Thursday, February 25, 2016

Motivational Interviewing Through the Eyes of the Resource Coordinator

By Sonia Chowdhury


Being a community court Resource Coordinator (RC) can be rewarding, challenging, and taxing all at the same time. The job requires one to work in a fast-paced environment, liaise with key courtroom players, and interview a variety of people awaiting arraignment — all while maintaining an objective, neutral perspective. When attorneys ask me to screen their clients for services because the Assistant District Attorney is recommending some amount of jail time, I try my very best to craft a recommendation of jail alternatives for the judge that are best suited to the defendant’s needs. When I had the opportunity to attend my first training on ‘Motivational Interviewing’ at the CUCS Academy for Justice Informed Practice a few weeks ago, I was curious to understand better how the technique impacts my work.

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a client-centered, goal-oriented approach to elicit positive behavior change and explore and resolve ambivalence. It is a strategy many social workers and therapists use to get their clients to talk and focus on behavior change. The notion of motivational interviewing began in the late 1980’s by William Miller, PhD. and Stephen Rollnick, PhD, who worked with people that were struggling with chronic substance abuse issues. Motivational interviewing is now considered an evidence-based approach and has been widely practiced in different settings where behavior change is the goal.

MI can be used effectively when people are at the ‘pre-contemplation’ and ‘contemplation’ phases of the change process. Essentially, they are either not thinking of change at all or having very few thoughts about change; this is the majority of the makeup of the population we serve. MI involves developing a “way of being with clients”: creating a partnership and making it less of a power interaction; exploring autonomy and the person’s capability for self-direction; seeking and acknowledging the person’s strengths and efforts while cultivating a compassionate and judgment-free setting. The goal is to have the client draw out their own ideas and desires for their own reasons to change by asking open-ended questions without giving the client advice, answers or imparting wisdom.

As a Resource Coordinator, the defendants I interview are often in police custody and awaiting arraignment, and MI is truly essential to my work. Creating an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion in what may appear to be a threatening and an alarming setting for many defendants is step 1. Collaborating and developing a partnership with a client, as opposed to confrontation (which triggers resistance,) sets the tone for a healthy and understanding relationship. Lecturing, advising, educating, and problem-solving and, yes, even counseling are all counterproductive to the goals of motivational interviewing. The idea is to have clients evoke their own personal lessons and understanding of their issues and consequences independently through a self-reflective process.  And, ultimately, to commit to complying with a jail alternative that will help them move forward in a positive and productive direction.