By Mary McPhail Gray
NVW Board Chair
When clients come to us, they present concerns in the intake interview and in initial conversations with the clinicians. And the work to change takes courage and effort. Sometimes the presenting issues relate to violence and the need to learn better coping skills—to stop from acting in violence, to stop from triggering violence, and to recover from violent experiences. Whether happening in one’s own childhood or happening now in adulthood, relationship violence is a deeply traumatic experience. In the words of one survivor of violence who did not report it to any legal office, “I lost ten years of my life.”
Families may encourage silence, and victims fear retaliation and public disapproval against all family members. The culture of Taos makes violence more acceptable than is healthy. When family cases are referred to the legal system and the courts make decisions for treatment, they often come to one of Nonviolence Works clinical programs.
One such program is the Restorative Parenting program based on the clinical and theoretical work around Positive Parenting and Restorative Justice. Parents may have lost custody or visitation rights to their children and want to show their serious intention to change. Program goals are to restore wholeness within individuals and in the parent-child relationships. Major goals are to protect the safety of all and to establish accountability for one’s own behavior. Trauma breaks the parent-child trust, and in the Restorative Parenting classes a healing contract is made and new skills are learned.
In the NVW Restorative Parenting Program, led by clinician Lisa Stern, only about one third of those parents who start the program actually finish all the classes. Stern stresses that parents do have the capacity to change their parenting behaviors and that all parents desire the best for their children. Significantly, all of the parents who finished the whole program had their custody rights restored. Referrals are welcome at any time!
Other impactful programs are our Nonviolence Communication Classes for both men and women. Steve Moser sees between 40 and 50 men in his NAC class each year. A twenty-six week program developed by NVW, its major goals are to help men learn new behaviors about how to deal with anger and learn new skills in relationship development. Ninety percent of the men are parents themselves, but typically only twenty percent of the men grew up in a family with a father present.
Each class starts with a Tai Chi exercise and a meditation period with music. A check-in on the highs and lows of the previous week is followed by a curriculum lesson on the concept of the week. Discussion then follows, focusing on how that concept (e.g. masculinity, fathering, anger expression) is illustrated in the men’s highs and lows stories. So the curriculum uses real life experiences to illustrate skill development.
Moser comments, “The men are eager to learn new skills when they listen to other men whose experiences are like theirs.”
The opening exercises create a state of mind where new behaviors can be learned. Previously, if all they saw was anger expressed in violence—the ability to calm and quiet their minds and bodies has not been learned.
Each man is also provided with one-on-one private sessions where they experience unconditional regard and compassionate support—a first for many men. They often speak of the anger and isolation they feel in dealing with the legal system. They feel they need to fight, rather than cooperate to restore the family. Too many men, having lost custody of their children, have walked out of court and committed suicide.
NVW chief clinician, Sadie Quintanilla comments, “It is fine to be angry—but if you have experienced a lot of violence and do not have healthy ways to express or manage anger, you often act with violence.”
We want to support you in learning a new way. Referrals are welcome!
NVW has the largest staff of Behavioral Health professionals in northern NM. Contact us at www.nonviolence.us or 575-758-4297.
Mary McPhail Gray is the board chair of NVW and can be reached at 575-779-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org