The Stalker Stabilization Program: An Introduction
From The Stalker Stabilization Program developed by Lenore Walker, Ed.D. and Daniel Sonkin, Ph.D.
The Stalker Stabilization Program has been developed for men who have been ordered by the court to stay away from their partner and placed on an electronic monitoring system to ensure compliance. The program's primary goal is to help men learn to control impulses toward stalking behaviors and thereby comply with court orders to stay away from their partner for a specified period of time.
Research has demonstrated that most men who abuse women need long-term, offender-specific treatment to change their violent behavior. This process begins with (1) the assessment and stabilization phase, followed by (2) extended management and (3) long-term recovery. The Stalker Stabilization Program provides methods for addressing the unique goals of the first phase, assessment and stabilization, with this particular population of male batterers, while also preparing these individuals for the latter phases of the treatment process.
Cognitive and behavioral therapies provide the methodology that is used in the Stalker Stabilization Program. Both theories are designed to be problem-focused and short-term in nature, and therefore work well with the Stalker external electronic monitoring device, which has been developed to be utilized for approximately 12 weeks. However, as with most treatment models, not all clients will benefit either on the first try or at all. Therefore, some abusers may need to repeat the sessions until they gain greater control over their behaviors or are referred to adjunctive treatment resources in the community. Similarly, not all treatment programs have space available at all times for new clients, therefore some men may need to repeat sessions in the stabilization groups until they can enter a long-term treatment program.
Because many men need long-term treatment in order to make lasting, substantive changes in their attitudes and behaviors, it is the author's assumption that the stabilization program will be a part of a long-term treatment plan for each client, involving various combinations of group, individual and, in some instances couples' or family therapy.
Batterers who are good candidates for the Stalker Stabilization Program are those who often demonstrate extreme dependence and need of their partner and have a history of overstepping interpersonal boundaries, which frequently manifests in one form of psychological violence, stalking and harassing behavior.
This program differs from other batterer treatment program models as it is specifically designed to identify and break the dysfunctional thought processes that contribute to over-dependency and intrusive behavior patterns. It serves as an initial step to preventing stalking as well as stopping the other forms of physical, sexual and psychological violence.
Many treatment programs are able to stop batterers from physical and sexual violence while in treatment. However, psychological abuse is not changed in many of these cases. The Stalker Stabilization Program specifically focuses on changing specific thought processes that contribute significantly to all forms of violence and that result from the need to control others in order to avoid overwhelming feelings of anxiety, dependency, loss and rejection.
Identifying Appropriate Participants for the Program
Not all male batterers are appropriate for the Stalker Stabilization Program, therefore a screening process is necessary to identify those individuals who are most likely to benefit from the intervention of a combination of electronic monitoring and treatment. Because no screening tool has yet been developed for this purpose, the screening process will improve as programs become aware, through evaluation studies, as to who is best suited for the program. Short of having specific data at this time, Stalker recommends that providers take into account the following information when making suitability determinations.
Although mental health professionals are not able to predict violent behavior with any degree of accuracy with the patient population in general, domestic violence clients are one exception to this rule. This is because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior (See Sonkin,1986 and Sonkin and Ellison, 1986). The vast majority of domestic violence defendants who enter into the criminal justice system already have a pre-existing history of violent behavior directed towards their current partner or previous partners. Therefore we can say with a certain amount of certainty that, short of any interventions, the client will continue to batter their partner.
Similarly, research has indicated that violence will not only re-occur in the future, but it will happen more frequently and more severely (See Walker, 1979, 1984, 1994). As a rule, a safe approach to assessing participation in the program is the greater the current lethality, the greater the need for limits and restraints.Therefore, it is recommended that programs use the Stalker system for individuals who do not pose an immediate lethal threat to their partner.
In those cases where the lethality is moderate to high use incarceration alternatives to assure victim safety. We encourage programs new to the Stalker Stabilization Program to choose perpetrators who are at the least lethal stage until they become better at assessing lethality and predicting who will best benefit from this form of intervention.
Screening guidelines and lethality assessment are discussed in further detail in the following chapter.
For the purposes of the Stalker Program, stalking includes any attempt on the perpetrator's behalf to follow, watch, harass, terrorize or otherwise contact his partner against her desires. These contacts include in-person, telephone, or mail contact or communications through other persons. Stalking also includes any specific threats to kill or otherwise harm her, as well as veiled threats to kill or harm. Stalking may also include mailing cards or other cryptic messages, breaking windows or vandalizing her property including the car, taking away her mail, leaving things, such as flowers, on her doorstep or at work, watching her from afar, hang-ups on the telephone or any other kinds of harassing behaviors.
Crime statistics indicate that more women than ever are being stalked and killed when they attempt to terminate a battering relationship. Contrary to popular opinion, ending the relationship does not stop the violence. In response, since 1990, 50 states have made stalking behavior illegal.
The most common legal definition of stalking is usually, "the willful, malicious and repeated following or harassing of another person and making a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family."
Harassing usually means the knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, torments or terrorizes the person and which serves no legitimate purpose.
Credible threat usually means the apparent ability to carry out the threat so as to cause the person who is the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family.
Course of conduct usually means a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose.
Stalking is a form of psychological violence that is particularly terrifying to most victims because they begin to believe that they can never be safe from their abuser.
Stalker Intervention Strategies
The batterers for whom the Stalker Stabilization Program has been designed represent a particularly difficult and potentially lethal group of perpetrators. The initial phase of the program focuses on containing the dysfunctional thinking that may lead to overwhelming anxiety and subsequent acting-out behavior, such as stalking. These interventions lead to the elimination other forms of destructive behavior by teaching new social skills with the accompanying rationales such as education about sex-role socialization processes and the causes of domestic violence.
An important assumption of the program is that men who batter women are capable of learning to not use violence as a way of coping with emotional stress. To do so they must learn to identify and change the thought patterns that contribute to destructive coping behaviors, while at the same time learn to manage their anger and other feelings and become emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally stabilized.
How the Program Works
Recent research on the psychology of male batterers indicates that these men have unhealthy attachment patterns that are strongly associated with anxiety, anger, jealousy and other forms of affective instability. Because of their own lack of self-esteem and worthiness, male batterers exhibit strong desires to attach to their partner, who can help them feel worthy and positive about themselves. However, at the same time, these men have strong feelings of distrust for others, and they greatly fear rejection. Because of this distrust and fear, they are vulnerable to interpreting rejection, or attacks on their character, even when not justified by objective measures.
For example, when a partner expresses her needs, he hears it as a criticism. When a partner pulls away because of her fear of his violence, he feels extremely threatened, and rather than only withdrawing, he reaches out with an even greater need for attachment. Hence, during a separation, a batterer is at risk for feeling the greatest amount of rejection, while at the same time, the greatest need for attachment in order to quell his anxiety.
The Stalker Stabilization Program works to help men learn to stop the dysfunctional thought patterns that only serve to escalate anxiety and incorrect perceptions of themselves and their partner, and may in turn lead to acting-out in the form of stalking or other violations of the court order. This differs from many programs for male batterers that use education and behavioral interventions as the basis for their interventions.
According to cognitive therapy theory developed by Beck (see references), there are three types of dysfunctional thought processes that are likely to lead to behavioral problems:
(1) Thoughts that represent the client's underlying negative beliefs about himself and the world (e.g., I am a bad person therefore my wife wants to leave me);
(2) Maladaptive thought patterns that only serve to escalate the negative affect and/or behavior (e.g., she will probably come back, it's over, it's going to take forever to earn her trust of me); and
(3) Irrational thoughts that do not represent reality and serve to escalate the negative affect and/or behavior (e.g., she left therefore she must be having an affair with another man).
Cognitive interventions proposed in Stalker Stabilization Program are specifically directed towards dysfunctional thinking processes that serve to escalate anxiety, anger and the need to re-attach to the partner as a means to quell emotional dysphoria. The program is geared toward teaching men how to soothe their own feelings resulting from the loss or separation rather than looking to external factors (their partner) to achieve this goal.
In addition to the cognitive interventions, the man is introduced to many of the educational concepts and behavioral techniques that will follow in the second and third stages of treatment. Lastly, emphasis is also placed on directing the batterer's focus on eating, sleeping, work, and other daily routines which can help him better cope with the emotional ups and downs of the separation process.
During the initial process, it is critical for the batterer not to feel stripped of all hope that his relationship and family will ever be put back together, even though a realistic appraisal of the situation is important, too. For example, saying to the batterer, "You have absolutely lost your family" before he has developed ways to deal with this loss (no matter how true it might appear to the stabilization counselor from contact with the victim advocate), can predictably escalate his dysfunctional thought processes and subsequent destructive behavior.
Instead, it is more beneficial for the stabilization program counselor to acknowledge his goals to get back with his family as legitimate while defining his current methods for accomplishing this goal as wrong, criminal, abusive, and designed to fail. Only by adopting new methods that are non-abusive can he learn whether or not his goal can be met.
One typical method that a batterer uses during an initial separation process is to try to reduce anxiety, anger, etc. by persuading his partner to reconsider the separation. Communication may take place by talking to her over the telephone or in person, writing her, or getting in touch through friends or family members, regardless of the restraining order's terms. Here, the stabilization counselor acknowledges the batterer's legitimate wish to talk with his wife, but points out that it is wrong to do so at this time, that doing so is a violation of the court's restraining order and that an arrest for this violation will result in incarceration. Further, it is pointed out that to follow, harass, watch, stalk, coerce, intimidate, threaten or manipulate her into such a dialogue undermines the ultimate goal of saving the relationship.
The man needs to know that he probably will get an opportunity to talk to his wife to plead his case, but he must first get his life under control so that she may actually want to talk to him and seriously consider what he has to say without being coerced or intimidated.
In the initial phases of the stabilization process, it is also important to define the batterer's strengths and try to use them to help him regain his self-control. Likewise it is equally important that he experience in the sessions success in controlling his anxiety and other dysphoric mood states through cognitive and behavioral interventions. The behavioral technique of rewarding successive approximations as utilized here, accepts where the batterer is and then tries to move him towards the goal by openly using his own self-identified reward system as a motivator (e.g. reducing anxiety). Behavioral psychology and learning theory principles tell us that people will be more likely to repeat behavior that is reinforced by self-identified rewards. Thus, helping to define small successes and rewarding them will be the most useful way to begin and maintain behavior change and produce the stabilization required by this program.
Of course, the counselor should not guarantee any particular outcome, with regard to his relationship, even if the batterer does everything exactly as he is taught. Similarly, the victim must not be encouraged to provide the rewards for the batterer's changed behavior. Instead, the counselor must help the batterer want to change because his appropriate and responsible behavior will provide the best chance to obtain his short-term and long-term goals. This program requires active participation by the counselor to get the batterer motivated by identifying and prompting when he exhibits maladaptive behaviors; praising and setting up a self-reward system when he exhibits positive, responsible behaviors; and providing the rationales for why certain thought and behavioral patterns will or will not work.
The court system holds men accountable for their violent behavior by acting on behalf of the victim and placing legal sanctions on the batterer in an effort to stop future violence. The Stalker Stabilization Program holds batterers accountable by closely coordinating efforts with the local criminal justice agencies responsible for monitoring compliance with court orders. Because violations of court orders and reoffenses are inevitable with such a program, it becomes necessary for program leaders to inform the monitoring agencies (e.g., probation or sheriff's department) that the perpetrator has admitted to violating the court order and to committing physical, sexual or other forms of psychological violence. This places the Stalker Stabilization counselors in the position of being an arm of the court. This is common when mental health providers work with court mandated clients in other settings as well.
Program leaders must be comfortable with being perceived in this dual role of helper and enforcer. Clients need to be apprised of this fact at the beginning of their participation in the program. Program counselors may frame this responsibility for reporting as being consistent with their role as counselor. If a man admits to violating the court order, he is saying in essence that he either cannot or will not control his actions. Therefore, he may need additional interventions so that he is acting in his own best interest rather than in a manner that will increase his problems with the court and reinforce feelings of defeat and worthlessness. The premise for batterers participation in the stabilization program is that they want help in complying with court orders and in controlling stalking behaviors.
The Stalker Stabilization Program ultimately helps men take responsibility for their abusive behaviors by taking the focus off their partners and placing the focus on their dysfunctional behaviors. Program leaders need to be aware of how batterers, subtly and not so subtly, avoid responsibility for their violence, and redirect them when this form of denial occurs. Additionally, the perpetrator in this stabilization program is required to accept responsibility, in general, for his own thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Any attempt to shift blame onto the victim, or anyone else, is confronted and dealt with so that the focus returns to the batterer. The focus of recovery must always be on self and not contingent upon others' behaviors.
The rationale to help focus the perpetrator on accepting his own accountability is to help him understand that a continued focus on the victim will almost certainly lead him to repeat the kind of behavior that led him to lose control of his own life. Additionally, such focus only serves to reinforce his own dysfunctional thought processes.
Development of Empathy
Empathy for others is a process by which one learns to modify actions because of how it might affect another person. Research suggests that children who witness their fathers abusing their mothers and/or who are also abused themselves do not learn how to feel empathy because their anxiety is so overwhelming in emotionally threatening situations, the process of stepping outside of themselves is short-circuited.
Male batterers have great difficulty thinking about their partner's feelings while they are overwhelmed by their own emotions. Lack of empathy makes it impossible to understand his partner's point of view, which in turn may lead to his blaming her for his own misconduct. Thus, for batterers, empathy may be more possible if he is not feeling overwhelmed with feelings of anger and anxiety. Exercises to help develop empathy as a social skill are part of the stabilization program with the ultimate goal being the batterer's ability to state, "I can understand how my behavior has made her frightened of me." However, it is important to remember that for the batterer, feeling another's feelings is only possible when he learns how to accurately perceive his own feelings, too. This is the goal of long-term therapy. The stabilization program can only be an introduction to the concept which many batterers have simply never thought about before.
The Stalker Stabilization Program uses both a group or individual process and an educational orientation in its methodology. The group treatment format is suggested because it allows for educational material to be disseminated to members in the short period of time they participate in the program. Additionally, with the group process, leaders can take advantage of the power of peer confrontation, which may do more to break denial than one on one with a therapist. Furthermore, the group model dilutes some of the negative feelings that could develop between the batterer and the counselor as a result of the constant, weekly confrontation necessary to break denial. Lastly, in the group model, participants inspire their peers to grow and change through modeling, support as well as confrontation.
The individual counseling model may be too intense for many men who lack the verbal skills to make use of the counseling process. However, the educational material may be easily incorporated into individual sessions if a sufficient number of men are not available to form a group and the batterer is able to make use of individual sessions.
The counselor's ability to use the sessions to set limits with violent and illegal behavior while also demonstrating care for the batterer as a person is a critical variable in changing and maintaining new behavior patterns. The goal is to teach the batterer how to identify dysfunctional thinking processes so that dysphoric feelings are not escalated and ultimately manifested in stalking or other forms of intrusive behaviors.
Designed to be used simultaneously with the stabilization program is the Stalker Empowerment Program, developed by Dr. Lenore Walker. Together, the two programs assist families in healing from domestic violence. Counselors should note that excerpts of the stabilization workbook are included where appropriate in the empowerment program, for better understanding of stalking behavior and for the women to see what their partner is learning in the stabilization program.
The stabilization program counselors are partly able to determine client success through their observation of the man in the group, his participation in group discussions, his completion of the homework, and his attitude towards the material, fellow group members and the counselors. Additionally, counselors will be in touch with victim advocates, who will keep them apprised of the woman's progress as well as any indications from her that the abuser is violating the court order, attempting to make contact, following her, etc.
The counselors need to inform the man that this communication between the victim and his counselors is necessary to evaluate treatment success. Details of the sessions are only shared when the information relates specifically to violations of the court order.
The Stalker Stabilization Program is an offender-specific cognitive/behavioral psycho-educational approach that:
(1) Teaches batterers that domestic violence is a crime and that all forms of violence are inappropriate behaviors for which there will be consequences.
(2) Teaches batterers to identify their dysfunctional thought processes that underlie intense emotions which lead to behaviors that perpetuate the abusive behavior.
(3) Teaches the batterer how to change dysfunctional thought processes and develop more constructive cognitions that will lead to changes first in their emotions and ultimately behavior so that they engage in non-abusive interactions.
(4) Teaches batterers that change is possible and that continued offender-specific treatment can result in their learning new ways to meet their needs that are more reliable, more responsible, and more respectful of their partner.
(5) Prepares the batterer for phase two, extended management, and phase three, recovery, not part of this manual but discussed in other books available on this topic, some of which are listed in the reference section of this manual.
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