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Therapy for men teaches how to avoid violence, domestic abuse

With a rise in domestic violence incidents provincewide, a bit of additional funding and the growing acceptance of online therapy, 4Korners created an English-language program to offer therapy to men who need it.

New English-language course in the Laurentians gives men tools to manage outbursts

Derek looks forward to the Living Without Violence course each week, where he learns how to better manage his anger and other emotions. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

During the month of December, CBC is working with 4Korners to showcase stories of people in our community who are making a difference for our "Make the Season Kind" campaign. For more stories and to learn more about this campaign, visit cbc.ca/bekindqc and make a donation to the Living Without Violence program here.


Each week, Derek* looks forward to booting up his computer, signing on to a video conference and joining other men for an hour-long group therapy session.

This is where he learns to better manage his anger and emotions, and curb his impulsivity.

"I would fly off the handle. I would just blow my gasket, just like that," he says.

He's participating in the Living Without Violence course which is being offered by 4Korners, the community organization that offers services to English-speakers in the Laurentians.

It's a course designed to teach men with violent tendencies to become more self-aware and manage their anger — all with the aim of decreasing violent outbursts.

Executive director of 4Korners, Stephanie Helmer, says men would come to her organization asking for help but they had little to offer until now. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

A first in the Laurentians

The course was created in close collaboration with two French-language organizations in the region, Accroc and Paix, that help counter violence by helping men.

The first cohort of the 20-week English course is about halfway through, and a second began about a month ago. Each group includes four participants, two moderators and an observer.

Stephanie Helmer, the executive director of 4Korners, says there was a need in the English-speaking community for a course like this.

"We had a few people reach out asking for help for their violent tendencies and we had to work really hard to find a resource for them in English," she says.

One of the main challenges faced by her organization, which covers a huge geographic territory, was to have enough participants and facilitators that live close enough together to make group sessions possible.

She says the pandemic offered an opportunity to do things differently.

With a rise in domestic violence incidents provincewide, a bit of additional funding and the growing acceptance of online therapy, Helmer worked with Paix and Accroc to translate existing courses from French to English, train facilitators and begin offering therapy to men who need it.

"It's not a Band-Aid," she says. "It's very preventive. We're giving them the tools for something to not happen."

Helmer says it took about $25,000 to get the Living Without Violence program up and running. Another $25,000 is now needed to keep it going for another year.

Tools to manage anger

Conrad Popko, one of two course facilitators, says a big part of the program is to teach men how to manage their emotions and avoid "pressure cooker" situations.

He teaches the men to learn to identify their emotions, not only anger but also sadness, stress and embarrassment, then recognize when they feel an outburst coming and how to step away before it explodes.

A tool he teaches is the "time out" where men are taught to communicate they need to take a break from a situation or conversation. They leave for 15 minutes to two hours so they can calm down before returning to the situation.

"We've all seen it in movies, or maybe in real life, where there is an argument and the guy storms out, slams the door, and he's gone for the night," he says.

"It's another type of psychological violence where the partner has no idea if he's coming back or whatever."

He says the men are taught they can only change their own behaviour, and how to "communicate on an adult level."

Conrad Popko, a facilitator of the Living Without Violence program, teaches men how to change their behaviours to better control violent outbursts. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

Breaking the cycle of violence

Derek says he recognizes violence doesn't need to be physical. He says he first sought help three years ago, when he and his children's mother separated and he took the 20-week course in French.

After a second bad breakup with the same partner, he felt he needed to take the course again, to relearn tools he had lost.

"The cycle [of violence] keeps going until you break that cycle," he says. "It's hard to do it on your own … this group is absolutely amazing in that respect."

Derek says his main motivation for taking the course is his three young boys.

"They watch me," he says. "And they can adopt my behaviours in a flash."

He says it was hard for him to reach out for help at first, but he now feels proud of taking part in the course.

Social worker and professor Pierre L'Heureux has spent more than 35 years working in the field of family violence, specifically with men. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

'It's seldom talked about'

Social worker and Université de Montréal professor Pierre L'Heureux has dedicated his life's work to mitigating family violence by working with men.

He works with Accroc and Paix as a clinical advisor, and was instrumental in providing the teaching materials for English translation. He was surprised that there is no dedicated funding to help men with violent tendencies in English health and social services.

"Since there are no services, it's seldom talked about, or talked around," he says.

He says there has been an increase in the number of men seeking this kind of therapy, which he's convinced helps prevent domestic violence. But while he thinks the increased demand is a good thing, it also means that many organizations now have waiting lists.

He feels there is a wind of change, with the government investing more in organizations that help men. He says he's seen "moves" such as additional investments, a special tribunal for victims of sexual and domestic violence and tracking bracelets for dangerous partners that he and others working with both men and women had been wanting for many years.

"It's all too unfortunate that it took what we've been through this year for this to finally go on," he says. "Some of these things should have happened years ago."

LISTEN| Hear the full report:

Helping men who have violent tendencies is part of the solution in countering domestic violence. In the Laurentians, 4Korners partnered with two French-speaking organizations, ACCROC and PAIX, to offer an English program called Living Without Violence. CBC's Marika Wheeler joins guest host Peter Tardif in studio to talk about some of the tricks and tools men who struggle with anger management are learning.

Support is available for anyone affected by intimate partner violence. You can access support services and local resources in Canada by visiting this website. If your situation is urgent, please contact emergency services in your area.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marika Wheeler

CBC Quebec's travelling journalist

Based in Quebec City, Marika travels across the province telling the stories of people who live and work in la belle province for CBC Radio One and CBCnews.ca.

*CBC has changed this name to protect the identity of his children.

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