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Training Probation Officers in Motivational Interviewing
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Training probation officers in motivational interviewing

Liz Barnett is an independent consultant who trains probation officers on Motivational Interviewing. Laura Gillis from HRC had a chance to catch up with her to hear about her work.

Q: Tell me about your work with probation officers?

There is a push in community corrections to use Motivational Interviewing because it is an evidence-based practice. I have trained county and federal probation officers in Motivational Interviewing for the past three years and it is a great intervention for them to use in their work. To use Motivational Interviewing successfully, you need more than the initial training. Recently I have been working with a Federal Probation Office that has invested in this training for their probation officers. After the initial training, I have been providing individual coaching with officers. I find this to be the most interesting part of my work. I can discuss with the individual officer ways to ask a question differently, reflect what is being said or just to think about the situation differently. The coaching provides the opportunity for the probation officer to integrate Motivational Interviewing into their work and to gain skills.

Q: Do the probation officers work with people who are homeless?

Most people on probation have an approved living arrangement. In some cases this means living in a halfway house or other transitional setting. Having an approved residence is a condition of probation everywhere. Probationers are required to inform their PO if a housing situation changes. If notification does not occur this could be considered a “technical violation”. However, it is rarely enforced. In most cases the probation officer may be able to assist them in accessing housing or refer them to someone who can.

Q: What are the challenges for you in your work?

The greatest challenge for me is having probation officers really take on Motivational Interviewing and make it a part of their everyday work. Sometimes agencies will invite me to do a one eight hour training thinking that is all that is needed. It takes time to incorporate Motivational Interviewing into how you are thinking about probationers and how you will work with them. The follow up coaching is critical to reinforce the training and to assist the probation officer in acquiring the skills. There are standards for Motivational Interviewing and it is difficult for anyone to reach those standards without ongoing coaching and training.

Q: What brought you to this work?

I began my career conducting research in evidence-based practices. After 4 years, I decided that I wanted to get closer to the field and began training officers in some of the practices that are shown to be the most effective. Motivational Interviewing is one of those practices.
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