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Engaging the unengaged: Motivating a man to change his violent behaviour

It’s the age-old question of men’s behaviour change work – how do we motivate a man to change his violent behaviour? While many practitioners working with men who use violence agree it’s not their responsibility to make a man change, most will say their job is to guide a man towards an understanding that he can change. We recently spoke to renowned motivational change expert, Ken McMaster, to peel back what ‘engagement’ in men’s behaviour change work really means.

Over 30 years, Ken McMaster has researched, written and spoken extensively on motivating men to change their violent behaviour and will present at this years’ Australasian Working Together to End Men’s Family Violence on 22 and 23 May 2019.

His talent for translating the theory of men’s domestic and sexual violence into meaningful insights, both in his books and at conferences, has earnt him critical acclaim throughout the government and community sectors.

Why have you chosen to present on Engagement – creating the conditions for behaviour change to stick at this conference?

“We all know that getting men to the starting line for attendance at a Men’s Behaviour Change Program (MBCP) can be a real challenge. It can also be a challenge to keep them there.

How men turn up is equally important. All of us have experienced men ‘doing their time’ in programs rather than being really committed to behaviour change.

For me, this is a real problem in that we know that partners are more likely to consider returning to relationships when men head off to a program. This goes to the very nature of hope, and also the asking (sometimes pleading) for the violence to stop.

Why is finding a motivational fit between a client and an MBCP important?

Finding the motivational fit is important for a few reasons:

  • Finding the desire, reason or need to change is critical for engaged work. Doing time in programs does not reduce risk. On the other hand, it may increase risk if participants perceive attendance as a punitive experience. The result can be lateral violence back into the relationship.
  • Many participants come to the experience of MBC programs with feelings of ambivalence and it is the role of the worker to support the person to resolve this ambivalence in order to work in a direction that promotes family wellbeing.
  • Program retention has been associated with better outcomes. This makes sense. Once a participant is engaged in understanding the drivers for behaviour, they become invested and interested in the outcomes. They will then use the experience more effectively.

Does whether someone is mandated or self-refers, have a significant difference on how the client engages?

Resolving ambivalence and developing motivation applies to all men entering a program, no matter the route they take to get there. Today, most men are referred to programs either formally (through Courts, Probation and Parole, Child Safety) or informally (through pressure from family, friends or significant others in their lives). Engagement is therefore an issue for all men accessing interventions. Even those who appear willing at the start of a program can push back once confronted with the reality that they have to change their behaviour.

There are parallels that can be drawn between the struggle to engage a man who uses violence to change, next to the struggle to engage men in the wider community to change their complacency on the issue of violence against women. How can we better engage the resistant man on the street who thinks domestic violence isn’t their problem?

Over recent times we have witnessed a push-back in some areas regarding a focus upon safety for women and children. Motivating a wider audience of men to man up and take a position of resistance against family violence is also important to bring about systemic change. Just as it applies in MBCPs, conversations, rather than argumentation are the key to this endeavour. I look forward to canvasing some of these strategies to bring about social change in my session at the conference.

What do you hope people will take away from your session?

By the end of my session and workshop, participants will be able to:

  • Respond to ambivalence in participants who are mandated to programs
  • Have several strategies in place that will enhance engagement and retention in interventions
  • Assist participants to identify concrete change goals that relate to family wellbeing and safety
  • Respond to discord that often presents when participants are mandated to programs.

To read more about Ken’s session or register for the Australasian Working Together to End Men’s Family Violence Conference, click here.