My social work license expires at the end of June, which means my every-other-year exercise of frantically completing my clinical continuing education units.
I am always fine on overall CEUs, both because I prepare and present so many papers and presentations, but also because I have really wonderful opportunities to attend educational offerings in different fields. I am serious about this lifelong learning thing, and so racking up the credit hours is never a problem.
But 6 of the hours have to be in clinical diagnosis and treatment which, as you have probably noticed, is just really not my thing.
This year, though, I got really lucky and fulfilled the requirement with an online course about motivational interviewing. The instructor is a friend of mine and managed to come across as totally personable and funny even on pretty low-quality video, but the real bonus was that, about 30 minutes into it, I realized
this is about getting people to change, and to find the power within themselves to make even difficult changes.
And THAT is about advocacy.
I’d love to hear from those whose clinical knowledge and skill far surpass mine (say, those who don’t have to cram those six hours of clinical CEUs in at the buzzer every renewal cycle), but these are what I see as some of the applications of this motivational interviewing approach to, especially, grassroots advocacy.
- Express empathy: we have to really meet our advocates (or would-be advocates) where they are, and understand the reluctance they express. Motivational interviewers call this ‘rolling with resistance’, the idea that we have to move beyond resistance as pathological to understand it as completely natural but, still, not a stopping point.
- Develop discrepancy: we talk a lot about the world as it is, versus the world as it should be. To motivational interviewers, this is opening a gap between someone’s life today and their hopes and dreams for that life in the future, and then making that gap a motivation for change.
- Client empowerment and self-determination: there is no one ‘right’ way to stop drinking too much, or, really, no one ‘right’ way to step out as an advocate. Too often, we ask people to step with us through a relatively narrow hole, and then call them apathetic when they decline, instead of promoting their self-efficacy (in MI language) and honoring their right to choose their own path.
When I was watching this webinar, I fixated on this idea that we recognize ambivalence and use it as momentum for change, rather than waiting until someone is 100% sold on a given change.
That point brought me back to the hallway of the Kansas State Capitol, more than 8 years ago, when I had a particularly difficult lobbying challenge to corner one somewhat hostile state senator to see if I could neutralize him in advance of floor debate on an immigrant rights bill.
And I was ambivalent, alright. I think that I would have paid $500 for the floor to open up and swallow me. That morning, I had seriously contemplated driving right past the statehouse on I-70 and heading for Colorado. Sure, part of me knew that I was ready for this and that, more importantly, the futures of thousands of immigrants partially depended on my rising to the occasion. But another part of me just wanted to go home and crawl under the covers.
That doesn’t make me less of an advocate, any more than any of our constituents’ ambivalence makes them less than able allies. We just need to use those clinical skills that are part of what makes us social workers in the first place to unlock the motivation for change.