It’s all about opening communication. It’s all about opening a pathway for the potential for change. It’s all about trying an alternative interaction style with offenders in the appropriate situation.
Motivational Interviewing (MI) emerged out of the health/mental health services and substance abuse treatment milieu of the 1980’s. In those areas, it is an evidence-based practice used to address, and hopefully overcome, ambivalence toward personal change. It is not treatment, but it can get patients, clients, and offenders ready to achieve positive outcomes based on their own motivation, which can include readiness for treatment and life change. Some might call it a counseling technique, communication method, or a conversational style that is applied in the proper circumstances to tip the balance toward change and away from ambivalence for those experiencing problems in their lives. A key is listening for “change talk”, and to reinforce it whether it has to do with weight loss, quitting smoking, addressing substance abuse problems in the health/mental health care and addiction field, or, in terms of the criminal justice system and corrections, wanting to address issues that led to and facilitated criminal behavior and lifestyle.
Central to it all is the transfer of the motivation to change from the agent/officer/counselor to the offender so that it is client-based, not officer-based, motivation. This can involve a mindset adjustment in corrections professionals where previously the primary tools applied might have been confrontation, authority, surveillance, control, suspicion, and autocratic direction to now allowing a conversation to flow that internalizes the motivation to change in the offender/client. It is not used all the time, nor at any time, but at the right time.
Elizabeth Craig, a member of MINT ( Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers), says, “MI is a very successful technique to help people work through their own thinking about something that is bothering them. The agent/officer needs to resist the urge to jump right in with a solution, but be patient to allow them to arrive at a conclusion. It can work amazingly well, since it has more staying power than if it was my idea.” Craig continues, “MI is a skill to be included with a whole range of professional skills to be applied at the right time. The hardest thing for us is to fight the urge to tell clients what to do, but instead to allow them to arrive at a similar conclusion through a focused conversation.”
Michael Guevara, Correctional Program Specialist at the National Institute of Corrections, calls MI “simply a way to interact with folks to help them on the road to change. The goal is to get them to talk about it. It took the burden for change off of me as their probation officer, and placed the burden for change on them. My role changed: now they do the work and I help them explore the possibilities. My role is in listening more. I’m now in the helper role as they do the work.”
Like all skills, it might not come naturally to everybody. It can’t be learned in a 3 hour symposium; but you can learn “about it” that way. Acquiring the skill set takes a minimum of 5 days in training, then applying it while a skilled observer evaluates, critiques, and coaches, followed by on-going peer check-ins. Elizabeth Craig recommends “practice, practice, practice” and further feels “it is a perishable skill and you need to watch for ‘skill drift’ where you might start to rely on old habits when MI could work.”
There are many resources available concerning the use of MI in corrections. Take a look at the items below as you begin to learn about Motivational Interviewing in corrections:
Points of view or opinions stated in this blog are those of the authors and
do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of
the U.S. Department of Justice.