Motivational Interviewing (or, lessons from my students)

As many of you know, I am the School Counseling Director of the alternative school in my district. I work with 80-100 students in grades 6-12, many of whom have behavioral challenges. During this past school year, I completed an intensive course in Motivational Interviewing. Because MI is an evidence-based counseling technique that helps strengthen intrinsic motivation for change, it is frequently used in clinical settings where clients are required to attend counseling against their will, due to a workplace mandate, for example. In other words, clients are still in denial when they arrive to the counseling session. Given my student population, I figured this would be a great skill set to have in my counseling toolbox!

As we approach the end of the school year, and I reflect on the use of the MI process with my students, I realized that one of the major lessons I learned applies not only to my students but to all of us (imagine that!). During my reflection, I wrote that my goal with the MI process was to help students recognize that “others” are not “causing” the negative outcomes in their lives. Instead, I want each student to understand the true POWER he/she has over his/her own life – the power to change anything at any time!

I stopped in my tracks… “Wow,” I thought, “this sounds like something I’ve expressed before.”

Well, there is a reason that concept sounded familiar! In my second blog post, Political Correctness, I wrote, “When we try to control the behavior of others – when we look outside of ourselves for happiness – we give away our power! We are then vulnerable, because feeling good becomes dependent on something outside of our own control.”

In essence, what my students are wont to do (and what we ALL do, to some extent) is to blame other people or outside circumstances not only for their happiness or misery but for their actions, as well! And, as long as we continue to do that, we are simply unable to effect change – we are not in control. We are, quite literally, OUT OF CONTROL!

“Of course I flipped him the bird!  He cut me off!”

“The teacher gave me an F because she doesn’t like me!”

“She was holding a “Hillary” sign, so I screamed obscenities at her.” 

Until we understand – truly understand – that WE are the only thing standing between the life we are living and the life we want to live, we will flounder around, allowing “others” to determine what happens to us. Power means control – not an attempt to control every circumstance of our lives, or the actions of another, but control over ourselves. Control over how we view our circumstances and how we interpret and respond to the actions of others.

Remember that famous passage…?

How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.

The exciting thing is, once we exert control over our thoughts AND our actions, the sky is the limit! Since WE are the ones behind the wheel of Life, we can go anywhere! There are no roadblocks. Sure, there will be obstacles on our path, but we can simply go around them. We might be delayed, but we will never be stopped. And who knows, we may even discover that the detour was the best route after all!