Helping people thrive despite the challenges they face in life has been the mission of the Calgary Counselling Centre since 1962. While the Centre assists all people with various mental health issues, it also offers one of the very few services in the city that works with men who have been abused or are abusive. This contributes to them being a valued partner of the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter (CWES).
Thousands of men over the years have turned their lives around with the help of the Centre. Dale, through the guidance of the Responsible Choices for Men group program, learned to change his behaviour and navigate his emotions in a healthier way.
That process began one day when the police arrested him after a physical altercation with his daughter. One of his court-ordered expectations was to attend sessions with the Calgary Counselling Centre to deal with his issues.
“I never really understood that abuse can be more than just physical; verbal abuse or just the way of treating people is a type of abuse as well. I learned you can be in an abusive situation without the physicality,” said Dale.
“I found out that you treat the people you love probably worse than anyone else and that’s just not right. I started actually looking forward to Mondays (meetings) because I knew that every time I went there I would always leave… inspired or feeling better about myself. I believe right now my life is way better than it was. What was one of the worst experiences of my life turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life because I had no clue about the person that I was. It’s like someone opening your eyes for the first time. You’re going, ‘I don’t want to be that person anymore.’ I’m optimistic that I’m on a better track, a better path. I’m kind of excited about the future. But you’ve got to clean up the past a little bit. That’s what I’m kind of hoping right now. The future looks bright.”
Robbie Babins-Wagner, Chief Executive Officer of the Centre, says the Centre has had a long history with the CWES.
In 1982, at the request of the Shelter, the Centre started a program called the Family Violence Prevention Program for men who were abusive in intimate relationships.
“Since that time we’ve stayed in partnership to work together toward solving the problems that are attached to abusive relationships in our community,” Babin-Wagner says. “We’ve grown our program. Not only do we work with men who are abusive in an intimate relationship but we work with men who are victims of violence, women who are abusive in intimate relationships and women who have been victims of violence.
“The part that we do is provide the counselling. The individual counselling in a group.”
The Centre has two programs specifically for men:
1) Turn for the Better
This 14-week program is for men who have experienced abuse in a relationship. They connect and grow with other men through this shared experience and they learn coping skills, how to become personally empowered and how to manage stress.
2) Responsible Choices for Men
Men can change their lives and relationships for the better with this 14-week program. Through facilitated group discussion, they will work on developing healthy feelings and emotions, empathy and maintaining change in their lives.
The Centre provides overall counselling services to people across the age span.
The Centre is getting about 12,000 new cases a year and last year it had over 40,000 hours of counselling. It also trains counsellors, likely the largest trainer of counsellors in all disciplines across Western Canada. It also does counselling research, as well as developing and recommending counselling policies.
On average, 1000 to 1200 men each year come in for help through the two programs
“They come in for a variety of reasons. Some of them come on their own. Something may have happened with their partners the night before,” said Babins-Wagner. “They may have been having a discussion that ended up being in conflict and they were worried that they could actually do something that might hurt their partner.
“Some have been told by friends, colleagues and others that what they’re experiencing in terms of violence is probably not okay. We see the full spectrum, actually.
“The philosophy of our program is one of respect and engagement, meaning that we take the person as they are. We don’t ever want to do anything that’s going to shame any individual and we really focus on helping that person find the life that they’re looking for while specifically focusing on if they have been abusive or they’ve experienced violence. We hold men accountable for their own behaviour.”
She says it’s a complex phenomenon and while programs hold people accountable, a distinction is made between the person and his behaviour. The fact that a person was abusive doesn’t make them a bad person. It means that if a person wants to be different and wants to change their behaviour, lifestyles and relationships, then the Centre can help them go through a process that combines individual counselling with a group that will allow them to reduce violent behaviours. The goal is to come out of the process feeling better about themselves and their relationships.
“That would be the same for those who abuse and people who have been victims. It’s just a different emphasis based on their experience.”
Babins-Wagner says the Centre has evaluation outcome data that dates back to 1996 indicating that men who participate in its programs achieve very positive, strong, measurable outcomes and that those changes are sustained over time.
“We did a project a number of years ago where we interviewed the partners of the men in the programs for men who are abusive. The partners confirmed – they were interviewed separately and independently – that the abusive behaviour had ended and the impact of the program had sustained over time.
“Our programs are not cookie cutter. They’re not what I would call one size fits all. They’re really structured to meet the needs of each unique individual who seeks our services. We want to tailor what we’re doing based on the needs of the individual.”
You can contact the Calgary Counselling Centre at 833.827.4229, or at calgarycounselling.com