What Is Motivational Interviewing and How Can It Help First Responders?

What Is Motivational Interviewing and How Can It Help First Responders?

Published on July 5, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Of the many counseling techniques available to first responders recovering from alcohol and/or substance addiction, motivational interviewing provides tangible action in response to life’s difficulties. This method of counseling mainly focuses on identifying moments of uncertainty, or ambivalence, to promote healthy lifestyle decisions.

For first responders in the throes of addictive thought processes, motivational interviewing prompts an honest reflection to affect change. By reaching an emotional state of vulnerability, participants can identify their own behavior before making plans to influence how these behaviors are altered in the future.

Listen to How Problems Are Framed

The most helpful way to develop a pathway towards change is to notice how problems are framed in the context of internal monologue. Is the tone sympathetic, defensive, or apathetic? Too often, the framing of our difficulties goes on to inform how they are handled more than the nature of the difficulties themselves. As first responders, we are trained to contain our emotions on the job and focus on the critical task at hand.

When this is practiced in our personal lives, we tend to ignore our emotional response there as well. Observation of our emotional response marks the first step towards embracing positive change, as these tendencies can prompt healthy redirection of this emotional energy.

Understand the Scope of Your Control

Many frustrations arise from the inability to acknowledge the distinction between that which we can and can’t control. This is especially difficult for first responders, who are faced with traumatic situations they cannot control on a daily basis. Most of the issues we all deal with originate from an external source. It’s important to distinguish the obstacles we can and can’t control in order to avoid focusing energy and effort towards an irreparable problem.

For instance, if the power goes out for an entire city block, one might respond by flipping a circuit breaker. Upon further investigation, after realizing the outage is the result of a larger malfunction, we might set about lighting candles, searching for flashlights, or contacting our utility provider.

If we did not acknowledge our lack of control, we might respond to the same power outage by attempting to learn about power grids to get the power turned back on. Sometimes, responding to the realistic confines of our present predicament positions us to thrive more successfully than raging against the system we all operate in.

Advocate for Yourself

Support systems are fine and dandy — in fact, it is probably hard to imagine navigating life without your fellow officers, firefighters, etc. as well as a close-knit group of friends and family. Still, it’s important to maintain your independence by admitting that you are not merely the sum of your surroundings. First responders focus on working as a team, but you are self-sufficient and capable of accomplishing a great deal on your own.

This is not to say that others are insignificant — in fact, working as a team can mean the difference between life and death for many first responders. But you have the ability to instill positive growth within yourself as well. It’s always surprising to see how much a person can accomplish when they merely tell themselves they can. First responders see this often when ordinary citizens perform heroic acts in the face of danger.

In many cases, our search for external validation is merely a mischaracterization of our desire for self-validation, and that is why we need to learn to advocate for ourselves. The next time you feel like a victim or a failure, ask yourself if you are capable of being the voice of validation and empowerment.

Understand Why You Need to Change

This is where vulnerability comes into play. Chances are, if you are considering making a change in your life—whether it’s recovering from alcohol and/or substance use or any other major life decision—the decision has weighed on you. As it turns out, our brains are quite drawn to contemplating our challenges and risks, for better or for worse. Although these thoughts can negatively manifest as stress, anxiety, or depression, they mark an underlying desire that we have to understand ourselves.

When these feelings and thoughts rise up, it’s important to listen to them rather than suppressing them. You don’t have to be a hero all the time. Talking about these feelings, along with writing or any other forms of expression, helps determine why we feel drawn to change our situations, behavior, or habits.

Plan to Make a Change

The best way to initiate change in your life is to make a plan. It doesn’t need to be an outline for fixing every single dilemma that life has dealt you, or recovering from a traumatic experience or loss at work. Instead, it can be a strategy to help you cope with times in the future which may lead to struggles or uncertainty. For first responders, the risk of future trauma and stress is highly likely.

Planning to contact a sponsor when our triggers appear unexpectedly — or planning to have a conversation with someone who is currently complicating your path to recovery — can make it that much easier to follow through. The act of sitting down to plan positive change honors the commitment to self-empowerment and listening to yourself. The path to recovery requires a map. Even when the going gets rocky, it helps to know that we can rely on ourselves as a moral compass.

Accepting our own shortcomings can be daunting and overwhelming, especially when we are trained to save lives and help others. It’s natural for our minds to present excuses when imminent change is on the horizon. Lack of motivation can be one of the greatest barriers for any first responder who is struggling with addiction, along with the after-effects of loss or death on the job. Built on the notion that all individuals are at least somewhat aware of the consequences of their substance abuse, True Recovery uses motivational interviewing to help first responders and other clients overcome ambivalence or fear of change as they move through the stages of recovery. To learn more, please call our admissions staff 24/7 at (888) 743-0490.