Change can be daunting for anyone. Many of us immediately feel anxious just at the mention of the word. This may be what Frederica Mathewes-Green had in mind with the quote: “Everybody wants to be transformed, but nobody wants to change.”
Addicts can relate because one reason we drank was that alcohol transformed us—without us having to do any work. Tragically, this transformation is temporary and becomes increasingly elusive. Instead, we must do the hard work change requires to experience the transformation—the miracle—the Big Book talks about.
And championing lasting change is a huge part of what we do as sponsors and coaches for the still suffering alcoholic and addict.
One of the most effective tools I have used in my life coaching practice and in sponsoring is motivational interviewing (MI). This technique acknowledges that all people experience ambivalence to change. They want to make a change. Yet, at the same time, they don’t want to make a change.
The power of MI is that the techniques empower sponsees/clients to arrive at their own reasons for making beneficial changes. In a sense, they motivate themselves to change. This is crucial because addicts frequently come to us harangued by the well-meaning spouse, family member, or friend to “get it together.” From our own experiences as addicts, we know this only creates resentments, not the desire to change.
But there’s good news. The fundamental tenet of MI is that we all possess the capacity for positive change. It’s only a matter of activating it.
Although I cannot do MI justice in a short blog, I want to acquaint you will some of it concepts. These are taken directly from “Chapter 3—Motivational Interviewing as a Counseling Style.” To find the article, Google that title. It’s published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).
Motivational interviewing is a counseling style based on the following concepts:
- “Ambivalence about substance use (and change) is normal and constitutes an important motivational obstacle in recovery.”
- “Ambivalence can be resolved by working with your client’s intrinsic motivations and values.”
- “The alliance between you and your client is a collaborative partnership to which you each bring important expertise.”
- “An empathetic, supportive, yet directive, counseling style provides conditions under which change can occur. (Direct argument and aggressive confrontation may tend to increase client defensiveness and reduce the likelihood of behavioral change.)”
The primary task for those of you who want to use the MI approach is to help the sponsee/client to recognize how life might be better and then for him or her to choose the ways to make that happen.
When using the MI approach, keep these five general principles from the chapter in mind:
- “Express empathy through reflective listening.” Because we have survived the same shipwreck of addiction, we have the capacity to be empathetic.
- “Develop discrepancy between clients’ goals or values and their current behavior.” Your role is to help focus your sponsee’s attention on how current behavior differs from his or her own ideal or desired behavior.
- “Avoid argument and direct confrontation. The goal is to ‘walk’ with clients (accompany clients through treatment), not ‘drag’ them along (direct clients’ treatment).”
- “Adjust to client resistance rather than opposing it directly. Resistance is a signal that the client views the situation differently. This requires you to understand your client’s perspective and proceed from there.”
- “Support self-efficacy and optimism. Clients must ultimately come to believe that change is their responsibility and that long-term success begins with a single step forward. The AA motto, “one day at a time,” may help clients focus and embark on the immediate and small changes that they believe are feasible.”
This blog is meant only to be an introduction to the Motivational Interviewing approach. By seeing some of its key concepts, my hope is that you may become interested in reading more about MI. By doing so, you will significantly increase your effectiveness as a sponsor/coach when addressing the often sensitive issue of change for the still suffering of this world. May God bless your work!
If you’d like to be free of your addiction, please contact me at ValuesBasedRecovery@gmail.com. I work with people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as behavioral addictions such as food, porn, and gambling. I work with clients in person or on the Zoom live video platform.
RJ Handley, Addiction Recovery Coach