Working with fathers in NVR has been an area of real interest for me. I seem to have had more success in getting fathers through the therapy room using NVR than within my family therapy practice; perhaps it is the language of ‘non-violence’, the doing approach, or perhaps it is just desperation and impotence that falls on fathers when their child is violent and they can do nothing to protect their family.
I saw a father recently in my work whose son, now 19, had been seen for many years in CAMHS, diagnosed with ASD. His difficulties were so severe that he would spend hours ‘frozen’ in his room, unable to move, communicate, eat. His mother and siblings had spent many sessions in CAMHS in order to develop an appreciation of the reasons for his predicament, but had become desperate after an incident in which he had assaulted his father. The family’s view was that the dad provoked him with the manner and impatience in which he spoke to his son.
The parents are Punjabi first generation, and when I met the father, he had a sense of pride that in spite of migration, discrimination and working in manual jobs, three of his children had degree educations and successful careers. When speaking about his son, he spoke with great sadness at seeing how this son becomes ‘stuck’ and that they cannot speak to each other. It is as if their voices had become stuck. He could not find a way to connect with his son and thus his attempts to reach out with comments such as “why have you not eaten your dinner?” or “why have you not gone to college today?” were born out of a desperate need to ‘connect’ with his son, not to ‘control’.
I learnt about the father’s good intentions, his wishes, dreams, aspirations for his son. By ‘suspending’ my prejudices, assumptions about fathers and aggression and ideas such as ‘this father needed to learn to deescalate by walking away’, I was able to join and appreciate the anguish that this father was experiencing in his desperate attempt to reach his son. More importantly his wife also saw this
What happened next was astounding. Beginning to cry, the father asked for help to connect with his son, and it was in that moment that we talked about the ‘announcement’, about the announcement creating a vehicle for resistance and connection. He wrote into the announcement his dreams for his son, he wrote about his commitment that his son will always have a home, he both apologised for his own actions but remained determined to keep voicing his concern and love. After the announcement was written I asked him what this meant. He said this is the first time I can tell my son my truth…
As a woman and British Asian family therapist, I live ‘with’ and co-construct meaning about men and fathers, their abandonment of the family home, their participation in violence… – and I know that my own prejudices and beliefs can act as a barrier to really connecting with men and fathers who have avoided coming into the therapy room in the past. So – what made the difference here? I think there was a process of therapy ‘with’ the father and not ‘about’ the father.
Harlene Anderson talks about ‘withness’ practices, practices that collaborate and join with the stories that are shared by the client, and in that joining there is a reciprocity of curiosity (in this case about NVR methods). This contrasts with ‘aboutness’ practices that are done to, about, people. Thus, fathers may experience being done ‘to’ in therapy; told how to deescalate in NVR can emasculate and erase their presence further. Taking time as an NVR practitioner to understand our prejudices that influence our approach, perhaps to create space in our own minds and hearts to enable fathers to announce their truths…
Shila Desai – Advanced NVR Practitioner