A common challenge to helping a student transform his or her behavior is the young person’s lack of interest in making a positive change. Motivational Interviewing (MI) has been established through clinical experience and empirical research as an evidence-based practice proven to strengthen an individual’s own desire to change. Motivational Interviewing is not based upon telling the young person why and how they should change their behavior; rather, it centers on the process within the individual, helping them explore and resolve ambivalence about change which ultimately strengthens their own motivation and commitment to change.
Developed by Miller and Rollnick to assist clients with substance abuse problems, Motivational Interviewing has five (5) basic principles:
- Express Empathy
- Avoid Argument
- Roll with Resistance
- Support Self-efficacy
- Develop Discrepancy
Expressing Empathy is the conveyance of a real, informed understanding of the individual’s predicament and why ambivalence, or conflicted emotion, has led to uncertainty or indecisiveness. It is the acceptance of the person without judgment of them, expressed through active listening, reflection and focused statements summarizing what the student has tried to convey.
If the student doesn’t believe that the staff is listening or empathetic to their reasons why change is difficult, he or she will argue and focus on convincing the listener of the barriers he or she faces. These arguments are counterproductive and further increase the resistance to change. Arguments should be avoided.
Instead of engaging in argument, staff should aim to “roll with resistance” and delicately challenge the thought processes that underlie the behavior in question. New perspectives can be offered but should not be imposed. When done skillfully, rolling with resistance can shift the student’s perspective of the situation.
Staff and mentors should also encourage the young person to make positive statements that show confidence in his/her ability. This confidence is known as self-efficacy, the belief in one’s capabilities to achieve a goal or an outcome. Self-efficacy helps restructure thinking and research has shown that students with a strong sense of efficacy are more likely to challenge themselves with difficult tasks and be intrinsically motivated to make a positive change.
The staff member or mentor’s role is to draw out the young person’s statements that are opposite of the positive thinking in order to open the young person’s eyes to the difference between where they are and where they want to be. This difference is the discrepancy. Once a discrepancy has been identified, it should be amplified. Recognizing the gap between where he/she is and where he/she wants to be can help motivate the student to set a course toward positive change. The individual should then generate his or her own goals for change and share them with the mentor.
The ultimate objective of motivational interviewing is not to create a relationship of authority dictating the changes a young person needs to make, but instead create a relationship of guidance and empathy. The staff or mentor reaffirms to the student that any choices he makes are purely his own, just as the choice to change one day will be made on his own. The mentor listens and guides, understanding that desire for change that originates from within the young person is more likely to be made and maintained.