Three Chairs

Abstract: To help trainees increase awareness of signs of defensiveness and/or cooperation and motivation from an interviewee. Purpose: so trainees can begin to see how to learn MI from their clients.

Overview: To increase awareness of interviewee’s feelings of defensiveness or motivation The trainee is able to directly observe how his/her utterances affect the interviewee by getting overt (gross body) feedback depending on the interviewer’s use of MI skills or roadblocks or traps.

Guidelines: 1. Three chairs are arranged to face five other chairs (about 6-8 feet between the facing rows). Five trainees occupy the chairs in the one row. The trainer takes the middle chair in the three-chair row, facing the trainees. The trainer real-plays (the client role), choosing a behavior about which s/he is ambivalent or has not mastered change. The remaining participants observe in a fish-bowl arrangement.

The trainee at one end of the row begins with 3-5 interactions in an MI interview and then passes to the next person who uses 3-5 interactions, and so on. The stated goal is to explore and possibly resolve ambivalence.

The trainer takes the middle chair which is designated “neutral” and remains in that chair until feeling particular empathy or affirmation, on the one hand, OR feeling some defensiveness or resistance on the other. The chair to his left is designated “motivated or cooperative,” the chair to the right “defensive or resistant.” Immediately after an utterance from a participant which evokes feelings in one direction or the other, the trainer moves to that chair while verbally responding.

Any trainee, whether participant or observer, can call “time out” to inquire about why the trainer moved OR about any other process matter. (Variation: while moving to a chair, the trainer can mutter to him/herself what is happening internally as to why s/he is moving). The trainer demonstrates how the exercise works before beginning..

Example(s):
Trainer: I have some ambivalence about always using MI-adherent behaviors in the classroom.
Trainee: (judgmental tone) Hmmm. After 10 years of training this, I would think you would have resolved this by now. (Trainer moves to the “defensive” chair).
Trainer: Well, I haven’t.
Trainee: (empathic tone) So, you have been struggling with this for a long time. (Trainer moves to the “cooperative” chair).

Notes: Trainees need to have some experience practicing MI before using this exercise otherwise they find it hard to understand why the trainer is moving and can become defensive. Most trainers use it in MI Training, Part 2, rather than Part 1. A participant who is quite familiar with MI could also be the real-play client in this exercise, rather than the trainer serving this role.

Thanks to: Mike Clark
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Other languages: [[Tre stolar|Svenska]]

I did the "3 Chairs Exercise" (which has now morphed to 5 chairs) with my group as last exercise. Spread out five chairs at the front of the room. I shared a "real play" issue of ambivalence I am personally wrestling with. I start in the middle of the five chairs to symbolize "where the client is at." I designate one direction as "resistance" (two chairs to one side) and the opposite direction as "change" (to chairs to the other side). As my counselors interact with me, I then move if the "MI Spirit" moves me.

Three volunteers came out, facing across from me and acted as "one" counselor. Doesn't matter if they go in order or simply tag each other to contribute. I advised them I'd experience them as only one counselor. The rest of the room, as observers, were divided up into two groups, one keeping track of change talk and the other group keeping track of techniques/questions that seem to elicit/invoke change talk.

As the questions, interviewing styles and techniques are used (or not), their actions prompt me to move chairs -- in real time, as the impression impacts me. When it's MI-consistent and feels good to me, I move to the "change" chairs. When it's mistimed or something that engenders resistance, I move to the "resistance" chairs. By increments or all-at-once, depending on my impressions of the volley from the counselor(s).