Summer Institute Week 4: Conversations can change lives

16th August 2017

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to hear a talk by William Miller, the founder of motivational interviewing, and one thing he said has stuck with me ever since: “conversations can change lives.”

Conversations lie at the heart of social work. How can we create change if not through talking and connecting to others? And how do we make it count? The focus of week four was on building relationships and having conversations that have the potential to make a real difference to people’s lives.

At the beginning of the week, participants were introduced to motivational interviewing (MI), a collaborative communication style that helps reduce resistance and resolve ambivalence about change. At the heart of MI is the notion that people are experts in their problems and that intrinsic motivation is a powerful force for change. Most importantly, MI is about coming alongside people and seeking to understand difference, rather than judging behaviours that might not make sense to us.

On day two, we explored the question of ‘whose resistance?’, shifting from a perception of resistance as something that lies in ‘difficult people’ towards an understanding of resistance as the product of a process that occurs between people and a normal response to social work involvement.

As the week progressed, we were reminded of the importance of relationships and compassion when supporting those in need. On day four, we were joined by Ian Lawrence, an expert by experience, who shared his experience of being both the recipient and provider of social work intervention. Ian’s story was a powerful reminder that none of us are immune to adversity and that we too might need professional support one day.

On day five, Kate Crawford generously shared her powerful story of living with hearing voices. Kate’s story highlighted the importance of seeking to understand the person beneath the behaviour. As Kate put so simply yet so poignantly “nobody ever asked me ‘why?’.” But ultimately, Kate’s story was one of survival and hope in the face of adversity. It was met with the most passionate and heart-felt standing ovation I have ever seen.

On Friday, Allan Brownrigg, Head of Region in the North East, delivered a brilliant lecture on mental health, encouraging us to identify and critique dominant narratives regarding mental illness. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Allan managed to find a way to get us up on our feet doing the conga, while still making it relevant to the discussion of mental health. Bravo Allan, lectures will never be the same again!