By Roxanne Sawatzky 

There may be a variety of reasons as to why you have been drawn into the field of career development.

Maybe, a desire to see people lead better lives, perhaps you have an uncanny ability to match people with the right job or possibly you love the challenge of creating dynamic resumes!

That being said, often the passion to help others find meaningful employment is slowly being replaced with the pressure to get the “numbers”. There is a colossal demand on career practitioners to help

clients who have been identified as employable find meaningful employment.

It is probable that you interact with “stuck” individuals at some point during your work or personal life. By “stuck”, I mean people who talk about making a change in their lives; they may say something like “I want to find employment, but…” Picture the scales of justice; there is an equal amount of weight on each side, the pros and cons of changing on opposite sides, thus making the process of choosing to complete the change very difficult. They do not move forward or back, they are ambivalent about making that needed change. They are being pulled in two directions. While they may say they want to be employed and independent, they may also have just as many good reasons why they want to keep everything the same in their lives.

When the client says “I want to get a job, but…” followed by a list of reasons why they can’t find employment. The practitioner may then ask for clarification and enquire if this is a good time for the client to seek employment the client responds with a passionate “yes” or “I have to”. The practitioner hearing the client’s need for change moves into action planning, which results in the exact opposite reaction. The client starts to argue for the other side, not working; often confusing the practitioner and leaving the client feeling hopeless, frustrated or more stuck. I have heard clients say, “I don’t know why I was saying I couldn’t work because I want to and need to find a job, but talking with that practitioner made me feel like I had to argue for not working.”

Confusing for everyone, welcome to ambivalence.

Understanding the concept of ambivalence is critical for career practitioners. Without this understanding practitioners unconsciously move clients further into ambivalence instead of exploring and resolving the client’s ambivalence.

Motivational Interviewing is a model used to effectively explore and resolve ambivalence. It is a model new to the employment field, with three years of research completed in 2010 and over 1,000 career practitioners trained across Canada. We are seeing “stuck” clients fulfil their goal of seeking and maintaining employment and career practitioners successfully work with “stuck” clients while meeting their employment “numbers”.

Motivational Interviewing is a directive, client-centered counselling style that enhances motivation for change by helping the client clarify and resolve ambivalence about behaviour change. MI is an empirically-supported treatment approach developed by Miller and Rollnick (1991, 2002), which helps individuals resolve ambivalence about change and draw on internal strengths and resources to assist in this process. MI recognizes that individuals pressured to change often become resistant. In contrast, creating safe conditions increases the likelihood individuals will explore and resolve problematic patterns of behaviour.

The primary goals of MI are as follows:

  1. Minimize resistance
  2. Create and amplify, from the client’s perspective, a discrepancy between present behaviour and his or her broader goals and values
  3. Explore and resolve ambivalence
  4. Elicit “change talk”

Motivational Interviewing assists an individual through Stages of Change (SOC). The idea behind the SOC is that behaviour change does not happen in one step. Rather, people tend to progress through the different stages on their way to successful change. Each of us progresses through the stages at our own rate. The Stages of Change are: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance, Recycling and Termination.

Expecting behaviour change by simply telling someone, for example, who is still in the “pre- contemplation” stage that he or she must find employment in a certain time period is rather naive (and perhaps counterproductive) because they are not ready to change. Each person must decide for himself or herself when a stage is completed and when it is time to move on to the next stage. Moreover, this decision must come from within. Stable long-term change cannot be externally imposed.


Roxanne Sawatzky is President and Founder of Empowering Change Inc. (ECI). ECI is a leading organization empowering innovative service providers to enhance existing interactions with multi-barriered individuals. Empowering Change is changing employment and social service provider thinking and practice by increasing effective, short-term motivational service delivery methods across Canada through Stages of Change and Motivational Interviewing training. For more information, visit

Hear Roxanne Sawatzky present Unstick that Stuck Client! on January 23, 2012 at 10:30 AM at Cannexus.


Plus, sign up for her new webinars with CERIC on Motivational Interviewing, starting February 27.