Motivational Interviewing and Self-Care

First of all, I figure practice what you preach, so I am writing this blog, on a Friday morning, from bed. It feels pretty nice. But there is another part of me struggling with questions like: “Is this ok? Should I be doing something differently? Is it ok to take it a little bit easy?” So, how does taking care of ourselves play into the therapeutic work we do with others?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) asks that we be empathic, collaborative and at the same time gently challenging as we work with our clients on making changes. Our presence and attentiveness are also key, as we try to understand the person’s worldview. It feels great, in my opinion, to use MI and be of service to someone in this way, but it’s not always easy. What’s the saying, “if your cup isn’t full…” hopefully you know the rest. Basically, I think the more we take care of ourselves, the more we are able to truly be of service to someone else. If we are frazzled and worn out, it is more difficult for us to be available and present for another. Not that we won’t try and not that our culture and jobs don’t lend themselves to this dynamic, to give and give until you have nothing left.

Thankfully, as it turns out, MI may in fact lend itself to a healthier dynamic, making this process of give and take a little bit easier. Therapists have discussed it for years, although it has yet to be conclusively studied, the idea that utilizing MI in one’s practice may decrease burnout. How about this for the title of an article: “The Unbearable Fatigue of Compassion: Notes from a Substance Abuse Counselor Who Dreams of Working at a Starbucks.” Annie Fahy (2007) writes “In the 90’s we called it ‘burnout’ and we wore it like a badge because it meant we were working hard and we really cared… At night we came home bone tired and zombified watching television or drinking while our families clamored around us.”

She then goes on to mention MI as a therapeutic approach that “holds great potential” for impacting not only the client in a helpful way, but also the practitioner. She quotes a Substance Abuse professional:

“I had to change in my work so I wouldn’t go crazy. I thought… I couldn’t work in treatment anymore…Then I learned Motivational Interviewing… I really felt born again in my work. I didn’t have to control for the outcome anymore. I had to change some other things too… like get a life and live it. There was no guide for this.”

So maybe, those of us that practice MI are more poised to seek and actually achieve a healthier stance in our work and in our lives. MI reminds us that no matter what we give, the client is accountable for the change; we couldn’t do it for them- even if we wanted to. The challenge is to continually remind ourselves of the MI principles and try to operate from them, and then, as the quote mentions- to get a life and live it.

Below, please feel free to share ways that you have sought balance in your own work and life.

My Best,
Katie Slack

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9 Responses to Motivational Interviewing and Self-Care

  1. Amanda says:

    The idea of not being in control of outcome and client accountability for change is one of my (many) favorite elements of MI. It has not only positively changed my experience of burnout with clients and increased my ability to work with clients at all levels of the change process, but also embodies the social worker value of client self determination.

    • Katie Slack says:

      Hi Amanda,

      Thank you for your comment. I thought you might find it interesting and want to know that a book is coming out (hopefully by the end of the year) in the MI series on MI and Social Work! And it’s because, just as you said, there are so many things that line up between the two.

      My Best,
      Katie Slack

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