Michelle Shapiro, founder and co-director of the NVR Practitioners Consortium, explains how she discovered the Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) approach to parenting and why she is so enthusiastic about it.
I first came across NVR in 2005, whilst working for a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) called the Oxleas Foundation Trust. My primary work at that time was with the child as well as with parents and children jointly. Unusually for a psychologist, my thinking was already systemic (thinking of the whole family together).
Within our service we were seeing children and families presenting with a wide range of difficulties, including one or more of the children having a neuro-developmental difficulty (such as ADHD or presenting with ASD). Then, as now, clincians were aware that many families were not coping with life stresses and with the challenges of complex parenting. It was also fairly common to find that the young person referred to the service was unwilling or unable to actually attend the service themselves – they were reluctant to ‘engage’ with us. Parents were then saying, “if the young person won’t come for therapy – then what can we do?” Parents were desperate and feeling disempowered and hopeless of a way forward.
My first contact with NVR:
Given how captivated I am by the NVR approach, I consider that I was then simply ‘lucky’ to be in the right place at the right time. Our service, along with a couple of others, were trained by Professor Omer, who is the originator and developer of the NVR approach to parenting. He was brought over from Israel for a 3-day training for professionals. He was captivating and inspiring. He was so sure of what he was doing and was very calm. What was wonderful was the way he modelled this completely de-escalatory body stance for us. He is quite a tall man and he would stand up, shrug his shoulders and say;
“I can’t help it, it’s my duty as your parent to stand up against this problematic behaviour”.
We did a dreaded role play of the, at times, feared NVR sit-in during the training. I hopped in to be a distruptive adolescent (to be honest, this was quite a liberating experience in my advanced years!). Half way through the sit-in, with the background of the training to that point, it occurred to me that this really had substance and could work. In that moment I committed to pursuing NVR actively with the families I was seeing in CAMHS – and I have not looked back.
How NVR developed in our service
As a service many of the clinicians in this trust fell in love with NVR and we ran with it. At first we were offering single family NVR – one family working with their clinician. This had been the model to that point. Some of the family therapists, with me trotting happily along with them, creatively began the first NVR multi parent group and we quickly discovered that this was probably the optimal way of offering NVR.
We know from the literature on group work and we found this to be true, that it was very therapeutic for parents to discover that they were NOT ALONE – that there were other parents and people sharing their experiences and difficult feelings. Learning NVR in a group also helps parents understand the ideas and make the, at times, very challenging shifts much more effectively. Parents can support and challenge one another in ways that professionals simply are unable to do. Plus in learning NVR within the group, we are creating the beginning of an essential to NVR support network in the parents supporting each other from the start.
Over time we found that some parents grasped the sometimes challenging concepts of NVR and ran with them very quickly; where others needed the whole NVR programme to begin using NVR with confidence. If it took the full program for a parent to recognise that they needed, for example, to “de-escalate” their part in any conflict, this was still great progress. We all have different thresholds and histories and simply “One person’s ceiling is another’s floor”.
NVR gives us something very clear that parents can use to bring about the change they want. It is extraordinary and it works.