To Be or Not to Be: Framing Offender Motivation

Posted by Evan C. Crist, Psy.D. on 12/30/14 10:35 AM

This is the 4th of a 12 part series on Evidence Based Principles.  Subscribe to our blog and get the series delivered right to your inbox.

Principle 2: Enhance Intrinsic Motivation 

CorrectTech EBP Princinple - Enhance Intrinsic Motivation

Which of the two statements feels more inspiring to you? 

  • I have a good relationship with my son again 
  • I haven’t been incarcerated for six months

It is critical to understand that there are two different types of motivation. Most offenders come to us motivated to “stay out of prison” or “not use drugs.” While both are admirable goals, it is vital to help the client tap into what they are motivated FOR. There is a significant difference between being motivated to say “no” to something and being motivated to say “yes” to something. In general, motivation to achieve something (e.g., be a better parent) is stronger than motivation to avoid something (e.g., stop using drugs). After all, getting up every day to work toward something is much more inspiring than getting up with the hope of avoiding something. Help the client define WHO THEY ARE vs. WHO THEY ARE NOT. 

This principle is often misunderstood and read as “increase motivation.” The “intrinsic” part is vital. An offender’s environment rarely cooperates with interventions and therefore strong internal motivation is necessary. This principle assumes (rightfully, in most cases) that offenders have good reasons to change but need help tipping the scales in favor of change. This is another place where Motivational Interviewing (MI) shines. Not because there is something magical about the MI techniques or style, but because it is client-centered focusing on “pulling” the reasons for change from within the client, rather than “pushing” conventional motives. Nobody likes to be pushed. In the context of a therapeutic relationship, listening to the client's actual words and clarifying their meaning, has a tendency to expose their reasons for change rather than impose ours. 

  • Avoidance: Fear is an effective short-term strategy for behavioral change but a poor long-term strategy. 
  • Approach: Long-term, behavioral change requires moving toward something (e.g., being a better father), not just moving away from something (e.g., “I don’t want to be incarcerated again”). 
  • Values: Eliciting the offenders’ personal values is the most effective way to help them help themselves.

In our next blog in this series, we will address Principle 3a, Intervention. Subscribe to our blog and get the series delivered right to your inbox.

Evidence Based Principles: Simplified White Paper

This a 12 part series. Here are all 12 blogs in the series:

  1. An Introduction to Evidence Based Principles (EBP)
  2. EBP: Building the Therapeutic Relationship
  3. Community Corrections Interventions Must Begin with Assessment
  4. To Be or Not to Be: Framing Offender Motivation
  5. EBP: How Good is Your Aim?
  6. Discovering Values in Collaboration
  7. Practice Makes...Habit
  8. Structure & Accountability Still Matter!
  9. Catch Them Being Good!
  10. It Takes a Community to Transition an Offender
  11. What Works Anyway? Prove it!
  12. Feedback Please!
To request more information or schedule an online demonstration of our Community Corrections Software, click here. We offer integrated software and support services for Probation/Parole, Residential and Reentry programs. Our Program Foundation Platform and twelve robust modules were designed by community corrections professionals to guide organizations toward a powerful EBP implementation, relieve them of strenuous paperwork and manual processes, and enable them to focus on what matters - people!


Topics: Community Corrections, Evidence Based Practices, principles

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