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Frances Cox works with individuals on probation in Austin, Texas through the Working on Wisdom (WOW) program. WOW is informed by Motivational Interviewing and offers a 12-session, strengths-based program to people on probation, may of whom are experiencing homelessness.
Working on Wisdom

Frances Cox is a Motivational Interviewing (MINT) trainer and founder of the Working on Wisdom Program (WOW) program in Austin, Texas. She explains that diagnosis is not her primary focus when she works with people. The WOW program serves a wide variety of people who have been referred to the probation center and who are eager to make changes in their lives.

“For example,” she says, “there was one young man who had come to the group for five sessions. He shared that he had a bipolar diagnosis, but I never focus on the diagnosis. He had run out of medication and explained that the only thing that kept him going when he was—as he put it, ‘off his health’—was his understanding of innate health.”

“Innate health,” explains Frances, “is the quality we are born with. It is a beautiful mystery that is an unrealized psychological aspect of our immune system; it is our resiliency. It is as natural to us as the physical immune system, which heals the flu and cuts.” Frances describes that a calm state of mind allows for a more accurate vantage point that, in turn, allows for a more fluid connection to wisdom. This promotes moving forward together towards change.

Frances has been working in the field of behavioral health for over 30 years. Through a series of timely events and a small seed grant from the probation department in Austin, Frances developed the WOW program. The basis for this program is Motivational Interviewing (MI). It is also rooted in the practice of understanding and examining innate health, and the Three Principles, which focus attention to mind, thought, and consciousness. Participants are referred to her program through mental health court diversion programs and dual diagnosis programs. Some participants are currently experiencing homelessness, while others have previously experienced homelessness.

Frances has worked in multiple systems, including criminal justice, mental health, and behavioral health for over thirty years. She sees a relationship between innate health and MI and has been intuitively drawn to the spirit behind it since early in her career. She says simply, “It just fit with the truth of my life.”

At the same time, Frances became immersed in resiliency training. The trainings Frances attended examined the concept of innate health in disadvantaged communities and low-income housing areas. She observed through these training that people’s lives improved. This inspired her to attend more conferences on both resiliency training and innate health. Grounded in her work as a MINT trainer, she added innate health training to her skills, worked in the criminal justice system, and then opened a small therapy practice.

Frances helps people pose important questions about innate health, such as: How do we access it? How do we pay attention to our wisdom and take the time we need to step back and make better decisions when we feel tangled up? If a person can recognize the need to step back and pause, then better decisions become available.

Frances uses a strengths-based approach to work with people when their thinking is challenging the way they move through life. “This really targets the present moment with the quality of thinking that we have and can always shift,” she says. Frances has heard many stories from the people she works with that demonstrate the successful changes that have resulted from this program, including reduced anxiety, increased quality of parenting skills, and increased employment rates.

The WOW program is open to anyone who needs help. People come in for up to 12 sessions and can rejoin at any time. There is a collaborative spirit with probation officers, which increases the availability of program staff to participants. The curriculum is flexible, which allows participants to reflect on their own state of mind. For example, one question that might be explored is: What do you notice about your state of mind when you become angry?

Frances deeply believes that all people have the ability to find their individual paths to change and that change can be facilitated and activated. She credits this to an understanding and internalization of innate health.

She recalls one participant who arrived at the doors of the WOW program after trying every anger management class in Austin. “I was actually a little afraid of her,” says Frances, “but she came to three sessions, and then her wisdom kicked in. She ended up staying employed long enough to receive a promotion to a management position where she worked, improved her parenting skills, and was able to manage her state of mind. Her anger departed.”

Frances attributes these changes to the fact that this woman was ready for change and a shift in mindset. “For me as a practitioner, this work points me back to my own health as well, and this is really where my best ideas emerge,” she says. “We are here together learning about our wisdom, autonomy, and evocation. We are all just fishermen of wisdom.”

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