Health professional sitting with a patient talking about avoiding collusion

Avoiding collusion

Talking with men about their use of violence can be challenging – professionally and personally. It is important to remember that there is a risk of escalation in violence when disclosures occur.

Collusion occurs when others ‘join with’ the denial. Minimisation and justifications are ways men might try to avoid responsibility for their behaviour. It can be helpful to recognise how a man might invite a health professional to collude with them.

Some common invitations include:

  • Seeking to blame their partner or emphasising others factors which ‘caused’ them to be violent – blaming:
    • stress
    • drugs or alcohol
    • their own childhood experiences
    • the behaviour of their partner.

Some men go to great lengths to present their partners as hysterical, irrational or mentally ill in an effort to avoid accountability for their behaviour.

One way to avoid these efforts at collusion is to bring the focus of the conversation back onto his behaviour, his responses to her/the children, his current actions and the choices he is making/not making to behave in non-violent ways.

Minimising the violence – using words like ‘just’, ‘only’, ‘kind of’, ‘a bit’ are common. Being clear about what is acceptable and respectful behaviour, the legal definitions of violence, and reframing his language without minimisations can help him to confront his behaviour.

Denial of violence – he may insist no violence has occurred, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, such as police presence, legal charges, hospital admissions and the like. Being mindful of gaps and inconsistencies in his story can help identify where denial might be occurring. Asking for more detail can also be helpful.

When ‘normal’ efforts at avoiding responsibility like those above are unsuccessful, men can feel very anxious and embarrassed and shame can form part of their presentation. It is important that health professionals acknowledge these feelings, but do not seek to make the man feel better. Those negative feelings can be a powerful motivator towards change, especially early in the change cycle.

Often invitations to collude can be very subtle. It is important that health professionals create opportunities to refer men who have been using violence to specialist supports such as a local men’s behaviour change program or to MensLine Australia or Changing for Good 1300 015 120.

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