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AVP: the Alternatives to Violence Project as an example of a faith-based holistic transformational practice integrated with self-management of behavior

The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP): An example of a faith-based holistic transformational practice which may be integrated with traditional self-management of behavior approaches.

Robert L. Benefield

 Professor of Psychology and Criminal Justice

East Texas Baptist University

Marshall, Texas 75670





The history, background, and transformational practices of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) are presented.  AVP is a Quaker-founded nonprofit educational corporation which conducts experiential workshops teaching alternatives to violence in prisons, communities, and schools. Particular emphasis is placed on the AVP concept of “transforming power” as a key concept in peacemaking activities.  Transforming power is the infinite power that can transform violent and destructive behavior into creative, constructive, and cooperative behavior.  Characteristics of and prerequisites for transforming power will be illustrated as a means of operationally defining transforming power. Integration of holistic transformational concepts (such as transforming power) with the more traditional self-management strategies of behavior found in psychology is proposed.  Insights regarding transforming power operating in self-management of behavior are included.

AVP Mission and History

According to the AVP/USA web page ( and the AVP Basic Training Manual, the mission of AVP is to empower people to lead nonviolent lives through affirmation, respect for all, community building, cooperation, and trust.  AVP is dedicated to reducing the level of violence in our society. Specifically, this goal is to reduce the level of violence by introducing people to ways of resolving conflict that reduce their need to resort to violence as the solution. The Alternatives to Violence Project is designed to create successful personal interactions and transform violent situations. AVP teaches the same non-violent skills and techniques that were used by Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The AVP program began in 1975 at Green Haven Prison (NY) at the request of long-term prisoners.   Inmates collaborated with the Quaker Project on Community Conflict devising a prison workshop. The success of this workshop quickly generated requests for more, and AVP was born.  As the program spread, it became obvious that violence and the need for this training exist wherever there is conflict. Since conflict is a natural and normal part of life, it is found everywhere.  Yet AVP suggests that it is possible to learn new ways of handling conflict. Workshops are offered extensively in communities and schools.   Workshops have been held for businesses, churches, community associations, street gangs, halfway houses, women’s shelters, and many others.  The program has been growing at the rate of 25 to 30 percent each year since. There are currently almost 2000 volunteer AVP facilitators in the USA. In 2007, 840 workshops were conducted in the U.S. (in 32 states), and the program has spread to Canada, England & Ireland, Eastern & Western Europe, New Zealand & Australia, Central America and Cuba, Israel & Jordan, Russia, Africa, India, Hong Kong & Singapore, Japan, and Nepal.

AVP Principles

The basic AVP workshop (24 hours training and experiential exercises) focuses on these factors:

  1. Workshops consist primarily of experiential activities including role play activities.
  2. Experiential activities are designed to:
    1. Promote as sense of community in the group based on respect for all people in it.
    2. Promote affirmation of self and of one another.
    3. Teach communication skills.
    4. Teach and promote cooperation among persons
    5. Teach basic conflict resolution skills
    6. Ground rules include:
      1. Look for and affirm one another’s good points.
      2. Refrain from putdowns of self or others.
      3. Listen: do not interrupt or speak too long or too often.
      4. Volunteer only yourself, not others.
      5. Observe confidentiality.
      6. Everyone has the right to pass.

The following circle summarizes the key AVP principles:

1)      Respect for self

2)      Caring for others

3)      Expect the best

4)      Think before reacting

5)      Ask for a nonviolent solution

6)      Transforming Power



Integrating AVP Principles with Self-Management Strategies

For almost 40 years I have served a consultant and educator in behavior management strategies (see Benefield, 2009 for a discussion).  During the past 15 years, I have been actively involved in conflict resolution and anger management training in the schools, prisons, and in the community working with organizations and families including serving as a lead facilitator for AVP at Wade Prison in Louisiana See Benefield (2005) for a summary of the anger management program utilized in the settings noted above.  I have discovered that conflict is normal and that anger can be a motivating and activating tool for growth and development.  However, it is critical to recognize that when conflict and anger occur, people make a choice to either destroy or create (see Benefield, 2008 for details.)  Thus, the essence of AVP training is promoting the utilization of creative alternatives to destructive habits that have been injurious in the past.

AVP is one of the conflict resolution models that I found to be most successful in helping individuals change from violently aggressive to nonaggressive conflict styles.  AVP training consists of experiential activities that are based on the assumption that there is a nonviolent solution or power present in every conflict situation.  This power can transform potentially violent situations into situations where a creative nonviolent win-win outcome results.  This power is called transforming power or creative nonviolence and there are five factors related to its operating in a conflict situation.  By actively encouraging the development of these five factors, workshop participants make it more likely that peace will occur in potentially violent situations.  These five factors are listed and described below.  Also summarized are some of the experiential activities used in workshops and self-management strategies that are used to promote the development of these factors.

Operationally Defining Transforming Power


1.  Building one’s self-respect

Individuals who lack self-respect are often looking for ways to prove that they are worthwhile or that they have self-value.  These individuals are more likely than others to engage in violent verbal and physical behaviors to somehow insure that they are being accepted by others or to validate themselves.  Thus, experiential exercises used in self-management workshops that address this issue focus on awareness of current behaviors and behavior change.  Among the components of these self-management activities are:

  • Identification of one’s current anger- or conflict-management style and promoting the utilization of assertive and collaborative styles as alternatives to aggressive or submissive styles.
  • Accepting the responsibility for the CHOICE of one’s behavior, thoughts, beliefs, and one’s general evaluations of self-performance.
  • Recognizing global negative critical self-talk and counterproductive thinking patterns  (“I’m a dummy”) and  replacing them with specific, rational behavior change strategies  (“I make poor decisions when I’m drunk”).
  • Learning to recognize and build upon strengths while telling the truth about weaknesses in a specific manner (operational definitions) that make it more likely to change these behaviors.


2.  Caring for Others

In many respects, building one’s self-respect is a prerequisite for caring for others.  Prior to noncontingent self-acceptance, it is easy to think that one’s worth is dependent upon others.  Caring for others implies an ability to put one’s self into the shoe’s of your opponent in a dispute.  For most people, being in conflict means being focused on our winning and our opponent losing (win-lose).  Caring for the other party in a conflict increases the likelihood that both parties can come out winners (win-win).  A little caring for the other party (empathy) on the part of both disputants in a conflict can go a long way toward creative nonviolence emerging in that situation.  Activities in self-management programs include:

  • Learning to approach others with a positive outlook by decreasing fault-finding behavior.
  • Improving listening skills and the use of  I-statements as alternatives to You-statements
  • Increasing the ability to find common ground with one’s opponent by activities which help participants recognize their similarities with their opponents. 
  • Promoting cooperation building via experiential activities


3.  Awareness of the Power of Expectations on Behavior

Role play activities are a primary technique for teaching participants how their expectations are fulfilled in conflict situations.  Expect the worst, behave as if the worst will happen, and those behaviors can increase the likelihood of the worst happening.  Expect the best, behave as if the best can happen, and those behaviors increase the likelihood of the best (win-win) happening.  Participants recognize that their own behavior and thoughts can play a vital role in bringing about the behaviors that they expect from their opponent in the conflict.  Through role-plays insights are gained into how having an expectation for the best (win-win) occurring can actually increase the probability of that happening.


4.  Learning to Stop and Think Before Reacting

These activities help individuals see their habitual patterns of responding during conflict situation.  Old habits often erupt abruptly in conflict situations.  Words are spoken without thinking about their consequences and destructive actions can happen in the blink of an eye.  These activities are designed to address this factor of responding quickly to interrupt and replace destructive habitual behaviors. Activities in self-management training include:

  • Learning to replace current ways of dealing with conflict with creative ways such as surprise, caring, empathy, and humor.
  • Learning the process of generating unexpected alternatives by brainstorming and opening-up processes. 
  • Practicing the exact skills (breathing, thought examination, and time-out) needed to stop before reacting.
  • Learning to trust being open and receptive to new ideas and practice using creative problem-solving strategies in realistic scenarios.


5.  Ask for a Nonviolent Solution

As individuals begin to incorporate the idea of stopping before reacting habitually to  conflict situations, they then have the opportunity to use this period of time to ask (themselves, someone they trust, and/or their higher power) for a nonviolent way to handle the current conflict.  Participants discover that there are numerous ideas that come to their mind when they ask for it.  These ideas are creative nonviolent options (win-win) to the destructive behaviors used in the past.  Participants practice applying these creative ideas in role plays relevant to their personal conflict situations.

Insights regarding transforming power and self-management of behavior:

  1. The self-manager’s attitude is subject to personal modification.

The self-manager’s attitude toward habitual (destructive or nonproductive) responding is a personal choice and responsibility. One’s attitude has a big impact on the ability to self-manage behavior. Awareness training (such as metacognition) is required for self-managers to discover that their attitude is their personal choice. Thus, a self-manager’s attitude includes their choice of beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and expectations.  The self-manager’s beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and expectations are subject to self-regulation. The desire to create or destroy (or be productive or nonproductive) is also viewed as personal choice. Thus, as the self-manager makes new choices regarding beliefs, thoughts, feelings, expectations, and motivation, a new attitude is created.  The new attitude that is created by the self-manager is an attitude that is conducive to learning to stop destructive or nonproductive habits. Thus, it is an attitude of belief in, acceptance of, and application of the concept of transforming power.

2.      When self managers have no control over big things, they still have choices.

Even with regard to the so-called uncontrollable emotions, a self-manager can learn to choose creative options. The self-manager can begin to recognize emotional behaviors as keys to enhanced metaphysical awareness (e.g., metacognition).  Operational definitions of emotional behaviors can increase recognition of correlates of emotional behaviors. These correlates can be mechanisms of enhanced self-management. In short, self-managers find ways to express their feelings creatively.  Successful self-managers find someone to talk to about their feelings and triggers. Self-managers find ways of creatively solving the problem triggering the destructive emotional behaviors. Self-managers learn to accept the power of choice and the limits of control. Effectively using positive self-talk to create a more effective problem-solver and decreasing global negative ideas such as worthless, no count, idiot, stupid, or ugly are frequently reported as keys to mastering self-management. Stand back awareness (see number 6 below) as a strategy permits self-managers to honestly examine destructive or nonproductive emotional behaviors and facilitates data collection. Learning to gently tell the truth about the self-manager‘s thinking and feelings is promotes creative problem-solving. Exemplary of transforming power is the willingness to allow creative flow to teach you about the perfect timing on speaking out and keeping silent.


3.      Effective self-managers learn to express their needs and expectations

Self-managers learn to communicate their needs and begin to view life as a learning process that can be mastered in the now. Having a clear understanding of what is needed to solve the problem is facilitated by application of operational definitions.  Self-managers create operational definitions of their personal needs and to express those needs gently but clearly. Likewise self-managers may learn to express their thanks and respect to all. Overall, self-managers report that they begin to value their relationships with others. Likewise self-managers report an increased tendency to:

  • Admit to and communicate fears and concerns.
  • Admit to past mistakes (and are explain to someone what they have learned from them).
  • Let go of grudges, but communicate clearly their expectations now.
  • Admit to current mistakes and explain to one’s self what they could have done differently in that situation.


4.      Effective self-managers exercise freedom of choice and stop self-derogation

One of the goals of training is to learn to fully exercise freedom of choice as a self-manager.  The more the self-manager assumes responsibility for the aspects of their internal and external environments that can be controlled, the more awareness the self-manager gains as to what is controllable and what is not.   Self-managers report that the following choices are critical in the learning process: 

  • Being responsible for actions, words, thoughts, and beliefs. 
  • Recognizing and learning to refute and decrease global negative criticism. (Thinking “I’m stupid, worthless, dumb, and no good at anything” is replaced by specific criticism. Replacing global negative criticism with specific, rational statements about behavior.  For example, “I’m not very productive at the computer after six joints or drinks,” or with specific goals that have been operationally defined; such as, I will stop smoking/drinking during the week.)
  • Becoming aware of the choice to be more thankful for one’s strengths (and building on them) while being honest about one’s weaknesses (being specific and applying principles for change).

5.      Effective self-managers make a commitment to seek positive interactions

Self-managers learn to make the choice to seek positive interaction with all others.   Many report that they begin by:  

  • Creating a positive attitude when approaching and interacting with others. 
  • Decreasing faultfinding (both in self and in others)
  • Seeking common ground with all others
  • Being an excellent listener
  • Expressing their needs in the most gentle way possible  (e.g., “I” statements: see Benefield, 2005)
  • Being cooperative while gently saying no to things that they know are inappropriate.

6.      Effective self-managers make the choice to be creative and productive

Self-managers learn to make the choice to stop destructive or nonproductive behaviors and increase being creative.   Self-managers report this is possible as they begin:

  • Learning to stop and enter stand-back awareness or “observer consciousness,” to step back externally and internally, take a deep breath, move away, get some distance, run, walk, or jog, take a time out, or any other non-destructive alternative, but do not make the choice to be destructive.
  • Learning to become aware of their breath and thoughts as aids to relax, calm down, and think about the consequences of destructive behavior .
  • Being open to creative ideas flowing in consciousness—something other than being destructive.
  • Creating expectations consistent with the notion that ideas will flow to all that are receptive in consciousness.
  • Becoming a metaphysical self-management practitioner. That is, applying creative metaphysical self-management to learn to be receptive to the flow.
  • Becoming a flow practitioner by choosing behaviors consistent with ideas such as random acts of kindness, peacemaking, and love sharing. When in doubt, they learn to be the silent observer-learner.



AVP Manual Basic Course   Alternatives to Violence Project, Inc.  

Benefield, R. (2009) Cognitive Behavior Analysis Self-Management Strategies:  Destructive Anger, Poor Memory, and Nonproductive Arousal.  Paper presented to the Southwestern Psychological Association Meeting, San Antonio, Texas.

Benefield, R. (2008) Mystical Consciousness:  Crack in the Matrix.  Llumina Press.  ISBN: 978-1-60594-190-5

Benefield, R. (2005). Planning with Purpose: Anger and Happiness as Keys to Awareness. Llumina Press. ISBN: 159526-154-0.

Benefield, R.L.   (2005) Creative Anger Awareness Training:  A self-management program for violent offenders.  Paper presented to the 19th Annual Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.  Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Benefield, R. L. (2004) The Effects of Anger Management on Adolescent and Adult Violent Offenders.  Poster presentation presented to the American Psychological Society meeting, Chicago, Illinois.

Benefield, R.L.   (2002) Creative Nonviolence Training for Anger Management and Conflict Resolution.  Paper presented to the American Psychological Society, New Orleans, LA.

Benefield, R. L.  (2001) Teaching Alternatives to Violence.  Paper presented to the International Association of Pupil Personnel Workers, New Orleans, LA.



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