Meta-Model Therapy

The founders of motivational interviewing have created two very helpful elements that can be used in meta model responses that are quite therapeutic, and that protect the therapeutic relationship between a therapist and client. Coaches can use this as well. This approach causes the client to make progressive, mature statements instead of the therapist. This eliminates resistance, and creates healing momentum within the client. 

The first technique is what we call negative spotlighting. When a person says something that violates well-formed syntax, you can exaggerate this to highlight it so that the other person will model their world more effectively. For example, if a drug addict says, “I don’t need to be a purist. I can have some cocaine once in a while.” 

You can say, “So you are now totally in control of cocaine.”  

If the person has been in a recovery program, they know this is ridiculous. They have to say something like, “Well, uh, I guess that’s just the addiction talking.” Notice that the other person said it, not you. You only used the motivational interviewing technique to mirror back what they said in a way that they could not support. Although the practitioner’s statement is kind of an exaggeration, it is not done with the least bit of sarcasm. It has to be done in a completely straight-faced and gentle manner. It is said in a factual tone. Not, “Oh, so you think you can control cocaine now, huh?” 

It’s a flat statement of fact. “So, you are now totally in control of cocaine.” 

You say it smoothly and plainly, maybe as if it’s new information. This way, the client can correct you and enlighten you. That tells the client that she is insightful and has something to contribute. It gives the client the experience of coming to her own conclusions, and a sense of controlling her own thoughts to change her direction in a positive way. This creates more flexibility in the client’s thinking. 

This is very helpful because now the client owns the enlightened statement; they do not feel compelled to resist you, because you are not trying to shove it down their throats. Any time you feel like you are pushing a client or customer, you could probably benefit from a motivational interviewing technique. The original book on this is called Motivational Interviewing.

The other motivational interviewing technique that is a great meta model response, we call positive spotlighting. Here, you highlight something very constructive or adaptive that the client says. This reinforces the constructive way of thinking, and gives them credit. If the person says: 

“I realized that my wife left me because I was abusing drugs.” 

You could say, 

You have the kind of insight that shows real courage in the face of a tremendous loss.”

Isn’t that much better than saying, 

“So you’re finally realizing what a schmuck you’ve been!” 

This positive approach reinforces the best qualities of the person and creates hope and strength that could make the difference between sobriety and relapse, perhaps even life and death. This is not to say that you bear total responsibility for every choice a client, customer, or employee makes, but I say it to remind you of what an important contribution you can make to people’s lives when you learn the powerful insights and methods of Neuro Linguistic Programming.