In the spirit of Motivational Interviewing we are instead paying close attention to what a client is striving for – their strengths, efforts and values – affirming whatever movement towards change that is visible. There has to be a genuineness and authenticity in the affirmation for it to be felt by the client and allow them to see the light that is there.
Since our clients focus on how much more there is to do versus what they have already achieved, affirmations can help with them moving forward. When we redirect clients to how much they have already accomplished versus what is left to be done they are more likely to become self-affirming.
Timothy Apodaca, a psychologist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine studied which therapists’ behaviors elicited the most change talk and reduced sustain talk. His research revealed that affirmations resulted in 20 percent of change talk and reduced sustain talk of all statements studied including open and closed questions, and simple and complex reflections.
Most people want to be known and understood and when you reflect that to them it can be quite powerful. Apodaca’s research indicated that using affirmations doubled the chance of change talk over reflections.
When making affirmations start with the word “you.” “You focused on what needed to change to accomplish your goal” versus a praise statement of “you did it” or “I’m proud of you.” Praise statements do not lead towards change and make it about the you the professional versus the client.
If you want to start using more affirmations just notice whatever the client is wanting to do, accomplished or striving for however small. Using an affirmation lens (versus a what’s wrong lens) is powerful and you may see a brightness in your clients that may not have been there allowing real change to occur.