Joining up the dots: Using Non-violent Resistance (NVR) and Contextual Safeguarding (CS) to strengthen adult and community guardianship
My name is Tony Meehan. I am a practitioner of Non Violent Resistance (NVR) with PartnershipProjects UK. NVR was developed by Dr Haim Omer and introduced to the UK by Dr Peter Jakob.
My introduction to NVR and, separately, to Contextual Safeguarding (CS) came in 2016, the year before I retired, after almost nine years, as head of an inner-London Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). My experiences working with children excluded from mainstream school convinced me of the urgent need for alternative approaches to managing behaviour that are not rooted in traditional behaviourist models so common in practically every school in the country – including in many PRUs and alternative provision (AP) schools. On their trajectory to permanent exclusion, these pupils are often subject to a raft of exclusionary “behaviour management” approaches; even detentions – excluding young people from socialising with their friends in breaks and after school – or afternoons or days spent in isolation booths for example.
I began paying more attention to the use of metaphor in NVR after attending Dan Dulberger’s training in the use of NVR in families where young adults are struggling to emerge into adulthood and remain entrenched in their dependency on their parents. Dan used a number of metaphors in his training to explain the position that parents take when encouraging young people into autonomy. He explained the gradual process of de-accommodation by referring to eagles, who line a special place in the nest with feathers and softness for the eggs, but the part of the nest for the fledglings is much less comfortable – indeed Dan referred to eagles removing feathers from the nest in order to encourage the fledglings to fly. Eagles know that their babies have to leave the nest for their safety and the survival of the whole family. The concept of de-accommodation can be a tough one for families, especially those that may have adopted children and have spent years using therapeutic parenting.
By: Dr. Michaela Fried
Already huge problems due to the pandemic while planning the journey. Are we going to be allowed to fly out? Is there going to be a flight during lockdown? Naturally we have to do a PCR test shortly before take-off. We met a week ago: Helga Longin volunteering for the NGO “Unser Bruck hilft” (Our Bruck helps); Sabine Sommerhuber, who has been “thinking about” the refugee situation in Austria and beyond its borders together with myself and others in the think tank “Die Unerhörten” (The Outrageous) since 2015; she works with Helga, and child psychiatrist Ulla Wurm, a colleague of mine at psychosocial services in Eisenstadt, Burgenland, who spontaneously decides: I’m coming with you! First, an antigen test in my company flat and then a nice gathering with snacks and a unanimous agreement: We will fly out as soon as possible. Sabine takes care of the flights, I will scrounge medication. We want to go because it has become a matter of the heart, and we have to because so many people have generously donated money for our project, their thoughts being “If I give the money to you, I know it will go where it is needed. I can’t do anything else from Austria…” In the meantime, Ulla had contacted Kai at Medical Volunteers International (MVI), a Hamburg-based NGO. This NGO recruits medical professionals who volunteer in regions for a limited period of time to provide medical care to people in crisis areas or emergencies. They welcomed us into their team without any complications.
My 7-year-old son came home the other day and just before bed (his favourite time to initiate a deep and meaningful discussion) he said, “Mum, there is a rule at school and I would like your opinion on it. You may agree with it, you may not but I would like to know what you think?”
He went on to explain that the children in his class receive a punishment where they lose five minutes off their lunch break, if they don’t cross their arms or if they are talking when they line up. He explained that he and his best friend had this punishment issued to them that day and it had upset him. I was gobsmacked. I wasn’t aware I had placed him in a Dickensian school or military training academy. I thought it was a regular school for primary aged children where punitive consequences were widely understood to be unhelpful at best, harmful at worst.
When not to use NVR with a family?
This is a question prompted by noticing the types of referrals received over the years and by questions raised by participants in training contexts. It also seems that this year, the year of Covid19, and driven by rising need and reduced capacity in the various support systems around families, pressures to find rapid relief, a ‘fix’ for a family in need, are increasing. We have also heard of courts requiring families to undertake an NVR intervention as part of a process of returning a child home from Care.
In the world of psychotherapy, nothing seems to feel as natural as the theme of empathy. As a professional, you are supposed to act in an empathic way and be able to engage in understanding the other. Depending on the professional, this could translate into a process of emotional resonance, or rather an exploration towards contextual appreciation.
Of course, the challenge of understanding each other is societal as well, and currently feels as urgent as ever. But whether we are talking about the therapy room or our social commitment, we like to think of empathy as a precondition towards encounters with a more warm and connecting character.
That makes me wonder. If sometimes I experience something very different, then what do I call that?
For an awfully long time now, I have been trying to get my head around launching PartnershipProjects’ very own ‘NVR Podcast’. How I actually “saw” this happening and the actual fact of “making” it happen were two hugely different things! This made me think more about the parents I work with, how they are faced with such challenges, their ability to overcome these challenges with an open mind and how they hold on to hope!!!
As with everything in my life, I made a comparison to my work and using NVR. I imagined I was a parent seeking support for a problem I am faced with and desperately trying to find “THE” solution. There were many options, all sounding roughly the same, all giving similar outcomes, and helping me find the best result and solution for my podcast needs. However, I needed to know that the option I’d choose would be the best option, and I would succeed in launching something that looked and sounded like a podcast. Feeling overwhelmed and alone in my quest to get this problem of mine fixed, I experienced a real sense of stuckness.
How are we doing?
These past few weeks have been such strange, unsettling times for us all. Changes in every area of our lives. Nothing untouched by the creeping effects of a global pandemic. From the global to the local, it’s now with us in our communities; even in tiny, unnoticed, corners of the Welsh valleys, where I work, we have a very unwelcome visitor whose presence we can feel but not see. Its effects lay a trail of devastation.
How do we respond to such circumstances, especially when we are in caring health professions where mental health is our daily business? We are trained to intervene helpfully in situations where young people are experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, emotional dysregulation and abusive family situations, or where they act in ways which are harmful to others or self-destructive. We follow NICE guidelines and evidence our outcomes for commissioners and we do a good job, in many an underfunded, underresourced setting.
Welcome to your letter of encouragement. We are your Non Violent Resistance (NVR) coaches and mentors. You may be facing the next few weeks with trepidation, horror or enthusiasm, or a range of other emotions. Having your children home full time, and becoming teacher and guide as well as parent may feel a daunting task, especially with so little preparation time and the need to balance the stresses that we are all facing – work challenges, financial challenges, relational and health challenges.
You are not alone – we are all in this together. We have put together some ideas that we hope might be useful – each paragraph is written by a different person, and we are sure you will have some ideas of your own which will be sparked, so we hope this letter will be a kind of conversation.
This is a response to requests to continue as ‘normal’ during these times. My idea is that this is old thinking for what is really a new paradigm – those ideas belong to BC times (Before Covid). Normal times as we knew them, are not returning. There will be new times to negotiate, slightly or not so slightly different, and we will need all our resources to manage this.
What if instead, I ventured to say as a professional to parents (and to myself) “Don’t worry about being consistent. Only be consistent in your inconsistency”? I would encourage a growth in fluidity (we have been flooded as a country so perhaps this is the right metaphor!), a plea instead to be flexible, awake and responsive. Routine and things to do are important, but don’t be ruled by this. Respond to the day as it unfolds. Go outside, turn faces to the sun, listen to the birds, pick up leaves, rush around, shout, dance and play hide and seek with the cat. Stick a timetable upside down on the bin lid, paint it in rainbow colours and then throw it away. Call friends and have meetings online, sing to each other, dance in virtual dance halls, connect, connect and then switch off.