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The Art of Letting Go: Reducing Burn-out and Motivational Interviewing by Mary Beth Abella, MSW

To say that there is a lot of stress when you work in a helping profession is an understatement. As helpers, we get stressed out because of the reason we got into this work in the first place—we care. We see clients who are suffering and we want to help them, to alleviate their pain, to see them succeed and thrive and be happy. Sometimes, our desire to see them not suffer leads to our own impatience, and we start doing all the work for them instead of letting them come up with the solutions. So we end up working harder than our clients and feeling more and more stressed out because of it. We find ourselves pushing and pushing and our clients resisting and resisting until we become more and more frustrated and exhausted.

Or maybe you have the opposite situation: your clients are nodding happily at all your expert advice, but now they need you to help them before they will make any move at all. Now we have clients calling and emailing us constantly for advice instead of taking action. Their dependence on you becomes draining and you find yourself wanting to run away from your clients, your job, and your life.

So how do we stop this vicious cycle and start enjoying our jobs again? Motivational Interviewing offers a great deal of assistance in this area. When we use MI, we compassionately guide our clients toward their goals instead of pushing them at ours. The trick is to actually let the client determine whether or not s/he wants to change. This seems counterintuitive but actually makes a lot of sense when you understand how people make changes in their lives. People decide on their own to make change—no one can force them. You may get people to “comply” temporarily, but that doesn’t mean the change will stick when no one's watching anymore.

So, try this next time you are meeting with a particular “challenging” client: let them come up with their own goals and decisions. Crazy idea, huh? This is not to say that you shouldn't offer emergency interventions when needed. But by asking clients to determine the choices they make--no matter how much we agree with them or not--will not only allow you to create much more productive and less exhausting relationships with them, you will be building self-sufficiency and resilience. And seeing more positive results in your clients without you having to push as hard and do all the work will make your job much easier and more enjoyable. Couple that with some good self care and you have a great formula for reducing burn-out!

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