When I was just starting out as a clinical psychologist, I worked in a service helping people facing the challenges of alcohol and other substance use. This is such a tricky thing for people to grapple with. There can be so many negative consequences to addiction, and yet at the very same time change is extremely difficult.
But I was committed to helping people change their drinking or drug use, and so I started a PhD under the supervision of Professor Ross Young, a smart and funny man who overflowed with a sense of compassion and doing good. We set out to work with Vietnam Veterans who suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol dependence.
One of the things I learned very early was that if I sounded even slightly like I was telling them what to do about their drinking, then I tended to get back resistance. Four-letter word resistance! I was told on more than one occasion to, "Get stuffed" (or words to that effect). And rightly so! People don't like being told what to do, especially when it is something as complex as alcohol use in the context of PTSD. I suspect they had heard it all before from other well-intended clinicians.
Luckily for me, I had excellent supervision. Ross was well-versed in an approach called Motivational Interviewing (MI). An outstanding researcher, he also worked in clinical roles his whole career, and he knew exactly what we were confronting and how to begin to approach things more effectively. He taught me MI, supervised me with cases, and together we developed a group program drawing on MI and relapse prevention approaches to try to help this group of veterans.
And we found that it was helpful! There was certainly less resistance and more talk about change...even a commitment or two by many of the participants. MI changed the whole experience of my work with veterans. I was able to be more effective and helpful for them and I felt enormous job satisfaction for me. And so, I was hooked on this approach.
After my PhD, I ventured off to the USA to receive train-the-trainer-style training from Professor Bill Miller, one of the developers of MI, and his close collaborator Dr Terri Moyers. It was 2007, and this was a peak professional experience for me. I learned so much during that 3 days of training: the MI Spirit, the core listening skills, the importance of client language...the list goes on! It truly deepened my practice, but also set me up to have another aspect to my career, as an MI trainer!
The Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT) is a wonderful group of like-minded people from around the world who train MI. I have had some glorious times with my fellow MINTies around the world at our annual MINT Forum. And where ever I can, I bring all of that back home to be able to offer MI training to other clinicians here in Australia. Sometimes I even get to train overseas. If you are interested in MI and would like to explore the pathway to further training, go to the MINT website here.
I am so lucky. Not everyone gets to have a job they love and feel passionate about. But I do! And MI, both in my clinical work and my work as a trainer, is a big part of what I love.