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Extract 1. from THE ABUSE OF FORCE - Working with Violence and Children in a Residential Setting -

posted 20 May 2014, 13:44 by Mark O'Connell   [ updated 20 May 2014, 14:16 ]

“..violence originates in abuse. Everyone who witnesses abuse and says nothing is to blame for it.”[1]


“Violence will stop only when you and I are ready to work on it. That entails interrupting our lives to include awareness of the agony of the oppressed.” [2]

Working as a psychotherapist in a residential school for young people with immense life challenges a central and much needed area of research and reflection is ‘how to work effectively with violence?’. In this essay I examine the roots and dynamics of violence; reflect on research and therapeutic approaches to young people and violence; and finally I attempt draw-out themes and practices which I feel can directly benefit the young people and the organisation for which I work.

I start from the premise that violence, as an abuse, itself needs to be stopped, and will examine the circumstances which can make this difficult within a residential school context. I will then propose that a more sustainable solution to violence lies in our ability to value, process and unfold the emotional and experiential diversity which underlie the individual and collective experiences in our community.

Treatment of children in residential settings has focussed strongly on behavioural and biochemical controls since the 1970s[3], but new developments in research are pointing to the importance of  developing a residential culture with a “trauma-informed approach” [4] when working with emotionally damaged children. Developing practice informed by current attachment theory is also becoming increasingly recognised when working with adopted, fostered and displaced children. Trauma, attachment and process-oriented models may point to a shift in emphasising behavioural control towards engaging with the ‘roots’ of behaviour and enabling individuals and systems to find bridges and connections that help to establish their wholeness.

One of the reasons for there being no coherent treatment models in residential care is that the causes of disturbances in children are not agreed upon, and thus staff differ in their approaches according to their beliefs as to whether the problems originate in biological/genetic, psychological causes, environmental and relational causes, delinquency, or a lack of learning or poor education. [5]

Violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum. If we are really concerned with it, we may need to develop individual and collective reflection and notice a widespread tendency to interact in styles which violate one another. As Mindell says “..interrupting our lives to include

[1] Mindell. Dr. A. (1995) Sitting in the Fire. Ch 8. Public Abuse & Finding Your Voice. Lao Tse Press, Portland, Oregon. p120

[2] Mindell. Dr. A. (1995) Sitting in the Fire. Ch 8. Revenge & Cultural Transformation. Lao Tse Press, Portland, Oregon. P86

[3] Bloom, S.L. (2005) Therapeutic Community: The International Journal for Therapeutic and Supportive Organization. Introduction to Special Section – Creating Sanctuary for Kids: Helping Children to Heal From Violence. s 26(1): 57-63

[4] Bloom, S.L. (2005) Therapeutic Community: The International Journal for Therapeutic and Supportive Organization. Introduction to Special Section – Creating Sanctuary for Kids: Helping Children to Heal From Violence. s 26(1): 57-63

[5] Abramovitz, R. & Bloom, S.L. (2003) Psyciatric Quarterly, Vol. 74, No.2. Creating Sanctuary in Residential Treatment for Youth: From the “Well-Ordered Asylum” to a “Living-Learing Environment”. P126

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