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Supporting Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities using NVR: A Journey of Parental Legitimacy
I have had the pleasure of working with individuals with learning disabilities, both in adult and child settings, for 20 years. Across all roles, I have worked with parents, and an interest in all things parenting started to develop, an interest that peaked when I became a parent for the first time. I have also naturally found myself holding a position of resistance across roles: holding the needs of people with learning disabilities (and their families) in the minds of others at an individual level and at a service level and opening different perspectives in understanding psychological distress by taking a trauma-informed approach, especially understanding behaviour as a form of communication. I have always valued the role of the therapeutic relationship, taking a playful and measured pace in my work, but noticed an internal conflict with external drivers to ‘do’ and ‘improve’ an individual’s circumstances, for example, through ‘goal-based outcomes’ within the context of a therapeutic model.
As part of my NVR accreditation, I reflected on my own NVR journey, both personally and professionally as a mum to four children working within a context of a Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and a Children’s inpatient unit. The journey brought forth ideas of unity demonstrating how together we can make a difference.
Unity is illustrated when I witness birds embark on their journey to a warmer destination, they take flight and form a V-shape flying pattern, the formation creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. When a bird falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the resistance of trying to go it alone — and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. When the lead bird gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another bird flies up front. There is encouragement from behind for those at the front to maintain their momentum.
I have recently completed my NVR Accreditation Module through PartnershipProjects. My journey in NVR started 7 years ago, I can honestly say that this process has changed my view of communication and my ethos of life. I am confident to shout from the rooftops what I have learnt through my NVR training. I have learnt we can work in co-creative ways to form positive relationships and treat others with unconditional positive regard, even when that means resisting outside agencies / organisations / influences. As part of my journey to get to this stage in my learning, I found that NVR is “the only way”.
I work in a therapeutic environment supporting young people who have experienced many challenges in their lives, where their voices will not have been heard or valued. My presentation focussed on a young person who came from an abusive and neglectful background which unfortunately resulted in her being in a secure hospital before joining Anderida Adolescent Care.
For the past 3 years, I have been using NVR in my work with individual families and in groups within my CAMH’s role. I am currently completing the PartnershipProjects Accreditation Module as my final stage of training in NVR. I knew this would be an enriching experience to discover how other practitioners applied and utilised NVR as an approach.
The title for my blog post is “unconditional love”. This subject brought about many considerations at one of the early sessions of an NVR parent group. In the group, I described the stance of unconditional love as a cornerstone of NVR. I became very aware of the possible impact of my words on one of the parents. She was a foster mother who I had met just once before. I felt concerned that the words, “I am here, you cannot get rid of me, I am your parent, I will always be here, I love you”, might not resonate with her lived reality.
As an NVR practitioner, I’m always interested in new ways to give a taste of NVR to parents and supporters. Recently I’ve had a lot of success with using an Aesop’s Fable, which with a little artistic licence I’ve augmented, to simplistically illustrate some of the fundamental principles of NVR.
The Sun and Wind get into an argument about who is more powerful and finally they agree that the only way to settle to matter is to have a competition. The wind suggests that the winner should be the one who can remove the cape from the lonely shepherd, tending his flock on the nearby hill, the quickest.
I have recently signed up for the accreditation module of the NVR training. when I read about the case study element, I wondered which area to focus on, but ultimately settled on my use of the NVR approach in communication with my child’s school. So, in effect, I am my own case study if you like.
When my eldest son started nursery, his difficulties weren’t obvious. He was only three, recently placed with us and still in the ‘honeymoon’ phase where he was actively people pleasing, though we didn’t recognise this as such at the time. Nursery went smoothly, he was able to keep up with educational and social aspects of school life and all was well. Reception went similarly, though we started suspecting he had more difficulties than we initially thought. We asked for help from the adoption agency and were allocated a therapist and post adoption social worker, who are both still very much part of our support network around him, three years on.
I came to the Accreditation Module in Autumn 2021 some 3 years after I had completed my Advanced Level training and Certification in NVR practice through PartnershipProjects. I loved NVR and had been privileged in the preceding 7 years to journey from the Foundation Level, with my two colleagues in the Leeds Adoption Support team, through to the Advanced Certification level.
Together, in those early days, the three of us grew our passion, knowledge and confidence in the NVR principles and practised this with the multi-challenged families in our Adoption Support Service. We worked individually with families and progressed to develop a 12-week parent coaching group with the families struggling with high levels of violence and control from their children and young people.
I remember how much we talked and explored all our thoughts, ideas, and NVR practices. We made mistakes and offered continued support to each other and the families we worked with, to resist such challenges. The changes they experienced within their relationships were remarkable.
Throughout my NVR journey, I’ve been intrigued by how the power of the imagination can support my parenting. Can I reimagine my position as a parent and see the connection with my child strengthened? I’m curious and with the support of our NVR practitioner, have begun to explore some simple imaginary techniques.
Recalling a happy or peaceful time with my child after a challenging episode reminds me that life is not always difficult. It helps to ease a way through and aid recovery and rebalance following times of conflict and disruption. Holding onto the sense that, this too will pass.
Thinking forwards to mentally rehearse a future interaction that I anticipate might be difficult enables me to approach that moment with greater confidence. By slowing down this interaction or conversation I can give attention to how I will respond, my words, body language and facial expression. Somehow this process creates a sense of purpose within me and sets an intention about how I want to connect with my child and how I want them to see me as the parent.
I recently attended the PartnershipProjects NVR Accreditation Module. The course is organised around each participant presenting an aspect of their NVR practice to the group. The presentation is followed by reflections and questions from the group facilitators, and then group participants. For my presentation I shared my NVR practice working with parents of children who self-harm or are suicidal.
My search for NVR literature on this topic located only one article which was by Haim Omer and Dan Dulberger, ‘Helping Parents Cope with Suicide Threats: An Approach Based on Nonviolent Resistance, Family Process 54:559–575, 2015’. In this blog I share some of the key ideas from this article that struck a chord with me and were used in my NVR practice.
In a recent blog for this website, I talked about the early stages of NVR therapy with parents, focussing on the common factors in therapy as a means of assisting newly trained NVR practitioners to value their existing skills and abilities alongside their newer NVR training. I am involved with training many practitioners at Foundation level NVR and then continue to support a significant number through more Advanced training and sometimes act as a supervisor. I often get asked questions around how to introduce NVR to parents and how to distil the ideas into simple, understandable, manageable concepts. I think this is where a therapist’s own creativity is to be encouraged. I enjoy very much when practitioners in training are asked to devise their own NVR ‘maps’ for example. We trainers at PPUK have seen so many great imaginative ‘maps’ where practitioners have put the NVR concepts into pictures and words that encapsulate the key principles and methods so beautifully.