Two particular things stuck with me after my recent visit to listen to the Birmingham CAMHS team on the adoption of Non-violent Resistance (NVR) in their work with families:
- A pervading sense of thoughtful, calm, enquiring support of each other, with plenty of space built in to reflect on the work as it progresses – or not. It is not unusual for a sense of helplessness and hopelessness to transfer from families to workers, and supervision is vital to work through the pain.
- And a degree of realism that celebrates the successes of NVR as an approach, but also acknowledges that not everyone can be helped, not every act of violence prevented, not always a happy ending. When continued funding is dependent on “evidence” of something working, it is more usual to hear practitioners trumpeting their success rates, and so this honesty was refreshing.
I was keen to learn more about NVR because it was clear from my website stats that this is an area of great interest to many, particularly within the adoption community (and indeed many of the adoption support organisations include NVR in their regular training schedules). In the DAPHNE funded RCPV research, NVR was the approach in use in Ireland; and it seems to be favoured by CAMHS units where work with families experiencing CPV is offered. The work of Oxleas CAMHS featured some years ago in a documentary about family violence, and they have since offered training to other teams. Peter Jakob is the leading proponent in the UK and offers a regular training programme, which can be accessed through his website.
Birmingham CAMHS was brought to my attention by an article in the September 2015 edition of PSW, the magazine of BASW, exploring its use particularly with adoptive families. The team told me that it does seem to be useful in this scenario, as well as with children on the Autistic Spectrum, and of course in families where young people are reluctant to attend for help themselves. This very fact though may make it hard for families to access help through their local CAMHS, where there will usually be a requirement for young people to engage, meaning a forward thinking and open-minded approach is needed at the initial assessment stage. Similarly, there must be evidence of mental health issues, and a referral from a GP is required. Families will be encouraged to change the way they think and respond to their situation. For some this might be too big a request at the stage they are at, even with the ongoing support of the team, or there might be other issues going on that need to be addressed first, or as well.
The philosophical roots of NVR makes this response a way of being, as much as a way of doing. Holding all family members in mind is important, where siblings may often be forgotten, neglected or even whisked away for their own safety. Where all professionals work together there can be a different understanding of risk and time to de-escalate a situation in crisis, so police might also be trained to respond using NVR; and there are hopes that local schools can create a different ethos and atmosphere, further supporting the cessation of violence. One of the members of the team here has also worked in children’s residential care, where a therapeutic community response has included the use of NVR for many years. (See my post about the Anderida Community.) This CAMHS team is a tier 3 provision, but NVR is also used successfully within tier 4 in Birmingham.
And finally, if it doesn’t work? Do more! Building the NVR philosophy into the relationship between workers and families, as well as into the dynamics of the family itself, can bring yet another layer to the therapeutic experience. I am left keen to know more myself and to explore how adopting approaches such as this can be particularly effective at times of cuts and austerity: not so much putting in new services, as changing the environment and context in which they are delivered.