Washington City Paper
by Annys Shin
April 27-May 3,
Adele Harrell, director of the Urban
Institute's Justice Policy
Center, was one of the first researchers to find that conventional
treatments are not very effective. She calls the Compassion
promising program" that needs further study.
"[Stosny is] good at taking simple
things and making them look
beautiful.... Most programs are not good at marketing." -Leila
clinical director of the Family Crisis Center
"We don't know what the answer is.
We deal with this big elephant that
exists in America, and we're all taking different sections of it
to fathom the best way to do this. I'm not sure we're really
yet." -Vic Bogo, coordinator of men's programs for Turning
Few aspects of Stosny's approach get
his critics going the way his
video, Shadows of the Heart, does. They offer the film as the
that his methods are not only wrongheaded but also
"We're not naive enough to think
everyone who goes through this
treatment will be cured." -Janet Dennis, a victims' advocate for
"Nothing in feminism isn't true. The
feminist view is just too
superficial for treatment. It doesn't explain what is the
controlling someone else." -Stosny
"I'm treating my kids better. The
atmosphere at my house is much
calmer. I don't go from Level 1 to Level 10 in a second. I don't
like a rocket." -Bill, a batterer in Stosny's Compassion
"Everything is not easy....We're
trying to untwist a lifetime of
learned behavior. It's not simple." -Prince George's County
Judge Patricia Lewis
"That's certainly what the court
system would like to believe-that
there's a magic bullet that can turn batterers into empathetic
and it doesn't cost anything. Stosny is feeding into that." -Louise
who runs batterer interventions in Baltimore
At times, the gulf between Stosny,
the tweedy therapist, and his
largely working-class pupils is obvious. For example, several
Stosny tries to explain why corporal punishment never works.
"Abusers have a sense of
powerlessness over their emotions. They say,
'You can make me feel things I can't handle.' So they try to
behavior to regulate their emotion. That's the motivation for
more than negative attitudes toward women." -Steven Stosny
Stosny is considered something of a
maverick among batterer-treatment
providers and victim's advocates; his methods are highly
According to Stosny's research,
which is based on victim reports, 86
percent of the people who complete his class remain violence-free
year. But critics point out that that rate has yet to be
Steven Stosny says he can break
the cycle of domestic violence. So why
are victims' advocates some of his biggest critics?
On a cold, blustery night last
November, John, a 39-year-old, white,
divorced father of three, makes his way down Good Luck Road to Reid
Episcopal Church in Lanham, Md. His destination isn't the
Fellowship Hall I, a small, overheated cinder-block room that
franks and beans from the nearby kitchen. He picks the table
closest to the
door, puts his carry-out coffee down, and plops himself into a
chair. There, he reluctantly awaits his transformation.
Around him are arrayed two dozen
or so men and a handful of women.
Many don't bother to take off their heavy winter coats or make
comfortable. After all, this is not an easy room to get comfortable
Nearly everyone here has been arrested for assaulting a spouse,
other, or relative. Nearly everyone is here because a judge or
officer ordered it. Everyone in the room is keenly aware of this
practically no one speaks or makes eye contact.
First-night jitters are to be
expected, especially tonight, the first
session of a court-ordered "intervention" for batterers.
ordered these men and women to attend in the hope that, after 12
meetings, they will never again assault the ones they love.
John is here because he argued
with his ex-wife over the way he was
disciplining their son. During the argument, he says, she tried to
past him and he blocked her path and shoved her. It was the second
had been arrested on an assault charge against her. He was first
almost two years ago, after they argued one evening in his car.
had gone over to the passenger side and tried to pull her out, but
resisted. When she finally relented, he yanked her out and threw
her on the
ground. That incident landed him in a group similar to this one,
whatever he learned there didn't help him contain himself the next
was "caught off-guard" by his ex-wife's reaction to something.
Dr. Steven Stosny, the man whose
job it is to make sure John doesn't
assault his ex-wife again, stands just a few feet away. Wearing a
jacket over a wool V-neck sweater, he looks as if he's here to lead
college symposium, not a batterers' treatment. And the room is
classroom style, with Stosny speaking from a podium. He doesn't
new pupils about why they are here. Instead, he seems more intent
assuaging their palpable sense of unease over having to attend
"Some of you will say, 'My case
has nothing to do with family
violence,'" Stosny says, twirling his reading glasses in one hand,
over the lectern. "Some of you are not here because of family
the person who referred you asked for a specific treatment. The
treatment available is more confrontational and a lot more about
you like a criminal," he says with an odd chuckle. "Here we try to
with dignity and respect.
"This is a greatly accelerated
course," Stosny continues. "Thirty-six
weeks of material is crammed into 12 weeks. You won't share your
or problems in this group. It would have to last a year for
"We're going to teach you skills.
If you practice them, you're going
to end up feeling more empowered than you do now," Stosny tells the
enthusiastically. "Your well-being isn't going to depend on
when you're done with this course."
For the rest of the 90-minute
session, Stosny does most of the
talking. John listens intently. His coffee goes untouched. He sits
pen poised over a pad of paper. For a while, he doesn't take any
Ever since shelters for battered
women first opened their doors more
than a generation ago, there have been programs that have tried
rehabilitate people who batter. As more jurisdictions began to
arrests in domestic-abuse cases, judges and prosecutors- reluctant
precious jail space with men who typically faced only misdemeanor
charges-searched for ways to give abusers a chance to reform
Ironically, advocates for battered women were the first to answer
often devoting scarce resources to batterer interventions. They did
because they reasoned that domestic violence would never end
batterers could learn to change their behavior. Such interventions
reach the roughly one-third of abusers who domestic-violence
estimate are not reformed by a brush with the law.
Over the years, those who have
worked with batterers have tried
numerous approaches, incorporating anger management, individual
therapy, and even 12-step-style meetings. Today, the most widely
program is based on the idea that domestic violence is just one of
of ways that men try to subjugate women. Created by the same people
pioneered the first coordinated law enforcement response to
violence-known as the Duluth Model-the program involves 26 weeks
intensive encounter-group sessions that seek to change abusers'
about gender roles as well as teach them different methods to
anger. Each year, hundreds of cities and counties around the
domestic-violence offenders to programs based on the Duluth
intervention for batterers.
Duluth-style programs are
grounded in a feminist analysis of domestic
violence. In his book Violent No More, Michael Paymar, a Minnesota
legislator who helped develop the Duluth Model intervention, argues
"men batter women because they believe they are entitled, on
their gender, to call the shots, end disputes, and control
There are variations in this thinking, but belief in male
authority is a central theme for many men, and especially for men
batter." As a result, an integral part of Duluth-type treatments
breaking through abusers' denial about their abusive behavior
challenging their beliefs about gender roles.
Few take issue with the Duluth
Model's prescription for a
criminal-justice response to domestic violence. Yet there are a
number of researchers who disagree with the model's treatment for
They argue that the theory behind it doesn't explain domestic
same-sex couples, or child abuse. And despite such treatments,
overall tougher responses by law enforcement, domestic violence
According to the July 2000
National Violence Against Women Survey,
conducted by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for
Control and Prevention, one in four of the 8,000 women interviewed
had been assaulted, stalked, or raped by an intimate at some point
life. On the basis of this figure and others, the researchers
the 141 million women who live in the United States endure about
rapes and physical assaults by intimate partners every year. The
men who live in the U.S. suffer approximately 2.9 million such
It's not surprising, then, that a recent Urban Institute study of
statistics in the District of Columbia revealed that one of the
victims of violent crime in Washington is a woman battered in a
Thus, researchers and clinicians
are increasingly searching for more
effective ways to treat batterers-a quest only hastened by the
several large-scale experimental studies of Duluth-style programs,
have suggested that such treatments may not be any more effective
treatment at all.
"Abusers have a sense of
powerlessness over their emotions," argues
Stosny. "They say, 'You can make me feel things I can't handle.' So
to control your behavior to regulate their emotion. That's the
for abuse. It's more than negative attitudes toward women.
"Nothing in feminism isn't true,"
he says. "The feminist view is just
too superficial for treatment. It doesn't explain what is the
controlling someone else."
Stosny's Compassion Workshop was
one of the first departures from
Duluth-style interventions to be accepted by local courts. Stosny
new group at Reid Temple every three months. Two other groups
his organization, CompassionPower Inc., run at the same time in
locations. Stosny also licenses the Compassion Workshop to other
providers, which run groups across the country and abroad. Duluth
programs, however, are still more widespread. Baltimore and
example, direct domestic-violence offenders to Duluth-style
As a result, Stosny is considered something of a maverick
batterer-treatment providers and victims' advocates; his methods
controversial. But the Compassion Workshop, Stosny says, has had
impressive outcomes. According to his research, which is based on
reports, 86 percent of the people who complete his class
violence-free for a year.
His critics counter that there
has yet to be an independent evaluation
of the Compassion Workshop-a point that Stosny and his supporters
"It's a promising program, but
he's open to criticism until he's had
more rigorous testing," says Adele Harrell, director of the
Institute's Justice Policy Center, whose 1991 quasi-experimental
one of the first to find that conventional batterer treatments are
Even without definitive data
showing that Stosny's methods work, some
clinicians, judges, and prosecutors who face the everyday dilemma
of what to
do with batterers have been willing to take Stosny at his word and
"Everything is not easy. Life
isn't a 22-minute situation comedy with
a resolution," says Prince George's County District Court Judge
Lewis, who heads the court's Domestic Violence Coordinating Council
sends batterers to the Compassion Workshop. "We're trying to
lifetime of learned behavior. It's not simple."
"My take is: whatever works,"
says retired Prince George's County
Circuit Court Judge Theresa Nolan, who was the first judge to send
George's defendants to Stosny. "If we can change this man's
worth a shot."
Two weeks before Christmas,
Stosny is poised before his class, face to
face with John, who has volunteered to let Stosny demonstrate a key
of the Compassion Workshop.
"Think of a time you got angry
recently," Stosny instructs John.
"When my wife called the police
when I was trying to discipline my
child," John replies.
"It was a shock to you when they
came to the door, wasn't it?" Stosny
asks. "The initial reaction is, 'What's going on?'"
"When did you realize why they
"I knew right away," John
replies. "I talked to my wife about a
problem with my son, and we had an altercation."
"Feel that anger just for a
moment," Stosny says. "Feel it in your
neck, your shoulders, your stomach."
Stosny turns to the class. "When
you get angry, you can feel it. It
starts at the neck and goes down." He demonstrates, lifting his
slightly, clenching his fists and his teeth. "You get into revenge
you want to bash something-not that you would, of course."
Stosny relaxes his body and faces
John again. He is about to
demonstrate the cornerstone of his workshop, something he calls
To combat their feelings of
powerlessness, Stosny believes abusers
must learn to empower themselves by valuing themselves and their
"If they don't, they will empower themselves self-destructively
and drugs, and antisocially by abusing their loved ones," he
Abusers can empower themselves, he contends, by learning to
emotions. On the Web site for CompassionPower, Stosny describes
HEALS as a
"new technology of emotional regulation skill [that] allows
replace focus on injury...with instant focus on healing and
"HEALS" is a mnemonic. The H
represents "See HEALS flash four times";
the E stands for "Experience your core hurt"-or the pain that you
the anger to avoid; the A means "Access your core value"-or get in
with your compassionate side; the L stands for "Love yourself"-or
yourself lovable by feeling compassion for whoever is making you
the S stands for "Solve the problem."
Stosny demands that each
participant in the Compassion Workshop master
the technique by going through the steps of HEALS 45 to 72 times a
a total of 720 times by the time the course ends, so that it will
automatic whenever anger threatens to overcome a potential
like shooting foul shots," Stosny explains.)
"See the word 'HEALS' flash
across her face four times," Stosny tells
John, flashing his fingers in front of John's face four times like
magician casting a spell.
"Feel your deepest core hurt,"
Stosny continues. "In your case, it's
powerlessness. Now, let all your defenses down. Really feel it.
Say, 'I feel
1"I feel powerless," John replies
in a monotone.
Then, with the gusto of a Method
acting coach, Stosny declares: "She
is living in your head rent-free, controlling your head." He scans
face for evidence that the message is getting through and then says
normal voice, "You're resisting it. You want to go deeper."
"Now go to your core value, to
the part of you that would save a child
in the desert, the part of you that loves your children," Stosny
can choose not to feel angry. Now expand that. Love yourself. You
that by feeling compassion for her core hurt. What do you think
It's the same one, right? Powerlessness. You can sympathize with
just felt it."
"Now, are you going to solve the
problem better feeling anger or
"Compassion," John replies.
"Do you feel it?" Stosny
Stosny shakes his hand. Both men
take a step away from each other and
face the class, which applauds.
Stosny believes his HEALS
approach has applications far beyond
abusers, so he has turned the Compassion Workshop into a full-time
called CompassionPower. ("'Power' comes out of the word
Stosny likes to point out.) The organization's Web site
"CompassionPower" as "Emotional intelligence for Eating Control,
Work, Love, Health, and Self-Esteem." Stosny has designed nine
using HEALS for everything from reckless drivers to overeaters and
It may all sound excessively
trendy and even New Age touchy-feely, but
some of these spinoff workshops are even being championed by
officials in the Washington metro area. Virginia and Maryland are
Stosny's aggressive-drivers' intervention on people arrested for
driving; D.C. is about to adopt it as well. Stosny also recently
officials from Lockheed Martin Information Management Systems,
which has a
contract with the District to move people from welfare to work, to
incorporating aspects of the Compassion Workshop into job-training
Stosny is also a sought-after
speaker and has trained people to run
Compassion Workshops in about a dozen countries. For such
typically charges $200 an hour. The workshops themselves don't
he says, because at least half of his clients can't afford to pay
(He doesn't turn anyone away for financial reasons, he says,
because to do
so would send the wrong "social message.") But he's able to draw
most of his
income from speaking and consulting and now sees only a handful of
Growing up in Camden, N.J., in
the '50s, Stosny says, he could not
have guessed that he would one day build a business working with
especially given how he got the dent in the back of his head.
When he was a child, he relates,
he upset a pile of roofing shingles
his father had stacked while making repairs to their house. In a
rage, his father threw one of the shingles at him so hard that a
later had to remove a piece that had gotten lodged in his head.
a point of mentioning this to workshop participants. What he
them is that besides the hole in the head, his father knocked out
teeth. And, he adds in private, "There's a small scar on my neck
His late mother, however, bore
the brunt of the abuse. "The pain of
witnessing her abuse surpassed the pain of [my] being abused," he
Both his parents were alcoholics.
And both, he recalls, were abusive
when they drank-although loving when they were sober. The police
their door about once a month; an ambulance, two or three times a
the time he was 11, Stosny says, his mother had left his father 19
She would have gone back the last time, too, he says, but his
A few years later, his mother
remarried, this time to a man Stosny
describes as "wonderful and compassionate." The two experienced a
conversion and stopped drinking. His mother's newfound faith
awakened her to
the idea of compassion for herself and others-an idea that would
basis for Stosny's treatment. "My mother's intuition and
invaluable to developing this theory," he says.
It would be years, however,
before Stosny had any professional
interest in domestic violence. He originally pursued a career as
playwright. But he eventually grew tired of the theater, and when
nearly 40, he decided to switch tracks and go for a master's degree
clinical social work.
In graduate school, Stosny agreed
to fill in for a friend who had to
back out of a domestic-violence research project. As he read the
he says, he became intrigued by the problem of abusers resisting
In 1990, two years after he'd begun to work with batterers himself,
in on a Duluth-style treatment group at the House of Ruth in
walked away unimpressed. "It was obvious that invoking guilt and
people who could not value themselves would only lead them to blame
punish all the more," he says.
So one of the first projects
Stosny undertook was to find a better way
to engage abusers, most of whom are usually court-ordered into
created a video called Shadows of the Heart, which he tested in
1994 in a
randomized experiment with 106 spouse abusers drawn from seven
nonprofit agencies. His results indicated, he says, that the film
increased participation in the group-treatment process."
Over the years, Stosny has not
been shy about criticizing conventional
batterer treatment. And that, combined with his entrepreneurship,
him his share of critics, who accuse him of coddling abusers and of
little more than a slick salesman.
"He's good at taking simple
things and making them look beautiful,"
notes Leila Becker, clinical director of the Family Crisis Center
Hyattsville, Md. "He's a good statistician. He's good at making it
he gets good outcomes. Most programs are not good at marketing.
limping along, doing activist work, victim work, and batterer
"There are a lot of people who
would like to believe there are
shortcuts," says Louise Machen, who has worked with batterers in
using a Duluth-style intervention for the past 15 years. "That's
what the court system would like to believe-that there's a magic
can turn batterers into empathetic human beings, and it doesn't
anything. Stosny is feeding into that."
Few aspects of Stosny's approach
get his critics going the way Shadows
of the Heart does. They offer the film as the ultimate proof that
methods are not only wrongheaded but also irresponsible.
The film opens with the image of
a teddy bear dropping to the floor
near an empty rocking chair. The production values are low, the
daytime-television bad. The acting, it turns out, isn't much
A tall, slender man in his 30s,
wearing too much eyeliner, sits
impatiently in a waiting room. He's greeted by a doughy counselor
broadcast-news announcer's voice: "Hi, Brent. I'm really glad you
"I didn't exactly have a choice,
did I?" Brent sneers, trying to
hammer the counselor into submission with hyperenunciation.
Unperturbed, the counselor leads
him to another room where Tyrone, a
peer counselor, sits waiting for him. Tyrone and the counselor try
Brent to confront the pain he feels-pain that he has surrounded
"electric fence" of anger. The pain can be healed by rescuing "the
As Brent goes through the rescue
of his inner child, a small boy with
jagged teeth appears sitting in a rocking chair with a teddy
Presumably, he is a young Brent. The boy hears crockery shattering
running up the stairs. A woman, presumably his mother, suddenly
room and picks him up. A drunken man, presumably his father,
after her. The father pulls the boy away from his mother and
him down on a bed, where the child gets a front-row view of his
whacking his mother several times.
"He needs you to take him out of
here. You're his only chance," the
counselor implores in voice-over as the adult Brent enters the
up the little boy, and carries him out.
"Looking back into the past and
rescuing your inner child?" asks
Machen, who saw the video several years ago. "[Stosny's treatment]
focus enough on holding these men accountable for what they've
Machen doesn't necessarily
disagree with Stosny's theory that
deep-seated feelings of shame are at the root of abusive behavior:
well be right. Many of the men were certainly horribly abused as
Nobody gets to a stage like this growing up in a healthy house. But
what? That sounds cavalier, but that's just not where I'd start in
with them. These are very manipulative folks.
"You have to get them to the
point," Machen concludes, "where they
understand there's a reason for them to be [in treatment]. I don't
you've done anything with them if you send them out believing
victims, because they already believe that's what they are."
Stosny says Machen and other
critics misunderstand his methods. "[The
video] is just a setup to make them feel compassion," he says.
knee-jerk reaction of advocates comes because they do not read
instructions for processing the video that come with it. They take
'child within' material literally."
In his manual for Compassion
Workshop group leaders, Stosny explains
that no one is actually supposed to do the rescue described in the
as he tells me later, "It's just so I can say [to the class]
'Which did you prefer: Feeling anger or compassion?' And they
Though Stosny's program is
designed not to alienate abusers, he still
runs into his share of resistance. When he lectures, he likes to
classes with insights gleaned from studies about everything from
between the sexes (men most fear shame; women most fear physical
the reason people tend to get into fights at funerals (they're
grief via anger). Stosny sometimes dishes these out with humor
part isn't breaking up-it's waking up!") but always with an air
confidence that seems to suggest that psychology has solved all
mysteries of the psyche with complete precision.
People in the group usually seem
most receptive when Stosny talks
about the physiological dimensions of anger or strategies for
struggles with people. But at times, the gulf between the tweedy
and his largely working-class pupils is obvious. For example,
protest when Stosny tries to explain why corporal punishment never
"Ask [your kids] about the last
four times you spanked them," Stosny
says. "Ask them what it was for. Research shows one out of four
why; the rest only remember the spanking."
A man in a Verizon baseball cap
immediately begs to differ: "Even the
Bible, in Proverbs 22:15, says, 'The rod will drive foolishness out
heart of a child.'"
"Why does that mean spank them?"
Stosny counters. "Biblical scholars
have argued that the rod stands for authority. It doesn't mean you
"You give us the opportunity to
say things, but you don't let us
express ourselves fully," the man in the cap replies huffily. "You
this were interactive, [the program would take] 36 weeks. So you
not interactive. Fine. But I spank my kids and they know why."
"Ask them why," Stosny says
calmly. "Tell us next week what they say."
It's hard to tell whether the man
in the Verizon cap is in the
majority or the minority in the group. During a break, he tells me
But about half of Compassion
Workshop participants seem to actually
enjoy being in the class, which I have signed on to attend to try
understand how it works. The table where I sit each week is
most pro-Stosny clique in the entire group. It includes a guy whom
refer to as Gary, another fellow whom I'll call George, and an
The husband in the couple has already been through the class once;
can return whenever they want for free, alone or with their
shares his Ice Breaker gum with them. He's also a bit of a class
Stosny asks class members what they will do the next time they are
grins and pretends to break a window with an imaginary hammer.
into chuckles. Stosny takes all this in stride. To him, it's a sign
they are paying attention.
After several weeks in the class,
John says he's practiced HEALS only
a few times. "It's not practical," he says. "I'm not an angry
begin with. It's not like I fought with every person I met or [I
in traffic, in lines, or at shopping centers-not me. I know
specifically what makes me angry. Experience your core hurt? I
enough material [to practice with]. I had to bring up the same bad
It's too unrealistic."
John is not the only one having
trouble with HEALS. At the end of the
third class, a burly guy with a mustache and glasses hovers by the
speak to Stosny. "I'm just not getting it," he says.
I remember him from the first
night. I was sitting next to him when he
turned to me and said abruptly, "I've been married 23 years, and
I'd like to
keep it that way!"
His name is Bill. Unlike most of
the class, he is not here on a court
order. He is a volunteer. But his path here wasn't really much
from the others'.
One evening a few months earlier,
Bill says, he got into an argument
with his wife, Rosa. During the argument, Rosa got up on the couch
started flailing at him. "She's yelling, 'What the hell are you
out of the house! I want a divorce!'" he says. "I grab her arm
wailing about my head, and my hand ends up around her throat. In
the heat of
everything, I realize I'm squeezing her throat, so I broke off and
myself in the bedroom so she wouldn't come after me. And I was
afraid I was
going to go out of control and going to be incarcerated for a long
Rosa didn't call the police.
Instead, the couple went to counseling.
Bill says he had never hit Rosa before, but he had been arrested
assaulting others. He started taking medication for depression.
however, wasn't helping him control his anger, which he and Rosa
continued to be a problem. So Bill volunteered to go to
"I knew I had some kind of a
problem," he says. "I didn't know how to
Back in Fellowship Hall I, Bill
tells Stosny after class that he's
already tried the audio tape of the HEALS steps that Stosny has
for free or sold to participants for $5. (You're supposed to play
it in your
car so you can practice whenever you're getting pissed off in
it hasn't worked. Stosny roots around in his bag and comes back
CD-ROM. He's just finished making it, he tells Bill. It flashes the
HEALS on a computer screen; maybe visualizing HEALS will help,
suggests. Bill shrugs, tucks the CD under his arm, and goes on his
As the weeks roll by, a 12-foot
Christmas tree appears in the corner
of Fellowship Hall I for several sessions. After New Year's, it
Stosny starts showing up wearing stubble. By February, he has grown
beard. Most strikingly, however, the number of students dwindles
from a peak
of about 30 to about a dozen. Some of the original participants
transferred to sessions in other locations or time slots. Others
Stosny says the dropout rate for
the Compassion Workshop is about 30
percent, which is slightly better than average for groups that deal
batterers. At the Family Crisis Center, the rate is about 45
according to Becker. And at Anger Domestic Abuse Prevention and
Fairfax County, which has switched from Duluth-style interventions
Stosny's, the dropout rate is about 50 percent, according to
coordinator Sam Bachman. Participants who drop out or don't even
show up for
the first class may face penalties such as jail time, but that
the judge-a situation that leads many who work with batterers to
an intervention is only as good as the response of the
system that goes with it. Stosny, by contrast, believes whether the
throws the book at them or not is irrelevant; people don't come
back when an
intervention isn't reaching them.
Those who stick with Stosny to
the end must complete the final and
most difficult leg of the course: reading a "statement of
statement has certain requirements. First, you have to describe
what you did
in explicit terms. Then you must relate how your abusive behavior
your victim, your family, yourself. Finally, you have to lay out
are going to do to make sure you don't abuse or control anyone
The reading of the statements is
the climax of the Compassion
Workshop. Short of tracking the progress of each participant over
year, this is, for all intents and purposes, the most concrete
you're going to get of whether these batterers have learned to mend
Just as they did on the first
day, the group members sit in tense
silence. One of the first to get up is Gary. Everyone has come to
as the guy whose jokes have made the class tolerable, the one who
shares his gum. And now, for the first time, everyone knows Gary as
who knocked his mother down after they argued over some repairs to
His voice chokes up as he
describes the incident. He and his mother
had a mutually verbally abusive relationship, he explains. He's
out and hasn't seen her in more than a year. "I think I can keep
retracted," he says, his voice growing steady. "I now have
others. I can understand where they're coming from. It keeps me
upset. Since I've taken this course, it's helped me out so much. I
everyone should take it."
With few exceptions, the
experience of getting up in front of the
group and baring their souls proves to be just as emotional for the
the participants. One man has brought his wife along for the first
she sits in a chair looking up at him, he recounts how the couple
the way to pick up their marriage license. Both were arrested, but
the only one who landed in the Compassion Workshop. Nonetheless, he
shared what he learned with his wife. "Now when she gets mad, I
baby, HEALS,'" he says, drawing a few chuckles.
One of the last to read his
statement is Bill. The CD-ROM, he tells me
later, did the trick. "It's very visual. I played it on my computer
day, sometimes over and over and over. It started sinking in. It
calming me down," he says. "I'm treating my kids better. The
my house is much calmer. I don't go from Level 1 to Level 10 in a
don't take off like a rocket."
When I ask Rosa if she's noticed
any difference, she confirms Bill's
report. "He's able to stop and not react right away and take in
information than he used to," she says, although there seems to be
a note of
caution in her voice. "His relationship with the kids is better.
was a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type person. People were scared of him. We
scared of him. I think it got to the point, we were so frightened,
help or we were out."
"We've got our heads together
more; we're working in tandem," Bill
says of Rosa. "Hopefully, I'll be with her another 23 years."
After an hour, everyone has
spoken, with one exception: John. Stosny
doesn't press him. He simply gets up and starts to hand out
everyone else. They're green-bordered affairs, the kind you get
junior-high graduations. They declare that each participant "has
the requirements of the Compassion Workshop." There's a little gold
embossed with the words "Emotional Regulation" and
A week or so after the final
class, John agrees to a phone interview.
"My expectations [for the
Compassion Workshop] were low," he says. "I
learned so much in the first [court-ordered treatment I went to], I
learn much more on this topic that would help me in everyday life.
that altercations, whether you've initiated them or not, are not
solve problems, and you can't make anyone do something they don't
forgot that for half a second."
John says he will continue in the
Compassion Workshop. (According to
Stosny, those who don't finish the last assignment have to start
knows he will probably have to read a statement of compassion at
especially if he wants the course to count in his favor when he
his upcoming trial on assault charges. But he says he just couldn't
himself to do it the other day. He told Stosny so before the last
"I'm not an angry person to begin
with," John says. "I told [Stosny]
this from the beginning-that in all my years, I've never gotten in
with anyone. I seldom get angry or lose my temper. I don't yell
arguments. I'm not sure why that's the case with me, but the two
gotten in trouble, I was surprised. I was basically caught off
not sure HEALS helps in those situations where you're caught off
Unlike Brent in Shadows of the
Heart, John says, he did not grow up in
a violent home. "Maybe we should've yelled more. I wasn't as well
to handle it." When they married 16 years ago, he says, his
me as a gentle person," he recalls.
Their kids are the main reason
they still see each other even though
they divorced six years ago.
John attributes their divorce
largely to differences in religion. His
ex-wife, however, says a bigger factor was his abuse. "At first,
was not directed toward me," she recalls in a separate interview.
was, it was few and far between at first. Then the cycles got
shorter as time went on, particularly during difficult
The incident John was arrested
for, she says, was not the first time
he had become violent with her. It was just the first time she had
"Even if it was not a happy
marriage, I probably would've dealt with
it indefinitely," she muses. "People like me who end up like this
willing to love their partners, so willing to overlook way too
wouldn't take much for people like me to want to continue the
Stopping the abuse would be all it took. You think that would be a
thing, but it's an impossible thing. To this day, he'll say he
touched me. Ask him where the bruises came from. He doesn't
Indeed, John doesn't mention any
past incidents of violence, only
recent close calls. "I did go back at one point" to the first
program, he says. "I had gotten angry about something with my
ex-wife, and I
went back to talk to them."
But he doubts he will keep in
touch with Stosny after he finishes the
Compassion Workshop. He doesn't feel the same affinity with him. "I
feeling [Stosny] is good at this, but I didn't think he was doing
help us, because we were helping him with his research and his
In the other group, I felt connected to the people running it."
His ex-wife, however, says she
has seen more results since John has
been in the Compassion Workshop. "I don't think [the first class]
him. I think its target was a different kind of person, someone
very overtly violent," she says. "[The Compassion Workshop] does
be doing a better job. I see instances that in the past would have
that [now] seem to be checked. I definitely see better work
than in the previous class." But, she adds, John may also be on his
behavior because there is a trial coming up. She isn't so sure he
be violent toward her again.
Though John says he can keep
himself under control, he doesn't sound
completely sure, either. "For all these years and all the ups and
our marriage, I was able to handle everything except being
surprised by a reaction from my ex-wife that I couldn't have
the 1 percent of things I have a hard time with. That's hard to
By Stosny's estimation, this Reid
Temple group was a success. Yet the
14 percent recidivism rate he boasts of still applies. It means
least a couple of the participants who completed the class will
their partners again within a year, though according to studies of
programs, those who re-offend usually do so within the first three
Whether John is likely to be among the recidivists, Stosny doesn't
prediction. But, he says, if he does suspect that one of his pupils
dangerous, he makes sure to warn that batterer's potential
The victims, after all, are why
Stosny and the others who work with
batterers do what they do. And why they aren't likely to give up
"It's similar to substance
abuse," says Janet Dennis, a court advocate
for domestic-violence victims with Turning Points, a battered
program in Dumfries, Va., who used to run batterers' groups as
not naive enough to think everyone who goes through this treatment
cured....I can never tell you if they're cured. They're probably
cured. We just hope we're keeping people a little safer and that
take some of those skills and change their lives."
"I'm not saying any of these
programs are right or wrong," echoes Vic
Bogo, Turning Points' men's groups coordinator, who has worked
batterers for 25 years and runs both Duluth groups and Compassion
"They're just different ways of getting to the same thing: to
behavior and make it safer for the abused.
"We don't know what the answer
is," Bogo continues. "We deal with this
big elephant that exists in America, and we're all taking different
of it and trying to fathom the best way to do this. I'm not sure
really there yet." CP
Copyright © 2001 Washington Free Weekly Inc.
information on the Compassion Workshop programs, training of
trainers, outcome studies, etc click here.
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