Understanding and changing violent behavior:

Per Elis Eliasson - Sweden


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Per Elis Eliasson

A Report from Manscentrum in Stockholm

Production of this book has been supported within Operation Kvinnofrid,  the Swedish government’s program focusing on violence against women, in accordance with commitments made at Beijing in 1995


1. Introduction                                                         
Manscentrum in Stockholm                            
Manscentrum – methodological underpinnings
Manscentrum – pillars of its treatment philosophy

2. Violence and its causes

Image of the violent man
Driving forces behind acts of violence              
Men and their problem-creating attitudes                    
Mechanisms of recurring violence – a vicious circle
Excuses and evasions  
Dilemma of the beaten woman           
Factors promoting and preventing continued violence  

3. A treatment model

Point of entry to therapy                     
Group-related “greenhouse effect”                              
Group supervision       
Unstructured group therapy                
The agreement
The questionnaire                    
Treatment time
Selection of themes
Open group

4. How it might work out
Some typical cases                             
Welcome to the group!
5. The process of change
Normalities and normalization

6. Aftermath of the violence
7. Summary and discussion
8. Some remarks on treatment outcome



Our intentions with this book are to provide a comprehensible and practically applicable picture of the complex of problems surrounding violence in close relationships and to illustrate some possible solutions to them. Its content is based on the activities of Manscentrum in Stockholm. Manscentrum is a crisis center for men.

Manscentrum (literally, Man’s Center in English) is, as its name implies, primarily a resource for men, but over the years women have also received advice and support, and – in some cases – help with treatment at the Center. Men make contact with Manscentrum to obtain assistance with crises and problems that they find difficult to handle themselves. Violence against women is becoming an increasingly common reason for men to contact the Center. Currently, it is the largest individual category of problems with which Manscentrum is concerned.

Battering and abuse of women is usually treated as an acute problem for the women themselves. Accordingly, help and support are primarily targeted at the women affected, and also their children. This is self-evidently right and reasonable in itself, but what it often overshadows is that violence is actually a man’s problem. Unfortunately, there seems to be widespread doubt over whether men who batter are capable of responding to treatment. In our view, this represents a far too pessimistic view of the problem. Our experience is that most men can stop being violent, but only provided that they obtain help in learning how to handle their problems.

We do not make any claim to provide any comprehensive picture of either problems or solutions. Our treatment methodology has been developed to meet the needs of the men who have contacted us at Manscentrum, and there may well be many others whose problems would require methods different from our own. Nevertheless, we have had clients with a wide range of problems in various kinds of personal relationships. Accordingly, we dare to assert that our approach has considerable general validity.

Working with problems of violence entails being confronted by human vulnerability. Violence against women has a strong emotional impact upon all of us. In this book, an attempt is made to shed light on the emotional, and also the theoretical, traps into which we may fall. The language we use is couched at the level we try to maintain in our direct work with the men and women we encounter.

Our impression is that – regardless of whether you are violent yourself, are exposed to violence, encounter violence among your circle of acquaintances, or work with the problems of violence – you will end up being confronted by central questions and problems of a general human nature. This book is primarily aimed at those of you who have professional contact with the set of problems associated with violence. Nevertheless, most people are likely to be able to draw lessons from men’s work on solving their own violence-related problems.

The writing of this book  was made possible by funding provided by the Swedish Government within the frame of Operation Kvinnofrid – the designation given to the efforts made by the Government to fulfil obligations stemming from the international women’s conference held in Beijing in 1995.

I myself work as a counselor and therapist at Manscentrum, and have taken responsibility for the writing. My colleagues – Ulf Calvert, Sten Ekdal, Pelle Jansson and Örjan Rudstedt – have made a substantial contribution to the outcome, through their reading and correction of the manuscript, the comments they have made, and the discussions we have had.

I would also like to express my gratitude to Erik Centerwall, Johan Cullberg, Carl-Erik Herlitz, Lars Lorentzon, Per Tell and Ingrid Wermelin for their valuable comments on the original manuscript.

Manscentrum in Stockholm, 1 February 2000.

Per Elis Eliasson

A violent man will usually not wake up until the consequences are strong enough to make him realize his failure. When the crisis strikes him there is a good chance of a change in attitudes, but most violent men also need professional guidance to become free from violence.

Some remarks on treatment outcome

The benefit for individual men is very obvious. Having the opportunity to talk to someone about their problems will reduce the emotional stress that is making their lives miserable. The resolving of problems that, from the individual man’s point of view, are impossible to handle, reduces the risk of suicide. Learning new social skills, and being able to avoid violent behavior, enables the man to start looking at himself in a more positive way. Being able to handle conflicts without losing your temper is, in fact, a source of joy. And you avoid ending up as the scapegoat – no more guilt in being a wife beater, no more police involvement, and no more legal proceedings. After a while, the man might be able to face his children and relatives again. Being someone capable of taking responsibility and accepting accountability creates self-respect.

For women, no longer having to deal with the threat of being battered by their men, the change might open opportunities for a new life. There is no more shame in being battered, no more hiding the bruises, and no more fear. That the man is taking responsibility should make for a better life.

Children are saved from being the witness of violence, and even being beaten themselves. Hopefully, they may look upon their parents with more respect if violence is no longer in the picture. Children benefit from the avoidance of divorce or, hopefully, better cooperation between their parents when divorce cannot be avoided. Their schoolwork is likely to improve when they no longer have to deal with the fear of violence. There has been a tendency for fathers to abandon their children when they leave the woman. Handling crisis lowers the risk of children losing their fathers.

Whenever society goes through a change in social patterning and economic structure, there is a risk of problems. People are stuck in old patterns of life, and adapting to new conditions often requires changed attitudes and new skills. This is when the services offered by a crisis center might help people improve their skills in meeting the transformation. The opportunity of getting help in dealing with crises and family conflicts makes possible an early intervention to stop violence, maybe even before it has occurred.


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