Maybe you’ve heard somebody say, “You can’t want change for someone more than they want it for themselves.” Well, that statement isn’t true, but it does make a valid point. You can want change for someone more than they want it for themselves. It’s just ineffective when you try to force change on them.

But we love them, and it hurts us to see their quality of life deteriorate, so even when we know better, we try. Maybe its an addiction, eating disorder, affair, permissive or overbearing parent, or a teenager who is squandering the opportunity for an education and a better life. We’re clearly “right.” They’re clearly “hurting.” It seems painfully obvious what needs to happen.

So, what do we do? We offer advice. Hopefully, we even back it up with biblical principles, practical application, and social support. But if the other person isn’t ready to change, the most articulate instruction and practical application is rendered useless. It only seems to push the other person away. We get portrayed as pressuring or judgmental.

We think about giving up. Maybe we pull back for a while. Things get worse. This further convinces us we were right. We feel bad for having pulled back. We hurt for our friend whose life is deteriorating. So, we try harder, teach clearer, speak more forcefully, appeal more emotionally, or involve more people. Unfortunately, the only thing that increases is the resistance from our friend.

Does this sound hopeless? It isn’t. It is frustrating and painful. It emotionally agonizing. If you have been in this situation – as a friend, pastor, or counselor – it can feel hopeless. But the problem is that we’re focusing on a step (instruction and application) that isn’t “next” for the person we’re trying to help. It is like trying to bake a cake before you’ve gone to the grocery to buy milk, flour, and eggs.

In Christian ministry, we tend to think that problems in living emerge from faulty thinking and bad behavior. Therefore, if we correct the thinking and offer wise alternatives, the other person should embrace our counsel, their life improve, and we both live happily ever after. For people who are ready to change, this is often an effective approach.

But for people who are not ready to change, their problem is at the level of motivation to change, not clarity about what change would entail. In Christian ministry, we tend to either assume motivation is present (“Why else would you be talking to me?”) or pray that motivation will emerge.

This will be the subject of my next webinar – how to engage with someone who is not ready to change in a way that increases their motivation and cultivates a commitment to change. Admittedly, there is no “magic bullet” or “Jedi mind trick” to coerce change, but when we recognize that the problem is a lack of motivation we can be more intentional about how we engage the conversation with our friend, church member, or counselee.

Webinar Invitation

Please join me for the free webinar, “When Someone Doesn’t Want to Change – Motivation and Counseling,” Thursday September 10th at 1pm EST.

My goal in this twice-monthly series of free webinars is to teach one primary counseling concept or skill each month and then provide a case study that allows participants to become more proficient at utilizing that skill or concept.

These are great events for:

  • Pastors, chaplains, and ministry leaders looking to enhance their pastoral care skills
  • Counselors wanting CEU credits to help them learn more about the intersection of their faith and practice
  • Leaders in church-based counseling ministries looking to grow in their case wisdom
  • Undergraduate students looking to discern a calling to vocational ministry or a career as a professional counselor
  • Friends and small group leaders committed to walking faithfully alongside their peers in tough times

Note: If you want to participate in many or most of the webinars in this series, when you RSVP click “auto subscribe to all future webinars,” so you don’t have to keep up with registering for each event.