A Look in the Mirror Helps One Batterer Change His Life

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

A judge's piercing observation in his child custody trial two years ago changed Jay Larson's life.

"The judge said I was a `controlling person.' I always felt my ex-wife was the controlling one," Larson says. "We were always playing tug-of-war with everything."

Larson acknowledges that his marriage had been marred by verbal abuse, but it had never turned physically violent. Larson didn't picture himself as an abuser - as someone who tries to control an intimate partner through manipulation, verbal or emotional abuse, or violence.

When he looked in a mirror, he faced his first stereotype about abusive men. He didn't see the violent monster he imagined them to be.

The judge's custody order required Larson to have a mental health evaluation, which brought a recommendation that he attend a yearlong batterer intervention program. Larson chose Options Counseling Services in Eugene because, at $25 per weekly session, it fit his budget.

"I struggled with it the first 10 or 15 weeks - just denial," Larson says. "I almost walked away. I'm glad I didn't."

In class, Larson faced more stereotypes in the men who were there with him.

There was the grungy, tattooed biker. There was the clean-cut guy in the business suit.

It turned out the biker was a teddy bear, a welder by trade who joined the program voluntarily.

The clean-cut guy was ordered there by a judge after being arrested for domestic violence. In the group meeting he denied any wrongdoing, became angry and stormed out - never to return, Larson says.

"I learned to give people a chance and not judge them right off the top," Larson says. "These guys turned out to be really nice guys. They made some mistakes. They're trying to get straightened out. Some of the guys in there, they've got serious problems."

Every Tuesday night, Larson would join his group to dissect real-life conflicts. They would identify where the batterer could have stopped, stepped back to consider other points of view, and then chosen how to act in a nurturing way.

Sometimes the session would start with Larson describing a yelling match he'd had with his ex-wife. The group would spend the whole session talking about it, pointing out places during the confrontation where Larson could have taken a different, more nurturing approach rather than escalating the conflict. …