Shahroo Izadi is a modern behaviour change specialist, supporting clients to change their habits around food, drugs, or alcohol. Having previously worked in addiction support services for the NHS and Turning Point, her work combines the well-established techniques of motivational interviewing (MI) and mind mapping.
Commonly used in drug and alcohol services, these techniques are very effective in stopping ‘all or nothing’ thinking and allowing clients to take back control of their lives. “Motivational interviewing is like dancing with your client,” Shahroo explains. “You know where you want the dance to end, but you allow them to lead, you don’t push, and you get there in their own time.”
This works, she adds, by reflecting back what the client has said, gently guiding them to reach their own conclusions, before reflecting those outcomes visually in a mind map, which the client can refer back to. “There’s no judgement, you’re not putting words in people’s mouths, so it makes them less defensive,” she explains.
While working as a trainer at health and social care consultancy Emerging Horizons, Shahroo realised MI and mind mapping could also be adapted to more general personal development.
“The practitioners I was training were telling me they’d used the same techniques on themselves as they were using on very entrenched client situations – but using them to quit smoking, lose weight, or moderate their own drinking“
she says. “At the time I was very overweight, so I started using the same techniques on myself too.”
After attending Overeaters Anonymous sessions, Shahroo had something of an epiphany. “I realised that in OA you can’t do abstinence, because you’ll die – you have to eat,” she explains. “So it made me realise that maybe there was an option for people who drink, who want to drink for the rest of their lives, to find their own way of drinking – the same way you would a health and diet plan.”
From there, Shahroo developed her own private practice, using the MI and mind mapping with people wanting to take better care of themselves, but without necessarily abstaining altogether. Her target audience now are those who have concerns about a coping mechanism which can sometimes feel out of control.
Typically, her clients are professionals, who are conscious that alcohol, food, or drug use, has become their only coping mechanism, and that the amount they’re consuming has increased.
Instead of looking at what’s bad about their habits, Shahroo’s approach guides her clients to identify and understand the emotional needs their bad habit is currently satisfying. This helps clients to notice patterns and develop alternative coping strategies, whether it’s finding something new to alleviate boredom or stress, or developing self-care habits to comfort themselves during times of sadness.
“When I was overweight, I used to binge eat because I was sad or bored. Now, I go to karaoke instead, because I love singing and it’s something that replaces the feelings I would previously have got from food,” Shahroo says.
That’s really the essence of her approach: tapping into what motivates people to look after themselves. Shahroo’s approach is very casual, laid back and conversational – more like a life coach than a counsellor – and designed to provide short-term guidance, in the form of either 6-12 individual sessions or a one-day intensive.
“The sessions are like guided self-help. I don’t have any prescribed goals; my idea is to make clients feel better and give them evidence-based tools,” she says. “This approach works with people who’ve been on the streets, people whose addiction has been entrenched over years and years; that’s why I know it will work with clients who are ready to consciously find the motivation to simply do less of what they enjoy, rather than stop altogether.
For more information about working with Shahroo http://www.shahrooizadi.co.uk