Being able to motivate anybody to make a change in their life (especially when they are ambivalent about it) can be painfully difficult. We have all seen examples of people who start diets with the best of intentions, or who resolve to give up smoking, fall by the roadside – as life’s challenges come along. Maintaining motivation in many fields is difficult, but especially when it involves a major lifestyle change!
In the world of offending, helping offenders refrain from negative habits can be particularly tough. Here, the term ‘negative habits’ is used intentionally as it typically incorporates behaviour which tend to increase the likelihood of the offender becoming involved in crime. An example may be drugs use. The connection between a negative habit and offending behaviour is formally known, in the Probation Service, as criminogenic need. So the question here is, when an offender understands this link, how do practitioners help them maintain the changes they wish to make?
In day to day practice, offenders will often make self-motivating statements in conversation such as; “I want to change,” or “I know I need to do… “. However, they will often need some extra motivation to encourage or maintain their willingness to change. So a useful exercise to undertake is one known as a Cost Benefit Analysis. This exercise helps clients make more informed choices through an awareness of the consequences of their actions.
A Cost Benefit Analysis is, in its most simplistic form, a comparison between the positives that can be achieved by the change and the negatives of continuing the old behaviour. To conduct one, use flip chart paper or a piece of A4 paper and divide it down the middle by drawing a line down the centre.
Then in the column on the right draw a plus sign (+) and on the left draw a minus sign (-). Then, simply ask the client: “What were the positives of the behaviour you have been doing or done?” Here, only list ‘what they say’ as this can become a deeply personal exercise.
It is worth noting that practitioners have often been told by the client, initially, that they “gain nothing” out of doing their former behaviour. So, when this happens, mention to them that people will always act/behave in a particular way because they feel that they will gain something from it in some way. So, for example, I will open a door because I want to go through it. Once the positives column is completed, ask the client to list the negatives of continuing their behaviour in the left column. Then, in conclusion, have a discussion about the two lists, focusing on whether the client, having completed the exercise, views their old behaviour as in their best interests.
When undertaking this exercise, the focus is always on helping the client make more informed choices and increasing their motivation to maintain any changes they have made. Whatever they decide is up to them, but at least with this exercise in their toolkit they will understand more about the consequences.
The author, Jonathan Hussey, has worked extensively in the Criminal Justice System, and has specialized in leading roles within the Probation Service and Youth Offending Services. He is the author of the book: Reoffending: A practitioner’s guide to working with offenders and offending behaviour in the Criminal Justice System.