Why I love Motivational Interviewing

Today a person asked me to email them on “what are the benefits of Motivational Interviewing”. I was about to cut and paste an answer from my website. Then I remembered something personal that happened 20 years ago:

The love of my life just left me on a one way ticket to Europe. I am in all sorts of pain, and I have taken the night off work. I visit my mate Ernie in hospital. Ernie is recovering from his fourth hip replacement operation. He refuses to take any post-operative pain killers. He is allergic to opiates and he knows how to live life without them. He is in his eighties, and has a bone disease, but he still gets about on crutches. He flew Lancaster bombers in WW2, and is a great story-teller. When I turn up he is sitting on his bed sharply dressed and clean-shaven, chatting happily with a friendly nurse. He shows me the long titanium spike the surgeon extracted from the top of his leg—he tells me they’ve replaced it with another artificial hip with an even longer spike. He asks me how I am going and I tell him all my problems and he really listens. After five minutes in Ernie’s company, all my worries are gone.

How was it that Ernie could put me at ease so rapidly? He was tough, funny, flawed and real. He always listened, focused, and let me know he understood.

Ernie passed away not too long after that. I was happy to see so many other people turn up to his funeral who felt the same way about him as me.  I wandered away to a different part of the cemetery and found my grandfather’s gravestone. That is when I cried because I had never experienced that same closeness with my grandfather. Ernie showed me lots of gaps in my life and areas for growth. I wanted to be like him one day.

At that point, 20 years ago I started my career as a disability worker. I’ve had the privilege to learn to be a therapist, educator, and support worker. Motivational Interviewing is a valuable part of that. E.g.  When I worked with people with disability leaving the corrections system (Community Justice Program, ADHC, 2007-2012) Motivational Interviewing supported personal engagement and therapeutic rapport, while implementing risk management and relapse prevention strategies. I don’t think I would have lasted four years in that role without learning about, practising and teaching Motivational Interviewing.

Motivational Interviewing is a way to connect with people rapidly and deeply, and be a respectful partner in the process of positive change.

I think about the way Ernie could listen and make me feel accepted, even when he was in constant pain himself—suddenly I would lose my worries, and come up with new ideas to solve my problems, and change my behaviour for the better. One unexpected benefit of Motivational Interviewing, for me, is learning to be a little bit more like Ernie, in my work and personal life.

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