+ New Tactics to Stop Bullying: CAPSLE

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From an article in Science Daily:  A new psychodynamic approach to bullying called CAPSLE (Creating a Peaceful School Learning Environment) has been found successful by researchers in London and the US. 

The groundbreaking method focuses more on the bystanders, including the teacher, than on either the bully or the victim.

Professor Peter Fonagy of  University College London (UCL) says,

Bullying has an extensive impact on children’s mental health including disruptive and aggressive behavior, school dropout, substance abuse, depressed mood, anxiety, and social withdrawal.  It also undermines educational achievement and disrupts children’s abilities to develop social relationships.

While school anti-bullying programs are widely used, there have been few controlled trials of their effectiveness.  CAPSLE…  addresses the co-created relationship between the bully, victim and bystanders, assuming that all members of the school community, including teachers, play a role in bullying.  It aims to improve the capacity of all community members to mentalize, that is, to interpret one’s own and others’ behavior in terms of mental states (beliefs, wishes, feelings), assuming that greater awareness of other people’s feelings will counteract the temptation to bully others.  It also teaches people to manage power struggles and issues, both of which are known to damage mentalizing.

The randomized study of 1,345 third- to fifth-graders  in nine US elementary schools assessed the efficacy of a three-year program.  In total, about 4,000 children were exposed to the protocol.

CAPSLE schools were compared with schools receiving no intervention and those using only School Psychiatric Consultation (SPC), in which children with the most significant problems were assessed and referred for counseling.

The CAPSLE program doesn’t target aggressive children.  Rather, it works to develop mentalizing skills in students and staff across the wider school community.  It begins with bystanders perceiving and accepting their own (unthinking) role in maintaining the bully-victim relationship through abdicating responsibility and making an implicit decision not to think about what the bully/victim is experiencing.

The emphasis is on the need to understand, rather than reacting to others and thus avoiding the problems created by the regression into victim and victimizer.

Poster campaigns, stickers and badges were used to create a climate where feelings were labelled and distress was acknowledged as legitimate, with the ultimate aim of changing the way an entire school system views bullying.

In the first year of the study teachers received a day of group training; students received nine sessions of self-defense.  This training in martial arts with role-playing was designed to help children understand how they responded to victimization, and how that victimization affected their capacity to think clearly and creatively.

During the study, teachers were discouraged from  making disciplinary referrals (such as sending someone to the principal’s office) unless absolutely necessary.  Classes were asked to take 15 minutes at the end of the school day to reflect on the day’s activities.

All classes would reflect on bully-victim-bystander relationships according to a structured format depicted in posters placed in all classrooms.  Children would assess the extent to which they had succeeded in being reflective and compassionate.

They would then make a classroom decision on whether or not a class banner should be posted outside the room to say that the classroom had had a good mentalizing day.

The study found that children were much tougher on themselves than teachers would have been under similar circumstances.

Over the course of the study, reports of aggression, victimization, bystanding behavior and mentalizing observations on a randomly chosen subgroup of children were made at regular intervals by observers who looked for “off-task” and disruptive behavior.

The program was found to generate more positive bystanding behaviors, greater empathy for victims, and less favorable attitudes towards aggression in the CAPSLE schools.  In these schools, fewer children were nominated by their peers as aggressive, victimized, or engaging in aggressive bystanding, compared with the control schools.

CAPSLE made no attempt to focus on helping disturbed children individually or picking them out for treatment.  It did not set explicit rules against bullying, nor did it advocate any special treatment for bullying children.

Nevertheless, over time the study found that bullies came to be disempowered.  At first, theses children complained that the program was voring and should be stopped.  Gradually, the school system tended to recruit them into more helpful roles.

See: P.Fonagy et al.  A cluster-randomized controlled trial of child-focused psychiatric consultation and a school systems-focused intervention to reduce aggressionJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 26 january, 2009.

source: www.sciencedaily.com on 1/27/09; no author given; adapted from materials provided by University College London.

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