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Conference Name Motivational Interviewing as a Tool to Address Farm Stress and Transitions

Katie Wantoch and Trisha Wagner


Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a collaborative, goal-oriented communication technique for strengthening a person’s own motivations to change, and has been used extensively in health care.¹ The technique of MI will serve as a tool to complement and enhance the work of Extension educators. Educators who can successfully use motivational interviewing skills will have the ability to ask open-ended questions, affirm authentically, utilize reflective listening techniques, summarize statements and encourage participants to own their outcomes. The MI technique emphasizes listening and affirming the client's perspective and recognizing that the motivation for change stems from the client. This approach inherently recognizes and teaches the importance of diversity of perspective and sensitivity to the unique and diverse backgrounds of clientele.

Due to ongoing economic conditions in agriculture, many farms are facing significant financial challenges, resulting in questions regarding the viability of the businesses. At the same time, UW-Extension currently faces the challenge of bringing a number of new educators on board with the organization. Many educators come to UW-Extension with a formal education and professional experience in their field (for example, production agriculture). However, working with farmers, farm families, and rural communities, given current challenges, can involve difficult and emotional conversations, which Extension educators may have little experience or training.

This project intentionally worked across UW-Extension’s Institutes of Agriculture, Health and Wellbeing, and Human Development & Relationships. The project furthered UW-Extension’s strategy to generate novel approaches to emerging and ongoing challenges with a proven technique to engage clientele on particularly time-sensitive topics.
Agents in these three Institutes work with farmers, farm families and rural clientele who have experienced chronic stress in recent years. As a result of this project, educators will gain confidence in their ability to engage and respond to sensitive conversations with clientele and will be in a better position to develop strong relationships and presence in communities they serve.

Motivational Interviewing is one communication tool of many techniques that can be applied to our effort in supporting farms, and farm families dealing with stress. Conflict resolution, coaching, Mental Health First Aid, and Question, Persuade Refer (QPR), are other tools to be considered for further training and skill development.