Working with those who batter is serious work. The damage that domestic violence inflicts on partners, children, extended family and friends is no laughing matter. However, in the effort to help people change, humor can help. Building relationships has been shown to be the single most powerful tool in the helping professions, and one of the most powerful tools in relationship building is laughter. With the best of intentions, groups facilitators put on the “accountability mask” week after week, creating a group experience that is serious and can be intimidating and unenjoyable to those we are trying to help. Change can be a painful process, but it does not have to be painful all the time. Facilitators become better at their craft when they can incorporate fun working with those who batter.
Let me be clear. Cruelty is never funny. However, that is not what I am talking about here. A dear friend of mine, Michelle McCormick, who works as a tireless victim advocate, recounts her story of learning to be a facilitator of a domestic violence intervention class. In the beginning, she believed that she had to represent all victims in this class with abusive men, so she always kept an edge. She called it her “advocate armor”. This all changed one day, sitting in class, being her professional, stern self, when the man sitting beside her said something that was absolutely hilarious. Michelle laughed…hard…disrupting the class for a few minutes. At that moment, the change occurred. She realized that her advocate armor was keeping her from building a genuine relationship with the participants, and his humor had connected them. She realized that the men in the class were more than “batterers”. They were funny, and sad, and hardworking individuals. If she wanted to be good at her craft, she was going to have to build connections. Humor had broken down some important barriers.
At that moment, the change occurred. She realized that her advocate armor was keeping her from building a genuine relationship with the participants, and his humor had connected them
While spontaneous humor is great, as group facilitators, we can use humor, fun and laughter in an intentional manner. One way we have been experimenting with the use of laughter is by playing a short, ice breaking game at the beginning of class. The next time you are facilitating a class or a small group, try using the game that we call “Crash”. In this game, the goal is to simply have the group count as high as possible. There are a couple of simple rules.
- Do not identify who starts, and the group can’t go in any particular order.
- The group begins to count, one at a time, to see how high they can get
- Any time two people say a number at the same time, that is called a “Crash”. When a crash occurs, the group must start over from the beginning.
This is a very fast game and does not really have an ending as it is always possible to count higher. Just 5 minutes of this games can lighten the mood among participants and help them to be more present in the here and now.
I attribute a large portion of the success of the activity to having a little fun before we got down to business.
The last time we played “Crash”, we were all laughing in very short order. We had a few minutes of fun and then began the class by asking people to make a list of their entire list of abuse, violence and cruelty. The group was engaged, focused and intentional as they completed the uncomfortable request. I attribute a large portion of the success of the activity to having a little fun before we got down to business.
Give it a try and let me know what you think. Intervening with domestic violence is very serious business. It seems ironic, but sometimes laughter can really get the group engaged, which can help to get down to the business at hand.