The Third Branch
Motivational interviewing comes to the courtroom
By Julia Jacobson, Court Information Intern
Richard Brown, M.D.
|Judge Lisa K. Stark|
One of the latest developments in court is not a new technology, but rather an approach to communication called Motivational interviewing (MI). This technique involves using open-ended questions and reflective listening to help an individual develop insights into his or her situation. It is showing signs of helping to improve compliance with court orders and reducing recidivism.
The Office of Judicial Education is offering a first-ever MI course specifically designed for judges in October.
Laura Saunders, director of development for the Wisconsin Initiative for Promoting Healthy Lifestyles and a member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT), described motivational interviewing as an evidence-based practice for individuals working with people around behavior change.
"It's a collaborative, person-centered form of guiding that is designed to elicit and strengthen a person's own motivation to change," Saunders said.
Wisconsin in particular has done training with probation and parole agents to develop an effective communication style. The technique developed out of work with individuals with alcohol and drug abuse problems in the 1980s, and is now used by a wide range of professionals such as psychologists, physicians and counselors.
Richard Brown, M.D., clinical director of the Wisconsin Initiative to Promote Healthy Lifestyles, said MI techniques are most commonly used in clinics to simultaneously screen patients and monitor behavioral changes. But he agreed that MI has shown promise in the courts as well.
"Research shows judges who take even a few minutes to use motivational interviewing in the courtroom can see improved appearance rates on parole and other hearings," he said.
Judge Lisa K. Stark, Court of Appeals, District III, and dean of the Wisconsin Judicial College, said she used MI in her courtroom as an Eau Claire County Circuit Court judge, particularly in drug court, juvenile, child support and family cases.
When she uses MI, Stark engages participants by posing open-ended questions that help them reflect on what hasn't been working in their lives.
"Its not telling people what to do, but helping them arrive at an appropriate response," she said.
Stark said determining whether MI must be done within the context of the case and with an eye on how much time a judge has available.
Stark acknowledged that some judges express skepticism about MI and when, how often, or even if they should use the technique.
"There are differing beliefs on the role of judges," she said. "We are not social workers or probation officers. Is it our role to motivate people to make changes? Do we have enough time to do this and do it effectively?"
The MI seminar for the judiciary will be held Oct. 16-18 at the Holiday Inn & Suites Madison West. Only judges may attend. Registrations will be accepted through October 7 and may be made through the Judicial Education link on the court system Intranet site, CourtNet.