Motivational Interviewing and Motivation for Getting Through This

Like other areas of the community- it is time for us to focus on crisis management. We probably, nearly all, have loved ones who are in the most vulnerable risk group for Covid-19 and we all want to help. Many people are sensibly focusing on what can be done rather than what can’t. Ironically this is exactly what we should do to manage the drive to hoard. I feel it a little, don’t you? Fill the cupboards with pasta, hunker down, bolt the door and get Netflix on overdrive… It’s about moving away from the danger. It may be a little misguided and has our state premier describing hoarders as ‘bloody idiots’ and the prime minister telling people to stop but it’s still understandable. The thing is, people like control, to feel they are in control -and especially they like to feel that they can operate autonomy– (see Self Determination Theory for details SDT) there has always been a natural aversion towards any curtailing of people’s autonomy and dictatorships (even dictators themselves spend a lot of time and effort convincing people they are not dictators). So when control is taken away from us the ensuing feeling is of powerlessness- and this can be helped by replacing the uncontrollable with something which you can control (e.g. hoarding toilet rolls and food). 


So what would be my top motivational interviewing tips to help? The obvious thing is for us to reflectively listen to our colleagues- to use good listening skills (like OARS- open questions, affirmations, reflections and summaries) to help with people adjusting to a new and difficult reality. We like to feel listened to and especially by someone who is genuinely empathetic- so we can ask ‘it’s all up in the air and very difficult for you and many others right now, what are some of the things you could do while we are waiting for the world to re-order?’ [open question, evocative and asked with genuine interest] people’s inclination will be to talk a little about what they will do at home, support (financial or psychological) they may apply for and -despite the difficulties- how they might use the isolation and social media to stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues. Affirmations are particularly useful for us to hear (but not common when I have measured them in people’s speech…) an affirmation is not the same as offering a compliment (e.g. ‘your sweater looks nice’) instead it is a quality you have (genuinely noticed in another (‘you are resilient’ when they have given evidence of said quality. Reflections are a way of showing you really are listening to someone- it can simply be that rather than trying to ‘fix’ the person’s issue you reflect the emotion: ‘it really made you sad’ no fixing, no diagnosing just reflecting back what you heard because as Terry Pratchett once wrote:


when you seek advice from someone it’s certainly not because you want them to give it. You just want them to be there while you talk to yourself.”  


Summaries form a similar function to reflections- especially when the person has spoken a lot, it helps show you’ve been listening and understood what was said.


When my counselling clients suffer adversity and a lack of control: e.g. loss of employment, or the breakdown of a relationship- i would use these skills and they often result in people making their own strategies for coping (those which we form ourselves are the strongest kind- had you suggested the same strategy to someone- it will often be met with resistance). Clients will often retreat into control tasks (sometimes, at face value, meaningless tasks) to take back a little of the missing control. They still have to work their way up to starting new relationships, to complete job applications and explore new networks- but in the meantime- they start by really getting the lawn into the shape they always wanted it to be or fitting in a 30 minute power walk each morning. These tasks are smaller and more achievable in the short-term than the broader bigger long-term issues which we all face at some time in business and in life. At least with Covid 19 we are not facing the problem alone.


What we can all obviously do is heed the public health and politico’s advice- re: reducing the spread of the virus by observing a degree of social isolation, operating good hygiene and especially by helping facilitate the positive isolation of our elder and more vulnerable family/community members and colleagues. And for work? At work I am going to tidy the office (really thoroughly) re-organise the cupboards, and file (and I hate admin, no I really hate it) and write some blogs; and deliver some free online/telephone counselling to those who need it.  I am also going to plan work for the time when the world turns back around as it must surely do.

Dr Trevor Simper
Motivational Interviewing

Trevor is an MI trainer, coach, researcher and University lecturer and delivers Motivational Interviewing Training in Perth.  If you would like to read more about Trevor and his workshops on Essemy click this link.