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Using social health approaches in Countering Violent Extremism: Step Together

Welcome to the Step Together blog, where we’ll be discussing a range of issues related to violent extremism. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be speaking and writing with a range of experts on the subject. In the meantime, we’d like to explain a little more about the core philosophies of our approach.

Step Together represents a relatively new way to protect our society from extremist violence, called Countering Violent Extremism or CVE. CVE takes a preventative, early intervention approach, looking at and dealing with the social health motivations that lead people to join extremist groups or embrace their ideologies. We focus on the time before any ideas of violence take hold, so we are at the opposite end of the spectrum to law enforcement, counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation programs.

The main social health motivators are extreme social isolation, loneliness, the need for significance, and the need to belong. When these feelings become intense and combine with deep political, ideological or religious interest, the risk of involvement in violent extremist groups becomes greater.

Sometimes people who feel excluded seek a sense of belonging on the fringes of society. If people cannot meet this need within their everyday lives, they can at times seek it out through groups that advocate violence as a means of change. The behaviour exhibited in extremist recruits has strong parallels to those who join gangs and cults; and much of the philosophy that drives our Countering Violent Extremism approach draws from disengagement work in these and other societal fringe groups.

Countering Violent Extremism looks at what the perpetrators across racial, religious and political boundaries tend to share, and often that is social difficulties. The pathways to violent extremism have these common features, whether it be Islamic extremism, white power or other racially motivated groups, political extremists, or any other group that supports using violence to achieve change.

Extensive research shows that most people don’t initially join violent extremist groups for ideological reasons, rather these justifications for violent actions tend to come later. Instead, they join for social reasons – joining someone they know, to connect with other people, or to find a sense of belonging and purpose.

As Countering Violent Extremism researcher Dr Kate Barelle explained in a recent interview, “A lot of people adopt the ideas after they join the group, not the other way around [ ]

if I feel disconnected from my family or other people around me [ ]

I’ll seek out a place to belong. If a group floats past that happens to be one of these extremist groups and they make me feel like I belong, it doesn’t take much for me to adopt the ideas that come with it.”

Groups who support using violence to achieve change, including ISIS, the Neo Nazi movement, racial groups and political extremists often use the desire to belong and other vulnerabilities in their propaganda and recruitment strategies, offering experiences that claim to reverse these negative experiences. 

How you can help someone

One of the best ways to help someone who is heading down a dark path is to talk to them! This early intervention can be as simple as a non-judgemental, accepting ear of a family member or friend. Feeling accepted and cared for helps people feel a better sense of support and belonging in society. It is one of the best ways to help turn someone’s life around.

That’s why Step Together is here. To help people recognise problems in those they care about and provide strategies to help these support networks deal with these issues in a healthy way.

Drawing on over 50 years of experience operating remote phone and online counselling services through our parent organisation On The Line, Step Together’s qualified counselling teams can help advise you on ways you can discuss these issues with someone close to you and offer them a different path.

Want to find out more?

You can find information about what we do, definitions of violent extremism, tips on signs to look for, privacy and other topics on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Learn more about how Step Together can help you provide better support for those you care about on our Get Support page .

Learn more About Us .

Information for professionals and community leaders can be found here

If you’re concerned about someone who may be on the path to violent extremism, we’re here to help. Call us on 1800 875 204 or start a webchat session any day of the week between 7am and 9pm

Step Together offers free professional telephone and online counselling 7am to 9pm, seven days a week .

Get support now by selecting one of our counselling options below.