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Teens Only Listen to One Person…Themselves: How a Child’s Own Reasons for Change Lead to the Most Success
Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Beautiful Teen Girl In Hospital Gown Crying

This guest post is by Dr. Michael Pantalon, author of “Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything–Fast” (Little, Brown and Company).

Imagine you are in the Emergency Department (ED) with your 16-year-old daughter who was brought in for her second episode of alcohol poisoning in six months.  The doctor is about to discharge her because, medically, she’s fine, but you know she’s going to go right back to heavy drinking, if you don’t do something.  You and your husband feel you’ve tried everything to help your daughter, but you also believe that there has to be some way to take advantage of this dire emergency to motivate her to get into treatment and to stop drinking.

I’ve seen hundreds of families in this very situation and their dilemma is always the same: they all want to influence their child to get on a better path, but they don’t know that there is a quick, easy and scientifically-proven way of getting the job done.  The approach I’m referring to is called “Instant Influence.”  It’s based on Motivational Interviewing, which in its briefest form, has been shown to reduce substance use among adolescents and young adults seen in the ED, as well as, my 20 years of experience motivating some of the most resistant to change substance abusing children and adults in a wide variety of settings.

People tend to only listen to one person — themselves.  And, as a result, they’re only influenced by one person …again — themselves.  So, as frustrating as this may be for a parent who would like to sternly say, “You have to stop!” and to have that be enough, the real trick to motivating someone is to get them to convince themselves to make a change for their own good reasons.

But how do you do this?  How might the mom in the example above motivate her daughter to finally accept treatment for her drinking problem?

The two most important things to do are:

1)    STOP trying to motivate your child by telling her about your feelings, thoughts or reasons for change, such as, “You’re worrying me to death!” “I think you HAVE to go to rehab right from the hospital” or “The best reason for you to stop drinking is for your health.”

2)    START asking your child questions that are specially-designed to evoke her own good reasons for change.

To help you remember what things you should vs. should NOT say, I’ve devised two simple lists for parents to follow:

DON’T…

Express your anger. Of course, as a parent, you are feeling angry, but expressing it doesn’t motivate your daughter.  Your anger is very likely legitimate, but if we stick to the idea that kids change when they hear themselves argue in favor of the change, yelling will NOT evoke such reasons – it may even make it harder for her to come up with good reasons to change.

Blame. It’s not a time to figure out who’s responsible for allowing the situation to get so bad, but instead, to garner some motivation to move forward with a better plan.

Confront her with admonitions to stop. Of course she knows you want her to stop drinking!  She doesn’t need to hear that, nor will it be motivating.  I know it feels almost irresponsible NOT to say that she HAS to stop drinking, but because of “reverse psychology,” it could be demotivating.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Michael Pantalon, PhD  /  Filed under Addiction, Alcohol, getting help, Motivational Interviewing, tough love, Treatment  /  Comments: more






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