Tag Archives: Motivational Interviewing

Trauma, Suicide, and Motivational Interviewing: A Handout for BYEP Mentors

Sunset

Trauma may be the most common underlying factor contributing to mental disorders. Unfortunately, trauma is often overlooked, partly because it can manifest itself in so many different ways. That said, here are some common definitions. Trauma always involves a stressful trigger that activates a trauma response. Because, like everything, trauma responses are brain-based and involve the body, symptoms affect the whole person.

Old, informal, and useful definitions include:

  • A stressor outside the realm of normal human experience (but sadly, trauma is all-too-common)
  • A betrayal . . . (e.g., something that should not happen)
  • Occurrence of an event that’s emotionally overwhelming

Below I’ve listed the essence of the DSM-5 definition for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (note that the whole idea of PTSD centers on the chronic or long-lasting effects of trauma).

Exposure to a traumatic stressor that involves direct personal experience, witnessing, or learning about events involving threatened death, serious injury, or a threat to your physical integrity. The trauma response includes:

  • Intrusion symptoms (recurring unwanted memories, nightmares, flashbacks, and triggered distress)
  • Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts or external cues
  • Negative cognitive alternations (e.g., memory gaps, no joy, etc.)
  • Arousal and reactivity (e.g., irritability, risky behaviors, hypervigilance, insomnia, startle response)

Trauma and trauma responses can be big, medium, and small. Big traumas meet the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for PTSD or acute stress disorder. Small traumas are usually disturbing and disruptive, but the body and brain adjust to them within 2-3 days. Medium size traumas have lasting effects, but don’t meet formal diagnostic criterial, and are usually referred to as subclinical.

I like to think of Trauma with an uppercase T (like in the DSM) and all other traumas that are difficult, challenging, and require adjustment as traumas with a lowercase t.

What to Say

Sometimes trauma responses or symptoms are visible and obvious. If so, it’s good to say and do some of the following:

  • Listen and show compassion
  • Reassure participants that physical/psychological responses are normal, take up energy & need soothing
  • Note that very effective treatments are available (e.g., This American Life)
  • Brainstorm on what helps
  • Remember: A pill is not a skill
  • Link and universalize (“It’s normal to have pleasant and unpleasant reactions to things we talk about”)
  • Brainstorm on more and less healthy reactions (Using substances is a quick distraction, but not a fix)
  • Share hopeful stories (what skills can be developed?)
  • Self-disclosure can help. But be careful with self-disclosure and remember that it’s not about you

Trauma is a normal and natural human response. You may experience trauma just by listening to people talk about trauma, or you may have your own direct experiences. When in the business of helping others, be sure to take good care of yourself.

Three Suicide Myths

Myth #1: Suicidal thoughts are about death and dying.

Most people assume that suicidal thoughts are about death and dying. On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer: Someone has thoughts about death, therefore, the thoughts must be about death. But the truth isn’t always how it appears from the surface. The human brain is complex. Thoughts about death may not be about death itself.

Myth #2: Suicide and suicidal thinking are signs of mental illness.

Not true. Philosophers and research scientists agree: nearly everyone on the planet thinks about suicide at one time or another—even if briefly. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche referred to suicidal thoughts as a coping strategy, writing, “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.”

Myth #3: Scientific knowledge about suicide risk factors and warning signs allows for the prediction and prevention of suicide.

Believing in this myth can make surviving family members, friends, and helping professionals experience too much guilt and responsibility. In fact, even the most famous suicidologists say that it’s impossible to consistently and accurately predict suicide.

Tips for Talking about Suicide

We need to be able to talk directly about suicide with courage and calmness. But first, we should listen. Here’s what you should listen for in general

  • Emotional pain
  • A sense of feeling trapped or ashamed
  • Not believing that anything can possibly help to reduce the pain and misery

While listening, show acceptance, empathy, and compassion. Remember: suicidal thoughts are not signs of illness or moral failing; if you judge the person, it will make it harder for the person to be open. Also remember: when people talk with you about their suicidal thoughts, that’s a good thing, because you can’t help unless they’re comfortable enough with you to speak openly about their suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Traditional warning signs in particular

Although it’s good to know these warning signs, there’s not much research supporting the idea that anything predicts suicide.

  • Active suicidal thinking that includes planning and talk about wanting to die
  • Preparation and rehearsal behaviors (stockpiling pills, giving away belongings, etc.)
  • Hopelessness related to feeling that the excruciating distress will never end
  • Recklessness, impulsivity, dramatic mood changes
  • Anger, anxiety, and agitation
  • Feeling trapped
  • No reasons for living, no purpose in life, broken relationships
  • Increased alcohol or substance abuse
  • Immense shame or self-hatred

How should I ask about suicide?

The answer to this is always, “Ask directly.” But we can do even better than that. We need to de-shame suicidal thoughts and talk. Before asking, communicate that you know suicidal thoughts are a normal and natural response to emotional pain and disturbing situations. For example, you could ask it this way, “I know that it’s not unusual for people to think about suicide. Have you had any thoughts about suicide?”

What should I say if someone admits to thinking about suicide? You can say things like,

  • Thanks for telling me.
  • It sounds like things have been terribly hard.
  • Thanks for being so honest, that takes courage.
  • I know I can’t instantly make everything better, but I want you to live and I want to help.
  • How can I best support you right now?
  • What can we do together that would help?
  • When you want to give up, tell yourself to hold off for one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can.
  • Or . . . use your good listening skills and reflect back the feelings and thoughts that the person shared.

Resources for Help

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
  • Bozeman Help Center – 24-Hour Crisis Line: (406) 586-3333

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing (MI) is an evidence-based approach to treating substance problems, health concerns, and other mental health issues. MI is “person-centered” and based on the foundational principle that clients should be the ones who make the case for change in their lives. MI:

  • Focuses on the common problem of ambivalence about change.
  • Relies on four central listening skills (OARS): open questions, affirming, reflecting, and summarizing.
  • Helps clients transition from less healthy to more healthy behaviors

Four overlapping components combine to create the spirit of MI:

  • Collaboration (partnership; dancing, not wrestling)
  • Acceptance (UPR, accurate empathy, autonomy, affirmation)
  • Compassion (honoring the client’s best interest)
  • Evocation (tapping the client’s well of wisdom)

MI is a specific treatment approach that requires professional training. However, operating on a few basic MI principles can improve nearly anyone’s approach to helping others. For more information, see the book: Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

This handout is from a mentor workshop for the Big Sky Youth Empowerment Program. These ideas are based on research and collected from professionals who have experience working with people who are feeling suicidal. These guidelines should not be considered medical advice and are no substitute for getting an appointment with a licensed health or mental health professional. See: johnsommersflanagan.com for more information.

What is Motivational Interviewing? A brief description and demonstration video

The following content is adapted from Clinical Interviewing (6th ed., 2017).

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In their 2013 edition of Motivational Interviewing, Miller and Rollnick offer “Layperson’s,” Practitioner’s,” and “Technical” definitions of MI.  For practitioners, Motivational interviewing is:

. . . a person-centered counseling style for addressing the common problem of ambivalence about change. (p. 29)

As a person-centered approach to therapy, MI relies substantially on four central listening skills, referred to as OARS (open questions, affirming, reflecting, and summarizing). MI is designed to help clients change from less healthy to more healthy behavior patterns. However, consistent with PCT, MI practitioners don’t interpret, confront, or pressure clients in any way. Instead, they use listening skills to encourage clients to talk about reasons for engaging in healthy or positive behaviors.

Moving Away From Confrontation and Education

In his research with problem drinkers, William R. Miller was studying the efficacy of behavioral self-control techniques. To his surprise, he found that structured behavioral treatments were no more effective than an encouragement-based control group. When he explored the data for an explanation, he found that regardless of treatment protocol, therapist empathy ratings were the strongest predictors of positive outcomes at 6 months (r = .82), 12 months (r = .71), and 2 years (r = .51; W. R. Miller, 1978; W. R. Miller & Taylor, 1980). Consequently, he concluded that positive treatment outcomes with problem drinkers were less related to behavioral treatment and more related to reflective listening and empathy. He also found that active confrontation and education generally triggered client resistance. These discoveries led him to develop motivational interviewing (MI).

Miller met Stephen Rollnick while on sabbatical in Australia in 1989. Rollnick was enthused about MI and its popularity in the UK. Miller and Rollnick began collaborating and subsequently published the first edition of Motivational Interviewing in 1991. Rollnick is credited with identifying client ambivalence as a central focus for change (Jones-Smith, 2016, p. 320).

Client Ambivalence

Client ambivalence is a primary target of MI. Miller and Rollnick (2013) have consistently noted that ambivalence is a natural part of individual decision-making. They wrote: “Ambivalence is simultaneously wanting and not wanting something, or wanting both of two incompatible things. It has been human nature since the dawn of time” (2013, p. 6).

Although MI has been used as an intervention for a variety of problems and integrated into many different treatment protocols, it was originally a treatment approach for addictions and later became popular for influencing other health-related behaviors. This focus is important because ambivalence is especially prevalent among individuals who are contemplating their personal health. Smokers, problem drinkers, and sedentary individuals often recognize they could choose more healthy behaviors, but they also want to keep smoking, drinking, or being sedentary. This is the essence of ambivalence as it relates to health behaviors. When faced with clients who are ambivalent about whether to make changes, it’s not unusual for professional helpers to be tempted to push those clients toward health. Miller and Rollnick (2013) call this the “righting reflex” (p. 10). They described what happens when well-meaning helping professionals try to nudge clients toward healthy behaviors (note that this description is an apt rationale for a person-centered approach, but that it’s also consistent with the Gestalt therapy ideas of polarizing forces within individuals):

[The therapist] then proceeds to advise, teach, persuade, counsel or argue for this particular resolution to [the client’s] ambivalence. One does not need a doctorate in psychology to anticipate [how clients are likely to respond] in this situation. By virtue of ambivalence, [clients are] apt to argue the opposite, or at least point out problems and shortcomings of the proposed solution. It is natural for [clients] to do so, because [they] feels at least two ways about this or almost any prescribed solution. It is the very nature of ambivalence. (2002, pp. 20–21)

The ubiquity of ambivalence leads to Miller and Rollnick’s (2013) foundational person-centered principle of treatment:

Ideally, the client should be voicing the reasons for change (p. 9).

MI is both a set of techniques and a person-centered philosophy. The philosophical MI perspective emphasizes that motivation for change is not something therapists should impose on clients. Change must be drawn out from clients, gently, and with careful timing. Motivational interviewers do not use direct persuasion.

The Spirit of MI

The “underlying spirit” of MI “lies squarely within the long-standing tradition of person-centered care” (Miller & Rollnick, 2013, p. 22). They identified four overlapping components that the spirit of MI “emerges” from. These include:

  • Collaboration
  • Acceptance
  • Compassion
  • Evocation

MI involves partnership or collaboration. It’s described as dancing, not wrestling. Your goal is not to “pin” the client; in fact, you should even avoid stepping on their toes. This is consistent with the first principle of person-centered therapy. The counselor and client make contact, and in that contact there’s an inherent or implied partnership to work together on behalf of the client.

Person centered (and MI) counselors de-emphasize their expertness. Miller and Rollnick refer to this as avoiding the expert trap. Expert traps occur when you communicate “that, based on your professional expertise, you have the answer to the person’s dilemma” (p. 16). In writing about collaboration, Miller and Rollnick (2013) sound very much like Carl Rogers, “Your purpose is to understand the life before you, to see the world through this person’s eyes rather than superimposing your own vision” (p.16).

Consistent with Rogerian philosophy, MI counselors hold an “attitude of profound acceptance of what the client brings” (p. 16). This profound acceptance includes four parts:

  1. Absolute Worth: This is Rogerian unconditional positive regard
  2. Accurate Empathy: This is pure Rogerian.
  3. Autonomy Support: This part of acceptance involves honoring each person’s “irrevocable right and capacity of self-direction” (p. 17)
  4. Affirmation: This involves an active search or focus on what’s right with people instead of what’s wrong or pathological about people.

In the third edition of Motivational Interviewing, Miller and Rollnick added compassion to their previous list of the three elements of MI spirit. Why? Their reasoning was that it was possible for practitioners to adopt the other three elements, but still be operating from a place of self-interest. In other words, practitioners could use collaboration, acceptance, and evocation to further their self-interest to get clients to change. By adding compassion and defining it as “a deliberate commitment to pursue the welfare and best interests of the other” Miller and Rollnick are protecting against practitioners confusing self-interest with the client’s best interests.

Evocation is somewhat unique, but also consistent with person-centered theory. Miller and Rollnick contend that clients have already explored both sides of their natural ambivalence. As a consequence, they know the arguments in both directions and know their own positive motivations for change. Additionally, they note, “From an MI perspective, the assumption is that there is a deep well of wisdom and experience within the person from which the counselor can draw” (p. 21). It’s the counselor’s job to use evocation to draw out (or evoke) client strengths so these strengths can be used to initiate and maintain change.

A Sampling of MI Techniques

One distinction between MI and classical PCT is that Miller and Rollnick (2013) identify techniques that practitioners can and should use. These techniques are generally designed to operate within the spirit of MI and to help clients engage in change talk instead of sustain talk. Change talk is defined as client talk that focuses on their desire, ability, reason, and need to change their behavior, as well as their commitment to change.  Sustain talk is the opposite; clients may be talking about lack of desire, ability, reason, and need to change. Overall, researchers have shown that clients who engage in more MI change talk are more likely to make efforts to enact positive change.

MI appears simple, but it’s a complicated approach and challenging to learn (Atkinson & Woods, 2017). Miller and Rollnick (2013) have noted that having a solid foundation of person-centered listening skills makes learning MI much easier. The following content is only a sampling of MI techniques.

MI practitioners use techniques from the OARS listening skills. In particular, there’s a strong emphasis on skillful and intentional use of reflections, instead of questions or directives. Here are examples.

Simple reflections stick very closely to what the client said.

Client: I’ve just been pretty anxious lately.

Simple Reflection: Seems like you’ve been feeling anxious.

 

Client: Being sober sucks.

Simple Reflection: You don’t like being sober.

Simple reflections have two primary functions. First, they convey to clients that you’ve heard what they said. This usually enhances rapport and interpersonal connection. Second, as you provide a simple reflection, it lets clients hear what they’ve said. Hearing their words back—from the outside in—can be illuminating for clients.

Complex reflections add meaning, focus, or a particular emphasis to what the client said.

Client: I haven’t had an HIV test for quite a while.

Complex reflection: Getting an HIV test has been on your mind.

 

Client: I only had a couple drinks. Even when I got pulled over, I didn’t think I was over the limit.

Complex reflection: That was a surprise to you. You might have assumed “I can tell when I’m over the limit” but in this case you couldn’t really tell.

Complex reflections go beyond the surface and make educated guesses about what clients are thinking, feeling, or doing. Clients tend to talk more and get deeper into their issues when MI therapists use complex reflections effectively. Also, if your complex reflection is correct, it’s likely to deepen rapport and might evoke change talk.

An amplified reflection involves an intentional overstatement of the client’s main message. Generally, when therapists overstate, clients make an effort to correct the reflection.

Client: I’m pissed at my roommate. She won’t pick up her clothes or do the dishes or anything.

Interviewer: You’d like to fire her as a roommate.

Client: No. Not that. There are lots of things I like about her, but her messiness really annoys me. (from Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2017, p. 440)

 

Client: My child has a serious disability and so I have to be home for him.

Interviewer: You really need to be home 24/7 and have to turn off any needs you have to get out and take a break.

Client: Actually, that’s not totally true. Sometimes, I think I need to take some breaks so I can do a better job when I am home. (from Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2017, p. 441)

Sometimes MI practitioners accidentally amplify a reflection. Other times amplification is intentional. When intentionally amplifying reflections, it’s important to be careful because it can feel manipulative.

The opposite of amplified reflection is undershooting. Undershooting involves intentionally understating what your client is saying.

Client: I can’t stand it when my mom criticizes my friends right in front of me.

Therapist: You find that a little annoying.

Client: It’s way more than annoying. It pisses me off.

Therapist: What is it that pisses you off when your mom criticizes your friends?

Client: It’s because she doesn’t trust me and my judgment. (from Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2017, p. 441)

In this example, the therapist undershoots the client’s emotion and then follows with an open question. Clients often elaborate when therapists undershoot.

As noted, the preceding content is a small taste of MI technical strategies; if you want to become a competent MI practitioner, advanced training is needed (see Atkinson & Woods, 2017; Miller & Rollnick, 2013).

Now that you’ve read a brief summary of MI, check out the following video link. In this link, John S-F is using a few MI techniques/strategies with a client who has a history of excessive alcohol use. The video is part of our published video package accompanying our Clinical Interviewing textbook, and includes me weaving in a few more traditional clinical interviewing questions (e.g., the CAGE) along with the MI content. There’s also light commentary by Rita and me, as well as a short clip in the middle of me interviewing a Licensed Addictions Counselor on the topic of how to handle clients who are probably lying. Here’s the link to the approximately 22 minute video: https://youtu.be/rtN7kEk0Sv4

If you have questions, comments, praise, or constructive feedback on this blog or the video, I’d love to hear from you. You can post here, on Youtube, or email me directly at john.sf@mso.umt.edu.

Happy Tuesday.

John S-F

 

A Brief Description of Motivational Interviewing

In response to some questions on CESNET, I’m posting a brief description of Motivational Interviewing. Of course, Miller and Rollnick’s Motivational Interviewing text is a much more thorough source and is highly recommended if you want more complete information.

This description is an excerpt from the second edition of our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories textbook. If you’re interested, you can check it out here: http://bcs.wiley.com/he-bcs/Books?action=index&itemId=0470617934&bcsId=7103

For the third edition (in preparation now), we’ll be substantially expanding this section and so if you have insights, publications, or other information that you think we should be aware of, please email me at john.sf@mso.umt.edu.

Here’s the excerpt:

Motivational Interviewing: A Contemporary PCT Approach

Person-Centered Therapy (PCT) principles have been integrated into most other approaches to counseling and psychotherapy. However, there are three specific approaches that are explicitly new generation person-centered therapies. These include:

  1. Motivational interviewing
  2. Emotion-focused therapy
  3. Nondirective play therapy

Next, we discuss motivational interviewing. Due to its strong integrational characteristics, emotion-focused therapy is covered in Chapter 14. Additional resources are available on nondirective play therapy (Landreth, 2002).

Moving Away From Confrontation and Education

In his research with problem drinkers, William R. Miller was studying the efficacy of behavioral self-control techniques. To his surprise, he found that structured behavioral treatments were no more effective than an encouragement-based control group. When he explored the data for an explanation, he found that regardless of treatment protocol, therapist empathy ratings were the strongest predictors of positive outcomes at 6 months (r = .82), 12 months (r = .71), and 2 years (r = .51; W. R. Miller, 1978; W. R. Miller & Taylor, 1980). Consequently, he concluded that positive treatment outcomes with problem drinkers were less related to behavioral treatment and more related to reflective listening and empathy. He also found that active confrontation and education generally led to client resistance. These discoveries led him to develop motivational interviewing (MI).

MI builds on person-centered principles by adding more focused therapeutic targets and specific client goals. Rollnick and Miller (1995) define MI as “a directive, client-centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence” (p. 326).

Focusing on Client Ambivalence

Client ambivalence is the primary target of MI. When it comes to substance abuse and other health related behaviors, Miller and Rollnick (2002) view ambivalence as natural. Most all problem drinkers recognize or wish they could quit, but continue drinking for various reasons. Miller and Rollnick described what happens when therapists try to push healthy behaviors on clients:

[The therapist] then proceeds to advise, teach, persuade, counsel or argue for this particular resolution to [the client’s] ambivalence. One does not need a doctorate in psychology to anticipate what [the client’s] response is likely to be in this situation. By virtue of ambivalence, [the client] is apt to argue the opposite, or at least point out problems and shortcomings of the proposed solution. It is natural for [the client] to do so, because [he or she] feels at least two ways about this or almost any prescribed solution. It is the very nature of ambivalence. (pp. 20–21)

In many situations, humans are naturally inclined to resist authority. Therefore, when resistance rises up in clients, MI advocates person-centered attitudes and interventions. This leads to Miller and Rollnick’s (2002) foundational person-centered principle of treatment:

It is the client who should be voicing the arguments for change (p. 22).

Although Miller and Rollnick describe Rogers as collaborative, caring, and supportive—they emphasize that he was not nondirective (W. R. Miller & Rollnick, 1998). Instead, they note that Rogers gently guided clients to places where they were most confused, in pain, or agitated and then helped them stay in that place and work through it. The four central principles of MI flow from their conceptualization of Rogers’s approach (W. R. Miller & Rollnick, 2002). According to these principles, it’s the therapist’s job to:

  • Use reflective listening skills to express empathy for the client’s message and genuine caring for the client.
  • Notice and develop the theme of discrepancy between the client’s deep values and current behavior.
  • Meet client resistance with reflection rather than confrontation (Miller and Rollnick refer to this as “rolling with resistance”).
  • Enhance client self-efficacy by focusing on optimism, confidence that change is possible, and small interventions that are likely to be successful.

MI is both a set of techniques and a person-centered philosophy or style. The philosophical MI perspective emphasizes that motivation for change is not something therapists can effectively impose on clients. Change must be drawn out from clients, gently and with careful timing. Motivational interviewers do not use direct persuasion.

A Sampling of MI Techniques

Miller and Rollnick (2002) provide many excellent examples of how reflection responses reduce resistance. The following interactions capture how reflection of client efforts lessens the need for resistance:

Client: I’m trying! If my probation officer would just get off my back, I could focus on getting my life in order.

Interviewer: You’re working hard on the changes you need to make.

or

Interviewer: It’s frustrating to have a probation officer looking over your shoulder.

Client: Who are you to be giving me advice? What do you know about drugs? You’ve probably never even smoked a joint!

Interviewer: It’s hard to imagine how I could possibly understand.

Client: I couldn’t keep the weight off even if I lost it.

Interviewer: You can’t see any way that would work for you.

or

Interviewer: You’re rather discouraged about trying again. (pp. 100–101)

In the following excerpt from Clinical Interviewing (2009), we describe the MI technique of amplified reflection:

Recently, in hundreds of brief interviews conducted by graduate students in psychology and counseling with client—volunteers from introductory psychology courses, consistent with Miller and Rollnick’s (2002) motivational interviewing work, we found that clients have a strong need for their interviewers to accurately hear what they’re saying. When their interviewer made an inaccurate reflection, clients felt compelled to clarify their feelings and beliefs—often in ways that rebalanced their ambivalence.

For example, when an interviewer “went too far” with a reflection, the following exchange was typical:

Client: I am so pissed at my roommate. She won’t pick up her clothes or do the dishes or anything.

Interviewer: You’d sort of like to fire her as a roommate.

Client: No. Not exactly. There are lots of things I like about her, but her messiness really annoys me.

This phenomenon suggests that it might be possible for interviewers to intentionally overstate a client’s position in an effort to get clients to come back around to clarify or articulate the more positive side of an issue. In fact, this is a particular motivational interviewing technique referred to as amplified reflection.

When used intentionally, amplified reflection can seem manipulative, which is why amplified reflection is used along with genuine empathy. Instead of being a manipulative response it can also be viewed as an effort on the interviewer’s part to more deeply empathize with the client’s frustration, anger, discouragement, and so on. Examples of this technique include:

Client: My child has a serious disability and so I have to be home for him.

Interviewer: You really need to be home 24/7 and really need to turn off any needs you have to get out and take a break.

Client: Actually, that’s not totally true. Sometimes, I think I need to take some breaks so I can do a better job when I am home.

Client: When my grandmother died last semester I had to miss classes and it was a total hassle.

Interviewer: You don’t have much of an emotional response to your grandmother’s death—other than it really inconveniencing you.

Client: Well, it’s not like I don’t miss her, too.

Again, we should emphasize that amplified reflection is an empathic effort to get completely in touch with or resonate with one side of the client’s ambivalence (from J. Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2009, pp. 316–317).

End of excerpt