"They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."
What does this person need from me today?
Every person has needs. Nutrition educators are trained to focus on nutritional and health needs. These needs can be determined by assessments and questions. Logical discussions of how to meet these needs often follow. Sound familiar?
But every person has deeply personal emotional needs that are far more powerful than their knowledge needs. Emotions drive behaviors, making them far more important than facts and logic in the behavior change process.
Emotion-based counseling represents a shift from focusing on knowledge needs to recognizing and attending to emotional needs. We can’t ignore emotions and be successful behavior change agents. WIC is in the behavior change business. Helping people fulfill their emotional needs will help WIC be more successful.
Is it possible to fulfill emotional needs in a WIC clinic?
Yes, it is possible to fulfill emotional needs in a WIC clinic. All people want to feel good about themselves. Emotion-based counseling is the process of using underlying emotional motivators to drive behavior change. People feel good about themselves when they feel more powerful, intelligent, capable, successful and secure.
Traditionally, WIC educators have provided functional reasons for changing behaviors. Here are examples of functional benefits of taking health-related actions:
It is the emotional benefits, however, that are likely to drive behavior change. Here are examples of emotional benefits of taking the same health-related actions:
Feelings are more important than facts
Emotions drive behaviors — but facts and information are still an important part of the behavior change process. In emotion-based counseling, feelings hook people first and logic and factual information follow close behind. Once people are motivated to change, they need simple, practical information to act on. Both emotions and knowledge work together for change, but emotions come first.
The Touching Hearts, Touching Minds (THTM) emotion-based messages follow this simple formula: touch hearts first, and then minds. Images and engaging words hook parents on the front and lead them to read the facts and information on the back.
Open. Dig. Connect. Act.
Emotion-based counseling is invigorating and exciting, not complicated or difficult. These four easy steps will lead you to a more effective way of helping WIC families.
Open: Emotion-based counseling starts with provocative questions, activities or stories that lead to emotion-based conversations, not to an immediate transfer of knowledge. The goal of this "open" step is to allow parents to:
Dig: Parents are hooked on the "open" questions and likely curious about what will happen next. During the "dig" step, the WIC counselor uses questions to gain more insight into a parent’s true feelings around a certain issue. As they enter into a comfortable climate for sharing, parents will be able to:
Connect: During the "connect" step, parents connect the conversation topic with their values, attitudes, beliefs and feelings. It is these core values that drive behaviors. During the "connect" step, parents reflect on their personal needs and wants and connect them to the health-related behaviors being suggested. In this "connect" phase, parents will be able to:
Act: Great intentions need landing gear as well as wings. Well-intended thoughts and desires are cemented into action during this step. In this "act" phase, parents will be able to:
What is an emotion-based counseling session like?
Emotion-based counseling resembles an authentic conversation between old friends. Both parent and educator are comfortable being open and honest. They don’t dance around on superficial topics or ask direct, closed questions. Instead, the conversation gets to the heart of what concerns parents.
Both educator and parent are comfortable and relaxed and appear to be enjoying each other’s company. Their informal, interactive conversation is peppered with laughter and smiles. They have a conversational tone and share sustained, meaningful eye contact that makes both feel like they really care and are listening. The educator opts for self-disclosure when appropriate, giving a greater sense of trust in the relationship.
A training video was developed for emotion-based facilitated group discussion. While this video obviously focuses on groups, it provides a glimpse of how emotion-based counseling looks and feels. This website has a link to the video under the "Implementation Tools" heading.
There are no defined rules for emotion-based educators but here are some actions that successful ones do often:
People are feeling machines that think, not thinking machines that feel.
So what does this mean for WIC educators?
Commonly asked questions
Is there evidence that emotion-based approaches are effective in changing behaviors?
Advertising and marketing experts have known for years that emotion-based approaches are very powerful and effective at changing buying behaviors. Although no formal behavior change studies using emotion-based techniques have been conducted with WIC participants to date, research suggests that these same approaches will work in changing nutrition and physical activity behaviors.
Is WIC really the best place to talk about emotions? Sessions are already too long and talking about emotions will only lead to emotional outbursts we are not prepared to handle.
Emotion-based counseling highlights the emotional benefits of acting on health-related behaviors. That is very different than just talking about emotions. Parents will likely welcome behavior suggestions that lead them to feel more positive about themselves as parents and people.
Can we use the THTM emotion-based materials without doing emotion-based counseling?
THTM emotion-based materials can be used with any counseling style. However, using them with emotion-based counseling will allow the parent to perceive your approach as harmonious with their needs and interests, and will likely lead to greater behavior change.
I am concerned that the THTM emotion-based materials and approaches are manipulative. Shouldn't the WIC Program take the "high road" and just present facts?
WIC is in the behavior change business. Research suggests that emotions drive behaviors. Logic and facts alone are weaker forms of persuasion than emotions combined with logic. Choosing to highlight the emotion-based benefits of taking health-related actions is an effective behavior change approach, not a form of manipulation.
I didn’t go to school for 6 years to listen to a participant talk about her feelings or emotions. I prefer to give her the information I know she needs.
Our role and responsibility is to change behavior. Because emotions, not facts and information alone, drive behaviors, we need to first talk about and use emotions as a behavior change tool. We can then use our nutrition knowledge to support parents in turning those motivations into specific actions.
How is emotion-based group discussion different than traditional facilitated group discussions?
Emotion-based group discussion is like traditional facilitated group discussion in that both involve interacting with a group of WIC families. Facilitated group discussions focus on logic-based information without highlighting the emotion-based benefits to taking action. In emotion-based group discussion, the facilitator uses provocative questions, stories and activities that lead to acknowledging and discussing feelings rather than focusing on facts alone.
The goal of emotion-based group discussion is to show parents that they can feel good about themselves—more intelligent, important, secure, successful—when they act in ways that promote the health of their family. In this group environment, parents learn from other parents’ challenges and successes—an interaction that focus group findings have shown to be extremely valuable and influential in making decisions about nutrition and parenting.