I get a call at the appointed time. I make sure I’m in a private, quiet space, even if that means my car. The voice on the other end is warm, calm, and caring, and begins to ask me about my experience of addiction. I begin to talk about my struggles and challenges and how unfair life has been to me and how hard it is to change. I feel overwhelmed in taking this on. The voice on the phone listens, reflects back what he’s hearing, and gently asks me questions about the last time I had a success. The last time I tried to quit and how long I was able to stay sober until relapse. We focus on that slice of time, and I begin to feel stronger. I begin to ache for sobriety again. I begin to think that just maybe I can do this. Maybe.
OK. Full disclosure – I’m not an addict. Well, maybe a SHOE addict, or a GARDENING junkie, but so far, no 12 Step programs for me.
What I am is a Standardized Client for the Health Education Training Institute, and the person on the other end of the call is practicing his Motivational Interview (MI) skills. Once we’re finished with our 20 minute call, I’ll record the session and upload it to the HETI website. The interview will then be coded by those specifically trained and practiced in their MI and MI coding skills.
A Game Changer
The Motivational Interview has proven extremely effective in tackling substance abuse and behavioral change. Psychology Today defines it as “a counseling method that helps people resolve ambivalent feelings and insecurities to find the internal motivation they need to change their behavior.” This technique is particularly effective at the beginning of a person’s journey to sobriety, and as our country’s addiction rate becomes even more staggering – the need for effective counseling becomes ever more vital. Key to success in MI is deep and comprehensive listening skills. Mental Health professionals often err on the side of “giving advice” – actions the client should take on their own behalf. MI challenges the practitioner to listen for evidence of a client’s motivation to change – which often can feel passive in the face of a client’s pain and struggle, but is ultimately more empowering for the client, especially when facing needed behavior change.
Practice makes progress….
As with any skill, the Motivational Interview is a specific learned technique that requires practice, and that’s where Standardized Clients come in. Once the counsellor calls me, I note what kind of addiction they will be working with: drugs, alcohol, smoking, even unsafe behaviors like not wearing a motorcycle helmet. Really. That’s an addiction for some people. The MI counsellor has about 20 minutes to engage with me and bring me from point A to…point A and 1/2. It’s a slow process requiring lots of patience – with oneself as well as the client. I will have recorded the call, uploaded it onto the website, and it will be “coded” for determining skill level within a week’s time.
And Bravo to those who are working to acquire Motivational Interview skills. They labor in the trenches of this huge and heartbreaking problem. I feel fortunate to be able to contribute value as a Standardized Client to their progress. See more about Standardized Client/Patient experiences here.