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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change

Motivational Interviewing 15: Shawn Roberson

An episode of “Changing the Conversation” podcast

Shawn Roberson and Ali Hall discuss ways Motivational Interviewing is supporting people living through the COVID-19 pandemic with host Jeff Olivet.

November 8, 2021

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Jeff Olivet, Host [00:05]: This is Jeff Olivet with Changing the Conversation. Today, another in our ongoing series of conversations about Motivational Interviewing. And today we’re talking about surviving the pandemic, not only surviving the pandemic, but living through it and hopefully thriving through it. I am very pleased to be joined by two guests today. First, Shawn Roberson, who is a licensed mental health counselor and licensed professional counselor based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Shawn, it’s great to have you today.

Shawn Roberson, Guest [00:36]: Thank you. Thank you. Good to be here.

Jeff [00:40]: And Shawn uses a strengths-based and holistic approach to therapy, including the community resilience model or CRM. I’m also joined again today by Ali Hall, who’s an independent trainer, consultant, and coach in Motivational Interviewing. Ali’s also a member and a board member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers. Ali, as always, it’s great to have you back.

Ali Hall, Guest [01:01]: Thank you, Jeff. And good to be here today with Shawn.

Jeff [01:04]: Shawn, let’s begin a little bit. I mean, all of us, not only in the United States, but worldwide have lived through, suffered through, survived so far, walked beside people, lost people during this horrific pandemic. And it’s created a real sense of social isolation for many people and often exacerbated anxiety and depression. How have you thought about your work as a healer, as a professional, as a counselor? And how has Motivational Interviewing shaped your thinking over the last year and a half?

Shawn [01:42]: I’ve seen myself during this pandemic, definitely as a major support for a lot of folks that maybe don’t have support. I’ve noticed that families are very disconnected. Maybe families don’t live near each other. And they’ve also discovered too with friends, quite a bit of folks have noticed that, hey, they haven’t built a support system. So, it’s just caused people to kind of wake up to, hey, this is what’s missing in my life. This is something that I need to really focus on if I’m going to survive the pandemic. And Motivational Interviewing really has helped with kind of exploring where people want to go, where they want to change, what areas do they want to change for themselves? Knowing that the pandemic really has thrust us into change, what are some areas now in our own individual lives that we can kind of tweak?

Jeff [02:41]: Yeah, it really has brought so many of us to a point of reconsidering, all of it, our work, our relationships, our priorities in the world, where we spend our time and how we invest in ourselves and in each other. How have you seen the ongoing toll of the pandemic as it has now lingered on, we’re coming up on two years here, and we’re recording this right now in October, or actually November of 2021. We’re coming up on two years of this pandemic. What is the long-term toll you’re seeing on the people that you work with?

Shawn [03:16]: I’m just seeing more so exhaustion, of burnout, of just stress, just the increase of stress, stress from not knowing what’s going to happen next because the world is changing. And so, job markets changing and the way we live, the way we interact and socialize is changing. And we’re still wearing masks and social distancing. And it doesn’t seem like there’s been a major change so far with going back to what we say, the pre-normal days or the normal days. Definitely again, it has exasperated people’s lives and the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to be next because things are coming up unexpectedly.

Jeff [04:07]: Yeah. And so many people have lost so much. I mean, lost parents, and partners, and loved ones, and children, lost jobs, and homes in many cases. And yet we also see a lot of people accomplishing incredible things. Sometimes that’s in the helping professions. Sometimes it’s people really reconsidering their own personal or professional goals, even in the context of the pandemic. As you have seen folks try to navigate all of these changes that you talked about, how do you see Motivational Interviewing and some of the emphasis on change talk that MI [Motivational Interviewing] embodies? How have you seen that play out for folks?

Shawn [04:52]: Well, I definitely see it played out with folks wanting to decide, particularly when you’re talking about loss, loss of family supports, friends. Now, where do I go from here? Where do I want to live? I’ve seen quite a bit of people relocating because they’ve lost some loved ones or close friends. And so that’s been a major thing, is just where do I go from now? I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost family. And so people are trying to just regain their lives back, whether they’re single again, or we had a high incidence of divorce as well, just because folks are spending more time with their partners than they expected. And they discover, hey, this is not somebody I want to stay with. So, relationship status has changed.

Jeff [05:51]: Yeah. I mean, you’re talking about massive upheaval in people’s lives. I mean, obviously the kind of public health toll of the pandemic and the loss of life, but also these other changes in relationship, and job, and geographical location. I mean, these are huge upheavals. And MI, in my experience is so often about walking beside people through a process of change and what you just described are some of the biggest, most profound often most traumatic upheavals, whether it’s death and grief, or divorce, or the loss of a job, or even a move that you perceive to be a positive one is a deeply destabilizing event sometimes in a good way, but not always, it can be really hard too. I’d like to draw Ali Hall into this conversation. Ali, I’m curious what you’re hearing in Shawn’s comments the last few minutes, and particularly around the role of MI in helping people navigate some of the profound change we’ve been talking about.

Ali [06:53]: I am thoroughly with Shawn on this. Seeing the catastrophic and unexpected changes that people are experiencing both collectively and individually and having to make some fairly serious adjustments also in isolation very often because we have been not only experiencing this together, but experiencing this in our own private worlds. As we physically distance, our routines have been disrupted, our usual patterns of social support have been interrupted. So how do we navigate all this? And these are some things that I certainly hear from practitioners who attend MI training, looking for ways, not only to reduce the stress on themselves, but to really help and serve people effectively in these times.

Jeff [07:38]: And Ali, as an MI trainer, I know like many of us who do training, I’m sure much of your work has sort of gone virtual or hybrid virtual and a little bit of in person, maybe over the last few months. What are you hearing from trainees? What are you hearing from practitioners who are either advanced in their MI practice or new to the MI practice? I guess, what are the signals that you’re hearing that might be different than two years ago?

Ali [08:05]: It feels that practitioners are understandably gearing up for maybe the height of a crisis that we have not yet seen. Yes, people are suffering now, but we know that people tend to maybe perform quite well for themselves and feel effective in times of crisis. And yet after that sort of washes away, then people are often left with feelings, thoughts, sets of circumstances that are hard to manage. And the support that might be there in a time of crisis might not be there when structures and organizations view that it should be over. There’s sort of this panic neglect cycle where we’re in the middle of something, and we apply resources to it. But once that’s gone, the perception of panic sets in a cycle of neglect where organizations and systems assume that people should have it passed them already. I’m not sure that we’ve seen the crust of the wave just yet. And that’s what I’m hearing in training as well.

Jeff [09:04]: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I was thinking, as you were talking about the kind of parallel with the eviction crisis, we saw fairly early on in the pandemic, a huge influx of resources to prevent people from losing their homes and from losing income as well. We saw a lot of income supports in the wave of kind of Cares Act funding and all of that. Shawn, I’m going to bring it back to you in just a second, because I want to ask about the toll of this on communities of color, especially.

Jeff [09:35]: But it feels like the eviction crisis was sort of postponed through rental assistance and through eviction moratoria both federally and around the country, and there’s kind of a practical resource based parallel to, Ali, what you’re talking about, about the kind of putting off the grief, or putting off the, coming to terms with the pain and loss and the mental health fallout of the pandemic that has sort of pushed into the future and so that we better be ready for the crest of that wave as you described it. That wave is particularly profound in communities of color. We know that COVID-19 has hit Black communities, Latino communities, and Native American communities hardest. And that is true both in terms of the medical public health impact, the loss of life, but also the economic impact. Shawn, what are you seeing around the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color?

Shawn [10:35]: I’m seeing pretty much the same with some of the other clients I see. It’s just a lack of support from family. And then also lack of resources, healthcare. Folks, some of them are just not getting their annuals or taking care of theirselves like they should have been. And this is sort of like a wake up call to really get checked out, follow up with your primary care doctor. And so that’s been a major thing, is really following up with healthcare, making sure they’re checked. And then also the loss of jobs as well because the family support’s not there. And so they’re having to file for unemployment or get other resources. So that’s a big thing too, is just the job loss we’ve seen.

Shawn [11:36]: Also, too, with the pandemic, there’s been an influx of people of color coming in. And so, I think in a good way, the pandemic has highlighted some of these needs that we need and the people of color, the community that, Hey, there’s not enough resources, there’s not enough funding. And then being able to reach out for help if you need it. So, the pandemic kind of highlighting, Hey, this is what you can do. These are some resources you can do in order to get help.

Jeff [12:16]: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I mean, we know that even prior to the pandemic, stigma around mental health and accessing mental health care has been a huge issue in Black and Brown communities. There’s plenty of stigma in White communities as well, but in particular, in communities of color. And what you’re describing sounds like maybe the pandemic has created an opening for more people to seek help, for more people to reach out, for more people to acknowledge the impact of this collective shock and collective trauma that we have experienced and continue to experience.

Jeff [12:53]: I’m also struck by the role that some professional athletes have played in the last couple of years, athletes of color talking very openly about mental health in a way that I’ve certainly never heard in my lifetime. That’s Naomi Osaka on the tennis court or Simone Biles on the balance beam in gymnastics where there’s I think, a greater acknowledgement and transparency about mental health care. Shawn, what do you do with that opening? When somebody comes in who maybe has not accessed mental health support before, and they come to you and say, Hey, I need help. What does that look like? How does it play out in your practice?

Shawn [13:36]: Yeah. And I’ve had quite a few that this was their first time seeking services. They’ve seen resources on TV, on the billboards. And now, like I said, it’s been normalized. I think the stigma is slowly moving away, but I try to make folks feel comfortable, make it a safe space for people to open up, let them know yes, definitely due to pandemic, there’s been more first time folks seeking services. And then letting them know that mental health services is available and open to anyone. It doesn’t matter, race, color, gender, social economic status, it’s available and open to anyone. So, I make sure that I create a safe space where they can share and open up.

Jeff [14:29]: That’s great. Thank you. Ali, I wonder what you would like to add to that conversation about both the impact of the pandemic on communities of color, and also maybe the role of Motivational Interviewing in supporting people across racial and ethnic identity, across a wide range of nationalities and linguistic backgrounds and the kind of, I think, diverse set of experiences that MI is particularly well attuned to support.

Ali [15:00]: Sure. And I think MI has at least traditionally been very focused on individual responsibility and accountability for our own personal agency and efficacy and addressing what we can as individuals and yet things that are structurally and organizationally generated fall at the feet of individuals to solve. And that there may be a way in which MI is moving towards more collectivist sorts of solutions, thinking not just about my individual actions, but how can we help people focus on collective actions that they can take or impacting things systemically or otherwise. And that goes for providers as well, for organizations to really look at what barriers do they place in people’s way to seeking services. How can we be more welcoming as organizations. MI provides us that capacity for looking at ourselves top to bottom about how welcoming, inviting, inclusive, how much do we value the absolute worth of each person and what challenges are we placing in people’s way? And what can we do to take those challenges down, those hurdles down and provide greater accessibility to services? We can think about MI in terms of leadership, in terms of supervision, as well as individual delivery.

Jeff [16:24]: I’m here with Shawn Roberson and Ali Hall discussing Motivational Interviewing and living through the pandemic. Ali, as we’ve seen social isolation increase in many cases as Shawn and I were talking about earlier, we’ve also seen people turn more and more to social media, which was already a trend that has certainly some upside, but also a lot of potential downside. What have you been seeing around how people are reaching out to and into social media?

Ali [16:54]: We certainly see people finding some comfort in it and connecting with others. I think what we also see though, are unhelpful comparisons, sometimes misinformation, and some of those things end up causing more anxiety for the person seeking to connect through social media. It’s this idea too when we might observe someone baking a perfect loaf of sourdough bread and think what’s wrong with me? Why, am I not happy? Why can’t I get up and going and do these things that I see other people doing? And I think when we’re suffering and when times are at their most catastrophic, those sorts of comparisons, when we see others who we believe are functioning better than us, may not be very helpful to our own mental health. Just to really honor and respect our own suffering and to be able to take that seriously, I’m not sure that social media is always good at making that happen.

Jeff [17:52]: And that can also really play into the question of stigma.

Ali [17:55]: Sure. Others are fine. Why am I not? What’s wrong with me? But really each one of us has our own experience inside of this. And just again, there may be connections possible through it. At the same time, it may not be the most helpful strategy for everyone.

Jeff [18:12]: Well, and all of that stuff that can happen on social media, both some real connections, but also a whole lot of negative comparisons, as you were describing, Ali, can really take its toll on all of our mental health, whether we’re service providers, practitioners, or people trying to decide whether to seek support. Shawn and Ali, I have one last question for you both. We hear a lot these days about self-care. That has certainly been part of the MI discourse for as long as I’ve been in and around the MI world. It’s also true when we talk about trauma-informed care, we talk a lot about remembering to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others and using the airplane metaphor. What advice do you have for folks around putting on their own oxygen mask first around attending to self-care in a time of immense trauma, immense collective loss, immense recalibration around who we are as human beings, living in society together. Shawn, what advice do you have for providers working in that context?

Shawn [19:26]: I would say definitely making sure, the importance of self-care is really about taking care of your needs first before you take care of others, because it’s going to help you be able to function better, to live better, and to be there for family and friends, and to be able to manage day to day stressors. So yes, focusing on, Hey, these are things I need to do for myself. I have to determine, Hey, what’s important to me? What do I value? What are some things that will boost me so that I can move forward and take care of other people and to be the kind of person that will be able to function well at my job or with family, with friends and in the community. So, definitely learning ways to take care of yourself that’s going to improve that functioning.

Jeff [20:22]: Ali, what advice do you have for providers out there attending to the needs of others and attending to their own need for self-care?

Ali [20:28]: Especially in the collective experience of a trauma as we are all living through right now, a provider that might be able to have some distance between the suffering of those they serve as well as their own, that distance has been removed. And the provider may in fact be experiencing some of the same things that they’re hearing in their office or their clinics each and every day. So, self-care probably becomes even more important now than ever before and self-compassion.

Ali [21:00]: Making sure that we take those breaks, that we do the things that we know promote our own wellness and self-care as Shawn has very well said. Because we can’t help others as well, if we’re not already okay ourselves. And we are also suffering in ways that we would not be in other circumstances or in individually experienced catastrophes. So, I’m absolutely going to second everything that Shawn has said about the value of self-care and emphasize how much more important it is even now. And one of the ways that MI can be helpful in practitioners addressing larger issues or collectivist issues, we can think about upstream medicine and not just prescribing something, but thinking about what’s causing the particular pain or suffering that the person is experiencing.

Jeff [21:51]: Ali Hall, thank you so much for joining us.

Ali [21:54]: Thank you, Jeff. And thank you, Shawn.

Jeff [21:56]: Shawn Roberson, thank you for everything you do in the world. And thank you for taking the time to be with us today.

Shawn [22:01]: Thank you.

Jeff [22:02]: And to our listeners, take care of yourselves, take care of each other. Join us next time on Changing the Conversation.

Erika Simon, Producer [22:08]: Visit C4innovates.com and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube for more resources to grow your impact. Thank you for joining us. This episode was produced by Erika Simon and Christina Murphy. Our theme song was written and performed by Peter Hanlon. Join us next time on Changing the Conversation.

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