Using Motivational Interviewing in a Goal-Setting Process

This goal-setting process was developed in the Learning for Life Program at the West Side Catholic Center in Cleveland, Ohio. West Side Catholic Center is community-based organization that provides a drop-in center and shelter for people who are homeless and working poor to receive clothing, food, shelter and advocacy. Learning for Life is part of the West Side Catholic Center’s drop-in services where adults can come twice each week for tutoring in their areas of need.

Most staff and adult learners refer to Learning for Life as “GED class,” but the adult learners work individually with tutors in anything from mastering the alphabet to preparing for college entrance exams. Site Managers match the learners and tutors, making sure everyone has the materials they need for tutoring, and also provides an initial orientation, assessment, registration & goal setting with every new learner.

Learners using the center are all ages with diverse educational backgrounds and literacy skills. Due to the housing challenges of the learners, retention is low and progress is slow. The center hoped to increase retention and completion by allowing learners to see their progress long before they were ready for an official GED practice test.

This goal-setting interview [Word] was developed during a year-long process the organization underwent to become a trauma-informed environment, which included training on motivational interviewing (MI). Practice of a trauma informed environment include acknowledging the impact of trauma, creating a safe, welcoming environment, avoiding trauma triggers and creating an empowering atmosphere where clients have a voice in the decisions about the services they receive.

In order to create a more trauma-informed environment that respected learners’ autonomy and included them in decision making, Site Managers designed an MI-style goal setting to engage learners’ voices and goals in the educational decision making process.

This interview has become a useful transition tool. It provides a structure to create lessons that are relevant to the learner’s long term goals and needs and aids a faster transition as learners progress faster and are tested sooner when engaged in regular dialogue about their goals. It also provides useful information that guides referrals to other services in the agency and in the larger community that can help them meet their goals.

Since the practice was instituted, the program has seen a 10% increase in retention and an increased numbers of learners who have improved on post-test scores over a short period of time.

More About Motivational Interviewing

According to the technical definition used by its founders Miller and Rollnick (1991), “MI is a directive, client-centered counseling style for increasing intrinsic motivation by helping clients [students] explore and resolve ambivalence.” More recently, MI has been defined as a “collaborative, person-centered form of guiding to elicit and strengthen motivation for change” (Motivational Interviewing, 2011).

While Motivational Interviewing was developed for working with people to overcome substance abuse, it has relevance in any situation where a person is trying to make a significant change in their life because it addresses the challenges and ambivalence that surround the change process. By taking the step to enroll in your program, return to or continue their education, and embark on a career path, students are on the brink of significant personal change.

Dr. Craig Piso is a psychologist with 32 years of experience in the field. Over the last 10 years he’s been practicing MI techniques and has developed workshops and curricula on MI to be used specifically in educational settings. He has worked directly with students in transition to assist them with bridging gaps, reinventing their life path, and getting on track with their education and other life goals.

Motivational interviewing, according to Dr. Piso, is intended to assist students to become more engaged in the educational process and to increase their motivation. That motivation enables them to persist toward their goal.

View a presentation by Dr. Piso on the four fundamental principles of Motivational Interviewing:

There are also specific techniques, sometimes called micro counseling skills, which counselors can use to apply the MI principles. Combined, these four MI techniques are referred to by the acronym OARS. Listen to Dr. Piso present the OARS techniques:

Download: Goal Setting Interview [Word], My Personal Profile [Word]

Additional Resources: Center for Social Innovation and Training on Traumatic Stress

Meagan Farrell, Educational Consultant
West Side Catholic Center, Homeless Services Drop-in Center
Cleveland, OH