An episode of “Changing the Conversation” podcast
Description: Racquel Garcia and Ali Hall discuss Motivational Interviewing as part of recovery coaching with host Jeff Olivet.
December 20, 2021
Jeff Olivet, Host (00:05): This is Jeff Olivet with Changing the Conversation. Today is another in our series on Motivational Interviewing [MI], and our topic today is Motivational Interviewing and recovery coaching. I’m very pleased to be joined by Racquel Garcia, the CEO of Hard Beauty and executive director of Hard Beauty Foundation. Racquel is a creator, a coach for youth and adults, a mentor, and a speaker. And Racquel’s joining us from Colorado today with beautiful mountains and surrounded by brainstorms of sticky notes in her background. I’m seeing her on Zoom here. Racquel, it’s great to have you.
Racquel Garcia, Guest (00:39): Hi Jeff. Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Jeff (00:42): And we’re also joined by Ali Hall, an independent trainer consultant and MI coach. Ali is a member and board member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers. Ali, it’s great to have you back.
Ali Hall, Guest (00:53): Thank you, Jeff. It’s great to be here today with you and Racquel.
Jeff (00:56): Racquel, let’s start with you. You do so much amazing work in the world. First of all, just love to hear a little bit about Hard Beauty. What is it? What are you doing? How does it work? What are you up to in the world?
Racquel (01:09): Well, first of all, people are most curious about Hard Beauty and what the name stands for, and it is choosing what is best for you over anything else. I am a woman in long term recovery. I’ve been sober over 11 and a half years. And with the grace, I’ll celebrate 12 years without a drink in January. And I have recovered in different stages. And so Hard Beauty is helping people recover through whatever life has handed them in different stages. And we are a coaching and wellness practice that is one of the first virtual RCOs [recovery community organization] in the country born out of COVID.
Jeff (01:45): Wow. Well, congratulations on that amazing work and your own journey and how you’re using that to shape other people’s journeys. I’m curious about the question of cultural competence. This is one that comes up a lot in behavioral health settings, in healthcare, in coaching of different kinds. When you think about trying to connect with people effectively across racial identity, across sexual orientation or gender expression, across all these dimensions of the kind of–beauty of all of humanity, what does it look like in your work to try to connect across various backgrounds and identities and cultures?
Racquel (02:25): Oh my goodness. I am blessed to be biracial. My mother is born in the south of France, so she’s not even from this country, white. And my father is a black man born in south Texas who was segregated until he was 28. So my background allows me an opportunity to connect with people at their level in a very different way, culturally. What I love is that when I first became a coach or started using Motivational Interviewing, and actually it comes with meeting Ali, was the opportunity to do what I do without having to change who I am. So I have a background in addiction. I tell everybody I was born a hustler, and I used that in a very negative way. And now I get to use it in a positive way, but when I’m working with someone else, I really don’t change my language much.
Racquel (03:14): I do am very mindful of what I say. I am very trauma-informed, but I don’t use very, I guess people would say big words. I don’t use words that they wouldn’t understand. So if I’m working with a hustler, I will talk to the strengths of the hustler and what’s best for them. And I don’t really curb that when I’m working with somebody. So when I think about cultural, I also have the permission to do that. I also have to ask permission for that. And my ethnicity lends me an opportunity to be able to connect with people very differently. And it wasn’t always that way.
Jeff (03:52): It strikes me that everything you’re talking about is very much in line with Motivational Interviewing, even if we really drop away the jargon and the acronyms of MI and all of the terms of art behind it. The spirit of Motivational Interviewing is very much what you just described. You talked about when you came to MI or when MI found you, can you just talk about that for a minute? How did you come to know Motivational Interviewing and how has it shaped how you do your work?
Racquel (04:22): Wow. Motivational Interviewing really has changed the way I operate as a coach. Not only do I lead people who are interested in transforming their life, but I work with coaches as well, teaching them how to use this skill. And Motivational Interviewing was the piece that was missing. I had taken quite a few certifications as far as ICF certifications and NADAC certifications that taught me the theory of coaching.
Racquel (04:45): MI was the application of, it was the piece that I needed to learn how I was speaking. Some of it was in validation that what I was doing was already okay. When I learned about the spirit of MI, I had been in situations where people had listened to some of my conversations and had thought that I was not operating within the format of MI or coaching. But when I met Ali and I met new people, especially C4, I learned that, actually I was doing a very good job, that there is actually a skillset that I am mindfully using when I’m speaking with somebody, even if my words don’t sound the way people think they should. If I use different jargon, if I curse, for example, it depends on my audience. And so I’m very mindful of that.
Jeff (05:30): The question of self disclosure comes up a lot. I think, particularly with people who are in recovery themselves, or people who have lived experience of the issues they’re working on, whether that’s substance use recovery or mental health recovery or trauma assault, sexual abuse, homelessness, all of the stuff that shapes someone’s journey when they’re now in a position of working with others who are moving through some of those same trials and tribulations. The question of self-disclosure is a really big one for a lot of people. And I’m curious how you think about that and how do you disclose or not disclose? And what is your thought process behind that?
Racquel (06:08): I think when you come from a place of experience, sometimes we want to overly share our journey. I’m very specific in who I’m sharing that with if the story is relevant. Not every chapter of my story is important. And usually if I feel like it’s going to open up an opportunity to create connection where my vulnerability opens up a window for them to be vulnerable, that’s when I apply it. But it’s not as, we’re not going to talk about me. We’re going to talk about them. It’s what’s most important. But I only do it from a place of intent. So I think it’s the intention by which we share that story. That is the most important.
Jeff (06:48): And it sounds like it’s about the other person’s need in that moment, how you’re making a judgment about, will this be helpful or not? And what part of my own experience do I want to share in that case? Ali, I’d like to draw you into the conversation here. I’m curious what you’re hearing in all of this. And when you think about the dimensions that Racquel and I have been talking about the last few minutes around disclosure, around cultural competence, or connecting with people across a lot of different backgrounds, how do you see Motivational Interviewing playing into all of this?
Ali (07:20): Yeah. I really love what Racquel has shared about self disclosure and this. When we think about connections, especially with MI, we think about compassion and am I offering this in order to be helpful? Is this my intention here? Is it about me? Is it about power? Is it about, of course, in MI we would discourage that intention for having an interaction, but am I trying to fix things for the person? Which we would think of as the righting reflex. But yeah, absolutely. If we’re offering something with compassion, our intent is to be helpful, and we’re supporting the person’s autonomy to take it or leave it or make it their own. That isn’t something that we’re telling people that they should do, have to do, constraining autonomy anyway. Supporting autonomy and collaborating to help people figure out some ideas that are going to be best for them based on their strengths and value system.
Jeff (08:14): Yeah. That’s really nicely said. Ali, I know you’ve got a lot of stories from your work both as, and an MI practitioner. Can you think of an example that illustrates what we’ve been talking about?
Ali (08:25): Yeah. Recently, a guy that I’m working with in coaching is a recovery coach in a young person’s residential treatment center. And he was really eager to find a way to best share expertise with the young people around him. So he got this explore-offer-explorer idea from MI where, I would like to find out what you know, tell me what you know, all this that we do in an explore, and then ask permission to offer a different point of view and see what the person makes of it and support their autonomy to make use of it.
Ali (09:00): So they go through this and then he says to the young person, “Would you like to hear my experience?” And the kid said, “No,” and turned around and walked out of the staff office and okay. So about an hour later, the kid comes back in and says, “Actually I would like to hear your experience. It’s just that no one has ever asked permission to tell me stuff before. And I didn’t know what to say. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized this guy believes in me. He’s got something for me and he’s letting me decide to take it or leave it. So, yeah, I’d love to hear your experience.”
Jeff (09:35): Racquel, what are you hearing and seeing the same things among the people you work with?
Racquel (09:39): Ali, I was right in sync with you on that asking permission has completely transformed the way I share my story. I think, can I? I’ve had somebody say no, and I didn’t, because it’s about them, and they didn’t want it. And that’s hard. You have to just swallow that. But it is different. Like you always say Ali too, it’s to get permission to walk into someone’s house, not just barge in the front door. And I think that permission is one of the most effective tools in Motivational Interviewing, especially when you’re dealing with that cross cultural part, Jeff, that you spoke of earlier is asking permission to enter someone’s home.
Jeff (10:17): To me, this gets us to a conversation about meeting people where they are. That’s a phrase we use a lot in helping professions. And MI, in my experience, is designed perfectly to meet people where they are, because it puts so much autonomy and power and control of the conversation in that person’s hands, and not in the hands of the practitioner. Although, we know it’s a dance. We know it’s a collaborative, therapeutic relationship and all that, but it really does shift power in a way that more top down models of therapy and intervention don’t do so well. It also strikes me that MI is very well attuned to harm reduction and as a concept in the sense of meeting people where they are and walking beside them for a step that they’re ready for.
Jeff (11:04): And then maybe another step after that, but not expecting someone to go from here to absolute abstinence or absolute whatever it is without many of those steps in between, or even without the deep desire to do it themselves, and not being pushed by external forces. I’m curious to hear both of you address this intersection of harm reduction and Motivational Interviewing. Racquel, what does that look like in your work? How are you thinking about that in the moment with people?
Racquel (11:37): Well, I tell people I’m a recovery coach, not a sober coach. So my goal isn’t, unless your goal is to be sober, and it aligns with them. I have a client that I’m working with now who was struggling with this on or off idea of putting down drinking and the idea that she could sit with somebody who is willing to allow her the opportunity to see what her limits were, for her to figure out what’s best for her. I watched her this week, just have this release when she wasn’t pressured by some external expectation that I had, or someone else had where she can set up her own expectations. And so I really love the harm reduction space. Even my coaches that work in my practice, that they too feel okay to come to work because harm reduction is accepted and meeting them where they’re at, that they don’t have to be completely substance free, according to what the old models would say. I can meet, even my coaches where they’re at and it gives them freedom, they still feel like I meet them where they’re at.
Jeff (12:37): That’s really beautiful. Ali, how do you think about the connection between Motivational Interviewing, harm reduction, meeting people where they are, goal setting, all the things that Racquel was talking about?
Ali (12:50): This idea, people I find their way to change, and they can, side wind their way to it. It can be a direct, nonstop flight to it. It can be something that people set aside and do something else for a while. And this relentless pursuit or focus under a microscope of what we perceive the problem to be for the person, really isn’t. The person may have many other priorities. Substances and alcohol, that may be something that the person wants to address at a later time or not at all. And if we’re only seeing them through that lens, we’re missing the whole person, the values that are important to them, other things that matter to them.
Ali (13:29): And so we thought a little bit too about this idea of more of an umbrella. What lives under the umbrella of things that are important to us? Today, we may be focused on taking a walk and getting some physical activity or mindfulness or reducing stress or something. It doesn’t mean it won’t ultimately have an impact on whether I use substances or not, but it just doesn’t have to be the relentless focus. A lot of things can live under that protective umbrella of stuff that’s important too, that we aspire to and we’re finding our way towards.
Jeff (14:00): We’ve talked in previous episodes of this podcast about the impact of the pandemic over the last couple of years on all of the people we serve, as well as on all of us as human beings. We have gone through and continue to navigate a worldwide pandemic, a collective trauma, something that has a deep pain and loss attached to it for many people. Racquel, you talked about your organization growing up in the time of COVID. In the last couple of years, everything that you’ve done has really been grounded in these virtual connections and being in Zoom squares with people and not necessarily in the same room. I’m curious what lessons you’ve learned through that? What is it like to provide coaching in this very deeply connected human way when we’re not necessarily in the same physical space together?
Racquel (14:50): I think I was one of the skeptics, which is probably why I was asked to step up to the plate because I didn’t know if you could really find this amazing human connection via the Internet. But what I have found is you can. And talk about meeting someone where they’re at, when I work with youth fact that I can meet with, for example, Tim, in his bedroom at 6:00 on Thursday, especially during the pandemic, when young people weren’t, couldn’t leave their home and were really restricted. We saw some relaxation happening in youth, in our young students because they didn’t have to squeeze us into their day. We just could be there at the end of their day. The virtual space about convenience as a recovery coach, part of that is being able to meet people where they’re at wherever they’re at.
Racquel (15:40): Oftentimes I may be with a woman while she’s driving to work in the morning sitting on her phone. And so what I have found is we found a great space to connect with people. My existence with y’all is here because of that. We have found a great opportunity to meet people where they’re at, even working with the homeless population. So those that are experiencing homelessness have cell phones, and I can work with somebody who can get a wifi connection at a McDonald’s on a Thursday. Now may not have cell phone coverage, but I have a client who has actually been able to restrain yourself, or has been substance free for an entire year while experiencing homelessness with a cell phone. So the whole idea is recovery. It’s dependent on the client and it’s not me.
Jeff (16:23): It’s such a nice picture that you paint of these connections that they transcend some of the limitations we’ve had around not being able to be as in person together as we would like to be. But there’s a way of connecting in a very deep way and even some upside to it in the ways that you’re describing the flexibility and making it work for people. Self-care has never been more important. And I’d like us to end by asking both of you, how you keep strong, how you continue to feed your own soul and your own strength so that you are in a place to be a source of strength for others. Ali, what are you doing these days around self-care? How are you thinking about in the context of the very difficult last couple of years?
Ali (17:14): I think the pandemic has especially challenged healthful wellness habits that we have all put in place. Knocked some of those off the table, challenged us to find new ones, challenged us to get some of those back on the table that we wanted to have. Being able to rethink everything from top to bottom. Working from home in particular has its challenges. And it means maybe stepping away from electronics, putting them to sleep or closing them down, making sure to spend certain amounts of time each day that are electronics free. That’s been a really helpful thing for me during these times. Physical activity and connections with nature and with animals, those have been really key things for me.
Jeff (18:02): Racquel, same question to you. How, how are you thinking about taking care of yourself these days in the context of the work you’re doing to support others and navigating the situation we’re in as a human race these days?
Racquel (18:15): Staying connected to people like y’all. Making sure that I do not feel like I’m on an island somewhere, especially being born out of COVID, I have realized that sometimes my loft gets very alone or I’ve been in here for a few days. So I make sure that I connect with others also doing this work. I think that is really important. Recognize and acknowledging that secondary trauma will happen. It’s not something you can avoid. And so making sure that you have, I mean, I work with coaches. I keep a therapist in my pocket if I need to. And also making sure I disconnect, like Ali, from the electronics and pulling myself back. That’s actually my new goal for myself in the end of this quarter. And the first part of next quarter is connecting back with my family more.
Jeff (19:01): Great goals, great reminders. Racquel Garcia, it’s great to have you with us today.
Racquel (19:06): Thanks. It was great being here.
Jeff (19:08): Thank you for all the amazing work you do in the world. And Ali Hall, as always, it’s great to have you back. Thanks for joining us.
Ali (19:14): Thanks, Jeff. And thanks, Racquel.
Jeff (19:17): And to our listeners. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and join us next time on Changing the Conversation.
Erika Simon, Producer (19:24): Visit C4 innovates.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.
Access additional “Changing the Conversation” podcast episodes.