I continued directive questioning by asking him, "What kinds of things would you do to put that smile on your face?" Leo eventually began to respond with some action words. For instance, Leo said, "Well, I like to get out into the woods by myself. And I like to fish." I urged him to come up with similar actions that he did not already do on a regular basis. Leo finally stated, "I guess I'd like to be around good people that actually do something with their lives."

When I asked him how he might begin to be around these people, he stated, "Well, I'm going to move out of the county. I know too many people here, and I'll get closer to Southern California to be closer to my oldest daughter. I haven't seen my second grandson yet." Then, Leo came up with the action-based goal of making more frequent contact with his daughter and taking steps toward moving into a house closer to her apartment.

Complex, Undefined Goals
I find that many of my clients are like Leo in that they begin with a complex, undefined goal that needs to be simplified. I find that clients benefit from thoughtful questions that help move from general ideas to more concrete and visible tasks. Simplifying a goal implies that the goal will not only be easier for clients to define, but also easier for them to perform and remember. As you know, keeping the goal simple in the beginning allows for early success and room to expand it later on in the process. Think for a moment about a client you are currently treating. Would your client, like Leo, benefit from directive questions and action-focused language?

Goal Stuck
Even though the client has been court-ordered into anger management, I find that some clients in denial feel that life is going so well for them that there is nothing they can think to change or work on. The idea of goal-setting is a completely foreign concept. Still others put off the goal task, as if it will go away if they wait long enough. In my mind, I describe all of these clients as being stuck or unsure about what they want to do. How do you deal with clients who are "goal stuck?"

Zach, 37, was in a relationship with his girlfriend, Catherine, that he described as "really good" but was court-ordered to the group because of an altercation in which he pulled his ex-wife, Deborah, out of his home by her hair. Zach was particularly goal stuck. He could not seem to create a workable goal. He stated, "I feel fine, and everything is okay." With Zach, I tried to remain very persistent in asking questions that would assist him in his search. I not only asked Zach directive questions like the ones I had used with Leo. I also found it useful to use strength-based questions such as "What have you done that you are proud of?"

I try to see myself as a partner to court-ordered clients like Zach working in a race against the clock because these clients must develop a goal within the agreed-upon time limits. I find that an advantage of taking on the role of partner is externalizing the time limit. When we are working as partners, the time constraint is a natural law rather than a limit I have imposed on the client. It is true, after all, that the time limit is imposed on both the client and the facilitating team.

Zach often became frustrated with my persistent efforts. He stated emphatically, "I'm fine! Everything's FINE!" What do you do about your clients like Zach who are the most frustrated with goal-setting? On rare occasions, when a client like Zach remains stuck regardless of efforts to develop a goal, I break my own rules. I offer to make a goal suggestion. I gave Zach the option of getting ideas from the group, from me, or from all of us. Zach stated, "Sure. I'll tell you if I can do them or not." Zach, like many clients, decided he would like ideas both from the group and from me.

As you can imagine, most of my ideas and the ideas from the group were instantly rejected. I found the process of sharing goal suggestions was still useful. Zach was able to develop a goal more confidently after seeing that the group and I had failed to find a solution for him. Zach set a goal to take some time driving by himself, because that is how he had found in the past that he could think the most clearly. In a later session, Zach stated, "I want to start spending more time with my son and help him with his homework more."

This way, Zach hoped to have less conflict with his ex-wife concerning his worth as a father. Most of the time, I try to work on goal development without using the group-brainstorming process because it can be time consuming. Sometimes though, with clients like Zach, I find it is necessary. Are you currently treating a client who is struggling with goal-setting who might benefit from a group-brainstorming session?

If the goal-stuck client requests that I write a positive recommendation letter to the court regarding his efforts, I inform him that I will only note his attendance and my willingness to have him come back to the next series of groups. I have found that the few clients who have not been able to develop goals are later able to develop goals when they come back and successfully complete the anger management program. I believe this lack of a positive recommendation to the court until they develop a goal to be a very effective strategy. Thus, the client is recycled through the first three sessions until they develop a goal statement. How do you use your court recommendation as a lever?

In this track, we discussed ways to help clients who are "goal stuck." In the next track, we will discuss how to get out of therapeutic ruts with clients who you feel are deadlocked.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Enosh, G., & Buchbinder, E. (2019). Mirrors on the wall: Identification and confrontation in group processes with male batterers in prison. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 20(4), 575–584. 

Lila, M., Gracia, E., & Catalá-Miñana, A. (2018). Individualized motivational plans in batterer intervention programs: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 86(4), 309–320.

Napier, T. R., Howell, K. H., Maye, C. E., Jamison, L. E., Mandell, J. E., & Thurston, I. B. (2021). Demographic factors, personal life experiences, and types of intimate partner violence. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.

Nowack, K. (2017). Facilitating successful behavior change: Beyond goal setting to goal flourishing. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(3), 153–171. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 11
What are two types of questions that are effective in facilitating clients who are goal-stuck? To select and enter your answer go to CE Test.

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