A Facilitative Spirit: Attitudes for effective facilitation

Your personal style as a facilitator is likely to have a significant impact on participant outcomes. Many studies show that the single largest predictor of positive participant outcomes is empathy: while facilitators tend to consider their professional expertise as most important, participants rate their relationship with the facilitator as most important. 

It starts with empathy.

Even when using highly structured, guided treatment materials such as Interactive Journals, facilitators differ in their effectiveness. When working with people making life changes, research shows that authoritarian and confrontational approaches are far less effective than an empathic style. Listening to and reflecting participants’ concerns is far more likely to promote change than arguing and challenging. The therapeutic alliance is the relationship between facilitator and participant. The quality of this relationship is related to the facilitator’s beliefs and attitudes about counseling — their facilitative spirit. Essentially, it matters what you do and how you do it. 

The quality of the therapeutic alliance, especially as perceived by the participant, predicts retention and outcome. Participants might consider:

  • Do I feel respected by this facilitator?
  • Does this facilitator listen to me and try to understand me?
  • Do I trust this facilitator?
  • Do I have a say in what happens?
  • Is this one size fits all or do I have options?
  • Is this a collaborative relationship or am I dictated to?

A facilitative spirit.

Motivational interviewing, a foundation of Interactive Journaling®, emphasizes important attitudes for a facilitator to maintain: 

Collaboration. Facilitating change is a collaborative process. You have expertise in your field, and participants also have unique expertise about themselves and their lives. No one knows them better than they do. In facilitating change, you need participants’ expertise as well as your own. It’s not a one-way street of dispensing wisdom and skills, but rather a conversation about what changes participants would like to make and how they could go about it.

Compassion. This is not a feeling so much as an intention to alleviate suffering and promote growth. The purpose of a helping alliance is the other person’s well-being. 

Acceptance. Participants do not need to prove they deserve your respect. Every human being has inherent worth. An attitude of acceptance works with participants wherever they are in the change process. This means it is important to understand participants’ own perspectives and experience. Accepting a person does not mean agreeing with them or approving of any crimes they may have committed.

Autonomy. Like it or not, people do get to make their own choices about how they will live their lives. Accepting and honoring this autonomy makes it possible to have a collaborative conversation about change. 

Affirmation. An affirming attitude looks for participants’ strengths and talents, and for what they are doing well. Even small steps in the right direction are recognized and affirmed.

Evocation. Given the right facilitative conditions, every person has an inherent tendency to move and change in a positive direction. At least part of each person wants to be healthy and well. That part of the participant is your co-therapist. Instead of installing missing pieces, evocation calls forth that which is already there: the person’s own motivations, wisdom and abilities.

Putting that all together, this facilitative spirit departs from an expert model that says, “I have what you need and I’m going to give it to you.” Rather, the implicit message is that “You have what you need and together we’re going to find it.” You do still get to use your own expertise but in respectful collaboration with what participants already experience and know about themselves.