On the Limitations of Motivational Interviewing for Jobseekers

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a style of working with a client that focuses on allowing the client to direct the change rather than telling the client what they need to do. It is about having a conversation about change. It is an empathic, person-centered counseling approach that prepares people for change by helping them resolve ambivalence, enhance intrinsic motivation, and build confidence to change. MI is grounded in mutual trust, and an emphasis on the client’s personal choice and autonomy. MI works not only with homeless individuals, but also with those who may be concurrently suffering from alcohol or other substance abuse, mental disorder, and disabilities. Today people are more open about discussing their anxieties. For Kierkegaard, the present age is a reflective age – one that values objectivity and thought over action, lip-service to ideals rather than action, discussion over action, publicity and advertising over reality, and fantasy over the real world.

In the 19th century two philosophers, Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, stood out with their reaction against the ‘impersonal’ rationalism of the Enlightenment, and stressed the importance of the individual. Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the ‘father of existentialism,’ believed that one must choose one’s own way without the aid of universal objective standards. Against the traditional view that moral choice involves an objective judgment of right and wrong, existentialists have argued that no objective, rational basis can be found for moral decisions. It was necessary to create one’s own values in a world in which traditional values no longer governed. Kierkegaard argues that the falsehood of objectivity may be revealed by a lack of need for personal commitment, and by lack of need for decision-making, while the truth of subjectivity may be revealed by a need for personal commitment, and by a need for decision-making.

Kierkegaard observes, “Everyone one wants progress, no one wants change.” Today individuals are faced with an existential challenge in redefining their self-image and the mind-set with which they respond to the world. For Kierkegaard, the real problem of life was to discover one’s true talent, secret gift, authentic vocation. So, freedom acts as a universal value. People are striving for freedom, for only in it and through it can the creative human potential be realized. The lack of freedom to make choices creates a group working below their capabilities precisely because they have no other option, thus they become susceptible to rhetoric from populist politicians with simplistic solutions. Kierkegaard claims the type of objectivity that a scientist or historian might use misses the point – humans are not motivated and do not find meaning in life through pure objectivity. Instead, they find it through passion, desire, and moral and religious commitment.

Kierkegaard produced a series of powerful essays that explored the territory of conscious experience, suffering and despair. Of the latter, he considered it in rather modern terms, as a common aspect of everyday life: “Just as a physician might say that there very likely is not one single living human being who is completely healthy, so anyone who really knows mankind might say that there is not one single living human being who does not despair a little, who does not secretly harbor an unrest, an inner strife, a disharmony, an anxiety about an unknown something or a something he does not even dare try to know.” This observation prepares the great theme of existentialism, that the human condition is a forlorn and anxious place. We are faced with pathways all around us, but to know which pathway is best for us, this is more frightening.

“If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin,” claims Kierkegaard, inFear and Trembling. The struggle that Hegel envisioned is the great tension between ‘is’ and ‘ought,’ between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The world of fact was chaotic and evil – an affront to man’s senses of order and good. The necessary ingredient for Hegel’s philosophy was freedom of action, not just freedom of thought. Kierkegaard believed that a human being’s relationship with God must be hard-won, a matter of devotion and suffering. According to Kierkegaard, a person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. Kierkegaard rejects naturalism. It isn’t the idea that there are laws of nature that Kierkegaard rejects, but the idea that these laws necessarily determine human behavior.

Kierkegaard claims everyone harbors a fear of being alone, forgotten by God, overlooked by his friends and relatives. He concluded that it was in our anxiety that we come to understand feeling that we are free, that the possibilities are endless. Even though anxiety can ignite all kinds of transgressions and maladaptive behavior, we should recognize it as a dual force that can be both destructive and generative, depending upon how we approach it. Kierkegaard argues, without anxiety there would be no possibility and therefore no capacity to grow and develop as a human being. Kierkegaard argues anxiety is essential for creativity – if there were no possibilities there would be no anxiety. The way we negotiate anxiety plays no small part in shaping our lives and character. “Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”

“The most common form of despair is not being who you are,” Kierkegaard observes, it is in our anxiety that we come to understand feeling that we are free, that the possibilities are endless. Further, anxiety is an explanation of choice only in the sense that it explains the possibility of choice; it does not and can not explain the cause of this or that particular choice. The important point is that to exist, the individual must make choices –the individual must decide what to do the next moment and on into the future. A person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. The force of Kierkegaard’s philosophy rests in the notion that human life is paradoxical and absurd and that to confront this absurdity is to become truly human. Kierkegaard observes, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Motivational interviewing recognizes that everyone is anxious about something. Today anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States and Canada. Combining motivational interviewing (MI) with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may lead to greater improvement in long-term treatment outcomes for patients with generalized anxiety disorder compared with CBT alone, according to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The early stages of change are characterized by alternating movement toward and away from the contemplated change. Such a “two-steps-forward-one-step-back” journey is a normal response to change, because, while people desire change, they also fear it. Continuing to do things “the way I’ve always done it” is seductive; it is familiar and sometimes rewarding, as the client sees that maintaining the status quo “sort of” or “almost” or “sometimes” works and changing has big costs. MI is a tool for helping people to change.

Motivational interviewing (MI) is an effective counselling method that enhances motivation through the resolution of ambivalence. With cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), what clinicians tend to see as resistance is actually clients dealing with ambivalence. A client requires a fairly high level of motivation in order to be able to implement treatment actions toward change. Limited engagement with treatment tends to be responsible for limited response rates to treatments. Even though CBT has well-established efficacy for the treatment of anxiety and depression, there is still a sizable minority of clients for whom treatment is ineffective. The core value of MI is that, by working with client ambivalence – as demonstrated in the person’s resistance – and respecting the person’s autonomy and capacity to choose change if and when it feels right. MI achieves high levels of client engagement, which creates high levels of outcomes.

Empowerment is a broad concept. Individual empowerment is centered on the belief that individuals should be in control of their own care and that behavioral changes and adherence to change cannot be achieved unless they internalize the need for self-change. Motivational interviewing encourages engagement by eliciting person’s reasons for change, encouraging them to develop ideas on how to make changes in their own behaviors, and helping them make informed choices. MI is especially useful for empowering individuals to set self-determined, or autonomous, goals for behavior change. This is important because autonomously motivated behavioral change is more sustainable. In the psychological field, empowerment is broadly described as the process of gaining power or control over one’s life, believing in one’s abilities, and having a proactive approach to life. In poverty research empowerment has been primarily studied from an economics perspective, focusing mainly on the recipients’ ability to take decisions and make strategic choices.

The first step in empowering the poor is to realize poverty is a condition, not an identity. The key to ending poverty is realizing that development isn’t about charity or top-down interventions. It’s about empowering people and ensuring they have access to the tools to build their own better future. MI to jobseekers with barriers to employment who might be thinking about employment helps overcome the self-doubts and hesitations holding them back from actively committing to seeking a job. MI for job readiness – can improve job searching skills – has been demonstrated to boost general feelings of self-efficacy. However, what is missing is how many jobs are available for a 60-year-old with a chronic physical illness, and is slowing down with some bothersome symptoms. In addition, substance abuse and mental health challenges get in the way of ability to function at work or school, maintain a stable home life, handle life’s difficulties, and relate to others. These factors help us understand the limitations of MI.

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