“NVR” simply stands for Non-Violent Resistance. In the mental health context, NVR is used to denote psychologist Haim Omer’s application of concepts borrowed from political non-violent resistance to the sphere of interpersonal caregiving, whether parental, foster, residential, medical, or educational.
Since its inception 15 years ago as an innovative family therapy approach to parental authority crisis, NVR has grown to cover an entire range of specialized intervention approaches in areas such as organic family or foster/residential care relations, anxiety disorders, school interventions, ADHD, community-driven law enforcement, computer addiction in children, management of Asperger syndrome patients, entitled dependence in adults, diabetic children, and more.
In the mental health context, NVR denotes several things:
NVR as a theory of change
Many different theories exist on bringing about change in psychotherapy. Depending on the school, change can be brought about by releasing repressed unconscious content, by reinforcing a certain behavior or extinguishing another, by altering internal beliefs, by focusing on communication patterns between people, or by changing family structure. People come to NVR therapies on account of the pain they experience that others have caused. Invariably, they ask the NVR therapist for “tools” to change someone else. The distinct “signature” of NVR as a theory of change is in the belief that to induce change in others one cannot but begin with self-change. As caregivers, we cannot directly control the people we provide for (except in some very limited sense). But, we are their ecology. When we change, their choices cannot remain the same. In NVR, this holds for the relationships between the therapist and client as well as for the client and others. NVR becomes especially relevant when the client is a caregiver whose role is chronically eroded by violence or anxiety on the part of those he cares for. It is in such situations where the temptation to change others most painfully meets the impossibility of doing so. NVR helps clients replace the illusion of controlling others with the challenges of self-change.
NVR as therapeutic setting
Contrary to most therapeutic settings where the identified patient’s clinical presence is a necessary precursor for therapy to even begin, the assumptions of NVR about the nature of change creates a unique therapeutic setting in that it can survive the Identified Patient’s absence. Assuming that self-change is the only possible instrument to change other’s lives means that parents and other caregivers can receive help with their children even when those children refuse treatment. Thus, NVR reaches out to territories of suffering that are hitherto generally regarded as untreatable: how to bear other people’s violence and anxiety, especially when those others refuse direct help.
NVR as family therapy
NVR is a systemic approach. It rests on the Minuchin view of the family as a system composed of sub-systems, and mainly addresses dysfunctions related to the boundary between the parental and filial subsystems. As with the structuralist approach, the therapist’s voice and presence are marked and directive. Like in all systemic approaches, the child, his violence, and his anxieties, cannot be understood or treated as separate from the parents. Therapy is always a systemic, continuous, and interactional process. Unlike other systemic approaches, NVR is a caretaker approach that focuses mainly on the parents as clients, and enables work even when the IP refuses to collaborate.
NVR as method of struggle
NVR rests on the assumption that there is no way to get around chronic child violence or anxiety other than struggle. When children constantly erode the parental role, when they persistently contest the boundaries between their subsystems and the parents’, tenderness alone will not do. There comes a time to resist. The truly interesting question when it comes to dealing with child violence and anxiety is not whether to resist but how to do so without escalating the cycle of violence and anxiety or losing sight of love and care. How can resistance and support, tenderness and firmness co-exist synergistically? NVR teaches parents—and therapists—how to undertake and conduct non-violent, non-escalatory struggles, as substitutes for submission, coercion or paralysis.
NVR as self-experience
Non-violent resistance is a somewhat misleading term because it is made up of two seemingly incompatible phrases: The absence of violence and resistance. Non-violence connotes peacefulness to the point of victimhood, while resistance as such entails struggle, the application of oppositional force. In fact, “non-violent resistance” is a distinct unitary experience of “being here,” which involves feelings of confidence and empowerment. Helpless parents feel “empty,” absent,” and “unaccounted.” Parents who achieve this internal experience report feeling that they “occupy space” as seen by their children. Our culture makes it difficult to find a single word to describe this experience, so we use various two-word combinations such as vigilant care, etc.
NVR as “Operating System”
NVR stands for a set of general principles whose power and simplicity can support an ever-widening diversity of applications. In this sense, much like a computer operating system, what we term NVR today does not denote a particular protocol, rather a conceptual infrastructure, a “language” of change via non-escalating struggle that can be used to develop solutions and interventions for more situations requiring non-escalating struggle. In this sense, NVR is not about parenting, nor parental authority. Rather, it is about the psychology of non-escalating struggle in any human situation that requires such a struggle.
- Helping Parents Deal With Children’s Acute Disciplinary Problems Without Escalation: The Principle of Non-violent Resistance
- Presence, resistance and attachment: An interview with Haim Omer (courtesy of Context Magazine)
- From Ghandi to therapy: reflections on the meaning of non-violence in systemic practice (courtesy of Context Magazine)
- Omer, H. (2004). Nonviolent resistance: A new approach to violent and self-destructive children New York, Cam-bridge: Cambridge University Press
- Omer, H. (2011). The new authority: Family, school and community. New York: Cambridge University Press.