Bullying Task Force Targets Bullies, Victims, and Bystanders

Article excerpt

ROCKVILLE, MD. -- Bullying is not simply a problem between the bully and the victim; it is a problem within the school culture that must be addressed.

This realization led social worker Jack Gilbert to create the bully task force 3 years ago at the Foundation School of Montgomery County, a private nonprofit school for adolescents with serious emotional disturbances in Rockville, Md.

Mr. Gilbert, who leads the Foundation School's bully task force, said in an interview that the program is unique because it addresses factors that are fundamental in dealing with bullying--environmental factors and third parties, such as bystanders. The vast majority of studies and most interventions fail to mention these important components, which are a big part of the task force's success, he said.

The bully task force, composed of school staff members, is based on the concept that bullying involves the bully, the victim, and the bystanders--all of whom are enacting a power dynamic, Dr. Michael Meagher said at the annual meeting of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, held in Philadelphia.

"The behaviors of bullies, bystanders, and targets are not random, arbitrary events," Mr. Gilbert said. "Rather, they are goal-directed behaviors designed to meet specific individual needs."

Bullies seek to improve their self-esteem, improve their status, feel safe, and gain power. Bystanders sometimes identify with the bully and instigate the encounter so as to have someone else enact their cruel impulses. Because they also identify with the victim, they avoid involvement in the encounter.

Bystanders are afraid to intervene for fear of harm or censure, but they provide an audience, which is an essential component of the bullying experience, said Dr. Meagher of the department of psychiatry at Georgetown University, Washington, and a consultant to the Foundation School.

Although bullying targets sometimes act to gain attention, it is important to clarify that the target is nor being blamed--that bullying is never justified, Mr. Gilbert said.

When a bullying incident occurs, the wheels of therapeutic intervention are put in motion by the bully task force. First, a task force member meets with the bully to establish a rapport and to find out if the bully knows why contact has been made. Then, all parties involved are interviewed to establish a chain of events. …