Kelowna team brings new approach to help STOP violence | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna team brings new approach to help STOP violence

Bill and Susannah-Joy Schuilenburg help men deal with their anger towards their partners
January 15, 2019 - 7:30 AM

KELOWNA - People aren’t violent towards their partners just because they’re angry.

They’re violent, most often, because they haven’t dealt with the underlying causes for their anger and haven’t learned different ways of behaving.

That’s one of the key concepts underlying the STOP program that was piloted in Kelowna about 18 months ago through the John Howard Society. STOP stands for: Stop Taking it Out on your Partner (Domestic Violence Prevention Program).

“They (participants) understand that anger is a secondary emotion,” Bill Schuilenburg told “The primary emotion will be fear or shame or frustration or injustice.”

“Emotional abuse strikes to the core of who that person is,” added his wife Susannah-Joy Schuilenburg. “When it’s done in childhood, you get men in adulthood who live with an overwhelming sense of shame,”

The Schuilenburgs are psychotherapists who bring a unique change to the program that was created in Prince George 20 years ago and is just now spreading to other B.C. cities.

In Prince George, it was always taught by one male and one female trained facilitator. This is the first time a married couple who are both therapists have led the program and, as a consequence, are revamping some of the course material.

As a married couple, they model appropriate behavior when there are disagreements.

As therapists, they get to the underlying reasons a person is violent toward his or her partner.

“One thing that we incorporate into every session are some mindfulness exercises,” Bill said. “You have to learn to regulate your emotions and you needs skills to do that. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter what you’re battling, whether it’s addiction or anger or stress. If you can’t learn to self-regulate, you’re in trouble no matter what the battle is."

And people who are angry and violent towards their partners are often the same towards others.

“Most people will say 'I go from zero to ballistic in a heartbeat,'” Bill said. “So, that’s one thing we cover. We show them that there are actually seven or eight steps that you can learn to identify. First your heart rate might go up. Your ears might turn red and you might start trembling – all kinds of physical expression of emotion.”

Recognition of those symptoms is the first step towards learning how to deal with them effectively.

But, first of all, each of the 10-12 week sessions start with a definition of violence.

“We use the one from Mahatma Gandhi: Any attempt to impose my will on another is an act of violence,” Susannah-Joy said, citing a case of a man who started off saying he wasn’t violent because he didn’t hit women. After he was given that definition, he wilted and stopped claiming not to be an abuser.

The Schuilenburgs have run four sessions and there is funding in place for four more. While it’s sponsored by the John Howard Society and the provincial government is promoting it throughout the province, funding each session is an ongoing struggle.

Some sessions have been funded through the Civil Forfeiture Fund (from property seized from criminals) but two are being paid for by the RCMP’s Family Violence initiative Fund.

They’re hoping to do one session just for women.

“Women can be violent as well,” Bill said. “It’s a human propensity, not a gender-based character flaw.”

Women tend to be more emotionally abusive than physically, but that kind of abuse can be as bad or worse than the physical kind.

The sessions have a maximum capacity of 12 men and are generally composed of men who are at risk of being criminally violent referred by the RCMP or social agencies.

The program is strictly voluntary. That’s a major plus since there’s a lot better buy-in from someone who realizes their behavior is unacceptable than someone forced to take the session.

There are also a couple of evenings where Susannah-Joy meets with the partners. The first is a couple of weeks in and serves to deal with expectations of outcomes. The second is near the end where partners talk about progress made.

“I love those meetings,” she said. “Some of those women are pretty skeptical when they come to the first partners meeting. Most of their partners have been through some other program prior to this one.... But at (last week’s) partner’s meeting, it was so gratifying to hear them talk about how much and what’s changed.”

And, she stressed, this is a journey, not something that can be changed in one 25-hour session.

The program is free of charge and can be accessed by contacting the John Howard Society or the Schuilenburgs at William & Associates Counselling Services.

The program is outlined on the John Howard Society website.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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