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Introduction to Responding to working with young people

Consider your engagement style when working with young people and also how you can increase their participation and reduce the power imbalance between you.

Some adults’ natural responses to young people tend to be paternalistic or maternalistic. This can result in adults providing advice, admonishing the young person and assuming a position of power. Many high-risk young people have been harmed by the misuse of adult power. Continuing this dynamic is unhelpful to promoting self-efficacy (an individual’s belief in their abilities), empowerment, change and ongoing safety building.

Iannos and Antcliff (2013) outline the following motivational interviewing techniques as helpful strategies for encouraging change in high-risk young people. Overall, conversations need to be respectful of the young person’s ability, inspiring, and focused on solutions:

  • avoid argument - confrontation is unhelpful to change and is likely to increase resistance
  • express empathy - warmth and genuineness can facilitate engagement and build rapport
  • support self-efficacy - build confidence that change is possible
  • work with resistance - arguing, interrupting, negating and ignoring are signs a client is resistant to change so try to avoid confrontation and find another way to connect
  • develop discrepancy - generate inconsistency between how the client sees his/her current situation and how he/she would like it to be - this strategy is based on the notion that internal inconsistency or ambivalence is a cause of human discomfort and that discomfort motivates change

Further reading

For more information, see Iannos and Antcliff (2013), The application of motivational interviewing techniques for engaging ‘resistant’ families. CFCA practitioner resource.

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