A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Paul Hegstrom and Life Skills International — an organization we are reluctant to endorse

Paul Hegstrom was an abusive husband and father.  His pattern of abuse and reactive behavior drove him to divorce his wife, abandon his children and nearly lose his life.  He has since made a complete recovery, remarried his wife and restored his family.¹  

The life story of Paul & Judy Hegstrom was the storyline of a movie, which depicted ‘Paul and Judy’s life experience with domestic violence and Paul’s recovery’.²

The above quotes are taken from Hegstrom’s Life Skills International website. While these quotes sound like a hopeful resource for a victim of domestic violence and abuse, there are several reasons that we are not comfortable with endorsing Paul Hegstrom’s books, movie, or his program Life Skills International (or the other programs which come from people who seem to be modelling their programs on Hegstrom’s example).

We are not convinced that Hegstrom’s approach is fully sound.  We are wary because he uses the term ‘arrested development’ for the psychology of abusers. This could give the abuser an excuse for the fact that he is actually choosing to behave abusively. We know that LSI would say ‘there is no excuse for abuse’ — but in reality, the arrested development concept could give abusers the idea that their thinking and beliefs are not the problem, but instead their emotions and ‘arrested development’ are the problem. We do NOT buy that notion.

Even the language Hegstrom uses about himself seems to have residual but perceptible  qualities of “abuserese”. Look at the quote at the top of this post—

His pattern of abuse and reactive behavior drove him to divorce his wife, abandon his children and nearly lose his life.  He has since made a complete recovery…

  • reactive behaviour … reacting to things outside himself, reacting to what other people say and do …. shades of victim-blaming?
  • drove him … he was unable to help himself because he was ‘driven,’ he was acted upon, he wasn’t the actor
  • nearly lose his life …  he uses the passive construction ‘lose’ his life, not the active ‘took’ his life, 0r ‘recklessly endanger’ his life … avoidance of personal responsibility, portraying himself as pitiable
  • complete recovery … the word ‘complete’ suggests he’s probably boasting
  • recovery … this makes his pattern of abusiveness sound like an unfortunate disease. We recover from illness, accidents, and misfortunes. We repent from wickedness. We reform bad character.

We agree with Lundy Bancroft and Dr. George Simon when they say that the abuser’s problem is his WRONG BELIEFS and his WRONG THINKING, not his emotions or feelings. Hegstrom’s language suggests to us that he still has some wrong thinking.

We also find Hegstrom’s site to be very heavy on marketing his own products.  In our view, Lifeskills International is a money making machine for its founder Paul Hegstrom. That is off putting.

And we have some skepticism about men reforming and then teaching other men, especially when they have set up their own organization and run it like a business. Pastor Crippen made this reply to a commenter who asked about Hegstrom’s movie and program (original comment found here).

The movie claims it is based on a true story but I remain highly, highly skeptical of such claimed “transformations” of an abuser. In several cases as time went by it has turned out that the transformation was a fraud. I am particularly skeptical of a “reformed” abuser who then sets out to teach others. I would rather see a person with their mouth shut realizing they have no right to teach others.

When male abusers think they have reformed, they seem to often think that they can teach other abusive men how to reform. If they appoint themselves into the role of teacher and leader, it’s almost certain that they have not reformed but are just wanting to take the limelight once again. We believe that if an abusive man were to truly undergo deep reformation he would not appoint himself into the role of teacher of other men.³

We know that a few of our readers have read Hegstrom’s book and/or participated in a Life Skills International course.  Almost any book or course that tells some truths about domestic abuse is helpful for someone who is at an early stage of the learning curve. Any drop of water is wonderful, in a desert. But for the reasons we have discussed above, Paul Hegstrom and his organization is on our Hall of Blind Guides page, and instead, we recommend Lundy Bancroft’s book and Dr. George Simon’s books way over Hegstrom’s.

Lifeskills International run programs for men and women. The men’s program is aimed at men who have abusively controlled others; the women’s program is for women who have been abused.  One of our readers has shared her experience of an LSI women’s program:

I wanted to comment about Paul Hegstrom Life Skills International. I did take the full course. They interview you and you pay on a sliding scale (it was a reasonable price). The course is quite intense as far as the commitment and homework, etc. I don’t know how the program differs in other locations (although I know the curriculum is VERY quality controlled) but the classes I took had women’s classes and men’s classes. They are not designed to help your marriage (as the abuse could be from any relationship, not just intimate man/woman relationships), but to help the individual find healing and change perspective/actions as they see fit.

The women instructors always let me vent, never tried to steer me in any particular direction, gave me ample opportunity to share my anger, my sorrow, my emotions, etc. It is not a Biblically-based curriculum, i.e.,  it doesn’t quote scripture or doctrine, (and I sure needed a break from that!) but is usually done at a church setting (which I was leery of at first), and the instructors were Christian. They absolutely do NOT adhere to the “marriage at any cost” lie! The women who were running the program were victims of abuse who had been through a lot and had experienced individual healing. Three were divorced and one was still married with big changes in her marriage. I was never made to feel guilty for contemplating separation or divorce and they never tried to “advise” me on what to do.

The curriculum gives a LOT of spot-on info about abuse, abusers, the cycle, what to look for, what a healthy relationship looks like. I do agree with you, Barbara, that it is “commercialized” and the program does give information on “arrested development” but I think that was more for an abuser who is actually looking for answers to understand WHY he does things and gives him something new to shoot for. Some of these men don’t even know what normal IS (I’m not saying they don’t know they are doing wrong, but rather, they don’t know anything else). I never got the impression that they were teaching me about “arrested development” to get me to go easy on my abuser (as in “see, there’s a REASON he treats you like crap so be patient and hopeful and don’t give up, etc”), it was just part of the curriculum.

I got some valuable information and developed some friendships in the class that continue to be helpful. I am not advocating or discouraging, just sharing my own experience. I, myself, would tweak and adjust the program based on what I have learned about abuse, healing, self-esteem, etc. and it was a 26 week commitment for the 4 or 5 Aha! moments, but I can confidently say the program won’t hurt anyone and may help, (certainly more than my clueless church counselors did).

While the women’s programs run by LSI may be helpful to some women, we have no confidence that the men’s programs are effective in getting male abusers to reform.


¹ Quote from Hegstrom’s 4-DVD set “Confronting Your anger” from the LSI website.

² Quote from an advertisement for the movie from the LSI website.

³ If such a man were to be given a teaching or counseling role by competent well-trained professionals, he might be the real deal.  See this video for an example: Working with men who use violence: Ivan Clarke. Some important things to note about Ivan’s story: he participated in a secular program for men who use violence; he didn’t try to create his own program after that; he was invited by the program leaders to join them on staff.


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Related post:

Parched for truth — dehydrated — victims appreciate ANY water, but it’s better to give them pure rather than muddy water.


  1. IamMyBeloved's

    I will just say that I think the excuse that an abuser does not know what is normal, is just that – an excuse. Lots of women are emotionally, sexually and physically abused as children and they all know it is not normal. They also do not grow up and abuse their own children, because they don’t know what normal is.

    All of us have within us the knowledge that God exists. All of us have an initial sense of right and wrong. It is only those who continue to drive this knowledge away by abusing or making themselves God (i.e. Worshipping the creature instead of the Creator) that use the excuse “I don’t know what normal is, so I abuse”.

    Yes, lots of women marry abusers because they grew up in dysfunction and they know nothing else and it is a familiar zone to them, or they don’t know enough about abuse to choose differently. But I will bet that if you ask victims of childhood abuse whether they believed their dysfunctional or abusive homes they grew up in felt “normal” to them, they would say no.

    Just my thoughts. Really sick of finding new excuses for the devastating sin of domestic abuse.

    • anonymous

      And if abusers really don’t know what is ‘normal’, don’t know right from wrong, good from evil, why then do they do it in secret? Why do they act ‘normal’ in public and behind closed doors, the wolf takes off his mask?

      In my case, ex is an ordained minister, so he does the total opposite behind closed doors from that which he preaches in public. Interesting that he does NOT preach publicly that which he is doing behind closed doors.

      “Wise as serpents…” This is what we need to be!!

      • Stronger Now

        Thank you for pointing this out. I just heard the lie recently that he didn’t realize he was behaving badly. He said a man can be doing those terrible things, and not know it’s wrong.

        But he never did them with other people around. He knew when to wear that mask of “normalcy.” So in fact, he knew perfectly well how he ought to behave. He just CHOSE NOT TO, behind closed doors.

    • BetterEquipped


  2. An abuser claiming they did not know that what they were doing was wrong, is indicative of them never experiencing the heart change that comes with the new birth.
    Old things never were passed away.

    This is a “tell” on their heart condition.

    Mine always used ignorance as an excuse to justify cold words and behavior.

    “Why I didnt know that I wasent suppose to treat you like this.”

    ” I was never taught how to treat a women.”

    How about the Holy Spirit pal?!

    Well that about sums it up,
    IF he was truly born again, his heart would be changed and he would NOT be doing the things he does to hurt his spouce.

    Jesus said “By their fruits you will know them”.

  3. Ruth

    Thanks so much for this very insightful post. You’re doing a great work.

  4. Joy

    Thanks for posting this. My ex husband and I went through an intensive Life Skills training with one of their affliate psychologists back in the mid 1990’s. I have to say it opened my eyes in a big way, because it helped me finally define the relationship as truly abusive (I had been physically abused, but still didn’t admit it, because it was so sporadic in nature). However, it was mostly the Power and Control Wheel that helped me see that. There were some other videos that helped me see why I was so dysfunctional as to put up with, and cover up, the abuse for long, so I am grateful for what I got from it. Back then, there just weren’t very many Christian DV resources at all!

    The most troubling part of the program was the arrested development issue, because we were left with the impression that if my husband didn’t figure out which traumatic event from his childhood caused him to be that way, he would never be healed, and he was not interested in exploring his painful past. In his own testimony, Hegstrom said he asked God why he hadn’t changed him after years of individual therapy, and after crying out all night, a small voice said “Because you havent had a teachable spirit.” That sounds more like wrong thinking and pride rather than an uncontrollable impulse. There were several elements in the program that seemed to contradict.

    Another downfall of the program was a lack of accountability for abusers. Hegstrom said the only therapists who could help batterers with individual therapy were those who knew how to “get in the abuser’s face” and hold him accountable, so if there is any success with the program, I’d say it comes when that dynamic occurs, but that certainly didn’t happen for us in a one week ($3000) session with no follow up. When the abuse reared its ugly head a few weeks after we completed the program, I called LSI and spoke to Paul’s wife Judy. She did give me sound advice to leave, and let go if my husband was not willing to change. Overall, I’m grateful for the help I did receive, but I beleive there are so many more sound programs around now. I don’t recommend it either.

    • braveandstandingstrong

      Not a good program. I stayed longer, I believe because of this program.

      They have structured separation. They assume dad is a good guy and should have children every other weekend.Not good.
      Bill Gothard is credited with supplying some of the information for this program.

      I was made to feel badly for not wanting to reconcile. I did not have anything specific to point at. Just the Holy Spirit telling me he had not changed.He was so covert in his manipulation. I was so in a fog.
      I listened to these people and trusted them because they were Christians.

      They did help me in the initial getting away, but what good is that if we just got back together months later and then years later he is still being abusive? So glad God rescued me from an evil man set to destroy me and our children!

      • braveandstandingstrong

        Get this, they have you go on dates with your abusive spouse!

        With this program, I never got the distance- the break from him I needed to feel the difference of not being continually demeaned and harassed by him. Away from him, I feel alive again! 🙂

        What helped me most was Lundy Bancroft and his books. Thanking God for your ministry!

  5. Ng

    I for one did see the film and checked the web site.. yes, it’s very commercial, but so is almost everything in this day and age.. Don’t most Christian or non-Christian councelors ask for payment fo their services, helpful or not? It’s a dilemma I don’t know how to reconcile: professional help of course is professional, but… Money should not determine whether one is eligible to receive words of wisdom and sound advice.

    As for ‘arrested development’, i had heard that expression elsewhere and came to understand it as one possible underlying reason, NOT an excuse or permission to do whatever.
    My own family is full of emotional immaturity, and my Dad (who was very abusive when I was a child), definitely had those arresred development issues – he was in many ways like scared 9 year old boy – which does NOT justify his rage or violent explosions…
    In order to get help, I don’t believe one has to know all traumatic details of what caused what, but be willing to ask God for grace to be changed. Lack of compassion in the childhood is what has caused me plenty of grief, but I pray daily that I will not use that as an excuse to hurt others. Instead of repeating the cycle, I want to extend the love and grace I never had in some areas, and learn to live in the compassion I want to receive from others.

  6. Stronger Now

    When I was still living with my abuser I read “Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them.”

    I believe reading this book prolonged the abuse, as it essentially made a plethora of excuses for why my abuser was damaged or “programmed” to abuse from his childhood. Even though Hegstrom stopped abusing his wife, I saw no such change or inclination towards change in my abuser. Essentially, this book gave me no hope, leaving me feeling more trapped than ever, because I was still listening to the “no divorce, ever, except for adultery” mantra.

    Honestly, it’s pretty worthless for us to “understand” that a dysfunctional childhood is at the root of a man’s abusiveness. So what? Not all abused children end up as abusive adults. So why does this excuse him abusing me? At some point it is clear that he is abusing me because he wants to. He enjoys it. He likes the perks. He gets a thrill out of it. Who cares if he lived with someone who treated him that way, years ago? He’s deciding to do it to me, now.

    Just because Hegstrom decided to stop abusing his wife doesn’t mean he (or his program) is able to change the minds of other abusers. As Lundy Bancroft has observed, these guys have very little motivation to change, since the perks are pretty sweet, and they believe to their very core that they are entitled to those perks.

    For these reasons, I would never recommend anything that comes from Paul Hegstrom.

  7. anonymous

    When abusers are willing to take FULL accountability for their actions, and are willing to cry out to the Lord in true repentance and go before Him as that of a beggar seeking forgiveness and a changed heart, and when they are willing to SUBMIT to the One Who alone is ALL powerful and worthy of worship and praise, then and only then do they have a teachable spirit, displaying they really do want to change. Short of this, and because they are self-deceived continue on in this game, which is sport to them, to deceive us with their large-and-in-charge, puffed up modern-day Pharisee righteousness.

    Hegstrom found another way to hustle, and it appears to be lucrative.

  8. Anewanon

    When a program (or video) only deals with violence, it only scratches the surface. So many don’t understand the (emotional) violence done to a woman simply by the “hardness of his heart” that Jesus references when asked about Moses’s allowances for divorce.

    Malachi – 2:16 “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty…NLT

    Programs that DO give credence to the harm of “emotional violence” are VERY MUCH a drop of water in an otherwise very parched desert. Broken promises are so painful – esp when a woman kept going back so that she could fulfill “God’s call to forgive” and be able to live with herself. Its easy to see the injury of a physical wound. The trauma of an emotional wound is deep and hard to imagine unless you’ve experienced it. Thinking that I “got it” I used to counsel ladies … God had another plan and now the shoe is on the other foot. How foolish I feel now for assuming that I knew what I was talking about. The emotional effects are horrendous. God truly knows what he is talking about when he uses the words “violent’, “hardness of heart”, “cruel” and “overwhelming”. I had no idea. I wish I still didn’t..

    • braveandstandingstrong

      When I went, I was not working. They had a sliding scale. I don’t remember having to pay anything for my sessions. I think my husband
      had to pay $20-$40 for each session.
      It was not an outrageous amount. I think it is why he agreed to it. Of course, now he can claim how great he was for “doing everything I asked him to.” He told them what they wanted to hear and they believed him.

      This time(final separation) I am not asking him to.do anything. He is lost and has no idea how to be a good man or husband or father.
      He doesn’t need me, he needs Jesus, but he won’t take the crown off of his head and surrender.

  9. Jean

    My husband and I were involved in this program a couple of years ago in Aurora, CO. We got to know the Hegstroms quite well. God did do an awesome work in their marriage and like all of us, He’s still at work in their lives.

    The process of the Life Skills program was brutally difficult and in the end did not help significantly. There were a couple of insightful teachings that have helped with our understanding, but not the healing. The program’s philosophy is that if you learn why then you will change and be set free. It’s very similar to our current pastor’s approach who believes he just has to “proclaim” the truth to us and if we get it, then we will be healed. We do need the truth, but we also needed help walking it out in a very deep manner. The issues that lead to abuse are very complex and healing must address the core issues, which will be very individual.
    There is a bit of arrogance regarding the solution of the Hegstrom’s program and applying it to everyone. About half way through, the Holy Spirit told me that healing would come through Him, not a program, not a counselor, and not a church (although each of these things could be helpful).

    As we have experience great growth and healing, it is only to God’s glory. God will not share his glory and our testimony is to the work of the Holy Spirit. My husband has a mental illness and learning about it from psychology, including Life Skills, has helped apply scripture and hear from the Holy Spirit. However, I would not suggest Life Skills, unless God tells you to do the program. It is not the “holy grail” that the desperate person is looking for. It is a long road to a healthy life when abuse is involved, but with the Holy Spirit, it is worth the journey.

    • Thanks Jean. 🙂 And welcome to the blog. 🙂

    • John Smithson

      Thank you for your comments. I am 72, and was involved as a Pastoral/Family counselor. I have given some thought to being an “instructor” as to Life Skills International. And if “instructor” is not the correct term, it just reveals how little I know about this program. Much of the criticism (minus the ad hom stuff), I agree with. Just wondering how much latitude a counselor working with this program, really has. Is he free to “digress” from Life Skills content, or is “content” a prescription that must be followed. At any rate, I am leaning away from this program for now. Problem: We can get so critical of such efforts as Life Skills that we wind up do nothing. Most folks know that simply talking to a Christian friend, often (very often) helps to reset our priorities as to marriage (whether the need to leave or to stay). Anyway, thank you all for your comments.

  10. Under the Waterfall

    There is a bit of arrogance regarding the solution of the Hegstrom’s program and applying it to everyone. About half way through, the Holy Spirit told me that healing would come through Him, not a program, not a counselor, and not a church (although each of these things could be helpful).

    I suppose the trouble with any kind of human attempt to take from what is God`s and fashion it into a system of some sort by which we may say `I`ve got this now“, or by which we attempt to isolate and control the parts of the source that `work“, is that we can step out of submitted, trusting relationship and into idolatry. Perhaps that explains why some of the most theologically correct churches can also be the most dead, religious bodies full of parochial thinking and Pharisees, who are so absolutely certain they are on the cutting edge of truth, that it is almost impossible to convince them they are poor blind and naked and in need of eye-salve. Had my own struggles with this malady of prideful self idolatry, religious control and arrogance, both as giver and receiver, and realize how hard it is to be parted from it.

    Makes me think of the OT story where the Israelites were told to only gather enough manna for the day and trust God to provide the next day. Some disobeyed, attempted to `manage` the supply and it spoiled and became vile and inedible. It`s interesting to me that throughout Israel`s history, as soon as they got cocky and thought “I`ve got this done to a system“ and either switched dependency to another nation or god, or ran out ahead of God, they got their butts kicked and suffered extreme consequences. That kind of thinking can amount to depending on our own righteousness, depending on our own strength or trusting in the arm of flesh to save us.

  11. T.L.

    Barbara, I really appreciate your honest critique; and also that you would post the positive critique from a reader, to give an alternate view. Thank you for all the good info here, and on the rest of your site.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, T.L.
      And welcome to the blog! 🙂

      We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      If you want us to change your screen name to something else, just email The woman behind the curtain: twbtc.acfj@gmail.com — she will be more than happy to assist. 🙂

  12. HG

    … I just watched the movie. Commendations to the late John Ritter. He made me hate him.

    I was in an abusive relationship over 40 years ago. Thank God I got out. He would have killed me eventually. These men who do this do not think they are ever wrong. They think women are their property. How sad

    • Hi sister, I amended your screen name to HG, as a precaution for your safety (you had given your full name). Welcome to the blog. We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQs.

  13. Hi John Smithson,
    thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog 🙂

    You said

    Most folks know that simply talking to a Christian friend, often (very often) helps to reset our priorities as to marriage (whether the need to leave or to stay).

    Actually, what often happens when a Christian who is being abused in marriage talks to their Christian friend is that the friend tells the victim to stay in the marriage. There are multiple reasons for this: the lack of identification by both victims and their friends that the problem is actually ABUSE; the church’s unbalanced teaching about marriage, gender roles, forgiveness, suffering, reconciliation, etc., and the church’s commonly held idea that abuse is not grounds for divorce. Sometimes a victim of abuse is fortunate enough to disclose to a friend who really gets it about domestic abuse and teachings of most churches which endanger victims of abuse. But often the friend doesn’t have a clue, and advises the abuse victim to stay with the abuser.

    At this site, we do not advise victims to leave or to stay. We simply give them information and biblical teaching which helps them make up their own mind about whether they want to stay or leave. 🙂 You might like to check out our FAQ page.

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