What’s it like to attend the Freedom Programme?

The Freedom Programme is a 12 week course designed by Pat Craven, who realised from her work in prisons talking to hundreds of violent offenders, the tactics of abusers are primarily all the same and fall under different personas of “The Dominator”.

During the course, we explore one of the personas every week, starting with The Bully and ending with The Persuader. We also study the effects of domestic abuse on children, one of two weeks where we tread especially gently and always provide plenty of chocolate (a hug in a wrapper!).

Upon referral (which can come from clients attending our drop ins, phoning in or from other professionals), all clients are risk assessed for the safety of themselves and the group. The security of the group is paramount and locations are kept secret for this purpose. Calls are then made to the clients to ascertain if they require a creche and the best venue for them, any additional needs and to hopefully put their minds at rest about the course.

We also provide extra support during the time they are attending the Freedom Programme, in addition to the other services they may already be accessing through SATEDA, such as one to one support meetings which will continue alongside the course.

Facilitators are happy to meet clients outside the venue to assist anyone who is nervous through the door. Help is also available at the start and end of the session to ensure anyone who needs support has it. We have a dedicated Freedom Programme phone service offering the chance for people attending the group to call if they are worried about anything which has happened in the sessions or if they feel they need an extra boost during the week to either attend the programme, to talk about the persona of that week or any other issues which have arisen as a result of discussions within the group. Any client who does not attend is also called after the meeting to ensure they are safe and to see if there is anything we can do to help them come back the following week.

The programme is group based, which can initially cause a bit of anxiety for the women attending, but we do all we can to reassure them it works and it truly does! The group setting provides an extra layer of support for the members and many friendships have been born out of group sessions. This is especially important as isolation is a big part of domestic abuse relationships and hearing others have been through similar experiences, backed up by the statistics we talk about in the first week, helps re-affirm the abuse was not their fault and they are not alone. The ladies in the group are encouraged to talk as much or as little as they want to, as we know that even if some people are not taking part actively by talking, they are listening and taking everything in.

Sessions begin with a welcome and a quick quiz, where we match the tactics used to the personality trait, for example Badparent, Headworker, Jailer etc. Unfortunately, we do not give away speedboats, exotic holidays or luxury houses for getting full marks and the quiz is not even about the correct answers really, it is about getting the tactics across in as many ways as we can. We then have a discussion on that week’s persona, we look to the things they do, the reasons that could be behind their thinking and how we are affected by living with that person. The programme ensures everything is spoken about in the third person, so even if people are talking about their own experiences, other group members do not know that is the case.

We always make time at the end of the session after talking about the bad persona, to talk about the opposite, the good person in a healthy relationship and end on a more positive note.

It is so rewarding to see how far the women progress during their completion of the Freedom Programme. People who came in their first week staring at the floor and not speaking, generally by weeks three or four are taking an active part in sessions. By the end of the programme, they have made new friends, are socialising more and have a better idea of the warning signs and what to look for in future relationships. All participants who complete the course are then also automatically enrolled in our follow-on course Power to Change should they wish to attend.