As a graduate student in my counseling psychology program some years ago, I began my internships with agencies that taught basic counseling skills such as supporting a client, summarizing what was discussed, how to use minimal encouragers, and other important techniques for building a therapeutic alliance.
However, one of the things I, and possibly thousands of other students in my program, lacked was a step-by-step program or guide on how to work with specialized populations seeking counseling or mental health services. I worked with populations such as female or male offenders of intimate partner violence, juvenile delinquents, individuals with psychotic and paranoid behaviors, and traumatized youths, and they needed specialized counseling tools, but I was only taught general skills.
It wasn’t until I began working with juvenile delinquents that I learned about programs appropriate for this population, and even then, resources were scarce. I was later trained in the Sanctuary Model of Trauma Informed Care while working with traumatized youths and families but, again, resources were scarce. Thankfully there are some empirically-based programs that can help educate mental health professionals in treating complicated problems.
David Wexler understands the importance of developing scientifically proven and accessible programs aimed at a specific population. That’s why he not only trains individuals on the STOP (Skills, Techniques, Options, and Plans) Program, but he also wrote the manual, The STOP Program: For Women Who Abuse: Group Leader’s Manual. The manual comes packed with handouts to assist the group leader in understanding how the program should be taught and led from one session to the next.
The beginning of the manual focuses on explaining why the STOP program is needed and useful for all individuals struggling with partner violence, abusive behaviors, and anger management. The book focuses attention primarily on the specialized group of female “offenders.” Wexler makes it clear that the STOP Program was originally designed for men with the intention of deterring abusive behaviors in romantic relationships. However, after years of research focused on females with anger management difficulties and domestic violence, Wexler began to identify how the STOP Program could also benefit females.
The manual and handouts seem very similar to work completed in substance abuse programs or substance abuse support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. The focus on motivational interviewing (i.e., using a client-centered approach to build rapport and connect with the client), the stages of change (i.e., pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance), and “gratitude statements” are very similar to substance abuse programs.
The manual provides a good balance between psycho-education (teaching techniques and skills) and exploring the emotional side of the behavior. “Pacing and Leading” is a tool encouraged throughout the book which helps the group therapist/instructor to mirror the experience of the group member and suggest a new behavior or way of thinking. It is very similar to self-disclosure or validating a client’s feelings in a therapy setting. The STOP Program is a 26- or 52-week program that can be adjusted to fit an agency’s program or curriculum. The program also highlights the importance of building a therapeutic alliance with clients within the group. Many therapists or instructor’s struggle to build relationships with the client’s within a group setting because of the large number of members present. It can be extremely difficult to lead a group with a large number of clients who all have their own personalities, belief systems, cultural views, and attitudes within the short time frame of 26 or 52 weeks. Sometimes it is difficult to build rapport with one to three group members much less nine or twelve. It will take skill to connect with these group members, which is what Wexler highlights during the introduction of the book. The section on motivational interviewing also provides education on how to build rapport and connect with group members.
Unfortunately, there were some limitations to the manual, such as not being able to photo copy some of the manual handouts to share with clients. The manual reminds readers in several places, “please note all group members must have their own personal, original copy of handouts and homework. Copying these forms is a violation of copyright laws.” There are many books written for therapists and instructors that include handouts, resources, and other materials to be photo copied but makes it clear that credit should be given when the materials are used and permission should be requested before use. Other manuals simply have their label or symbol somewhere on the resource so that copyright laws will not be violated by those who make copies.
As a therapist who has provided group therapy within multiple agencies over the years, I can confidently say that many group members will find having to purchase their own copy of the handouts unappealing and may drop out. My experience within group therapy, with adults, adolescents, and children, is that they rarely want to be in group as it is, much less have to spend money to attend the group. Other group members might find that the handouts are too expensive and refuse to purchase them. In cases such as these, it might be useful for agencies using the STOP Program to purchase copies of the handouts to give to group members or possibly adapt the manual in some way to assist those who do not want to purchase the handouts.
Another downside is the fact that the manual does not discuss whether the STOP Program can be used with adolescent girls who have trouble with interpersonal relationships. There are a great number of juveniles adjudicated delinquent that struggle with interpersonal relationships who could benefit from this program. It would have also been helpful if the manual would have discussed the use of the program within a private practice setting in which group therapy can be provided.
Overall, the manual provides a basic structure and guideline for instructors or therapists interested in utilizing the program within a group setting. This is a very useful manual for programs providing education on domestic violence, anger management, abuse, and sexual violence. If you are a mental health professional or instructor with knowledge of counseling principles, this manual is a wonderful first step in teaching clients how to have healthy engagement within their relationships.
The STOP Program: For Women Who Abuse: Group Leader’s Manual
W.W. Norton & Company, February 2016
Paperback, 240 pages