When presenting information about
health with the goal of changing health behaviors, there are a few things you
should keep in mind.
- As with any group facilitation, you should make
sure you establish an environment in which everyone feels welcome and
- Consider your approach to sharing health
knowledge – what are the messages you’re actually sending and will your
audience be ready to hear them? The following guidelines will assist you in
successfully facilitating health-related workshops.
Creating Positive Group Spaces
When presenting and/or discussing
potentially sensitive information, it is always a good idea to set up some
group agreements in order to create a positive and productive environment. While
no space can ever be entirely “safe” for everyone, establishing some ground
rules can help. Here are a few agreements to include, but you and your group
can also come up with some additional ones of your own:
- It is important to remember that people in the room likely have had different
life experiences, some of which may be related to the topic of discussion. When
you are speaking, remember to speak only for yourself and avoid speaking on
behalf of entire identities or types of people, even if you are a member of
that group. When listening to others, if someone says something you disagree
with or that you find offensive, give the person the benefit of the doubt and
assume they had good intentions. Find a way to talk about it constructively and
– While it cannot be guaranteed, what is said in the room stays in the
room. (Note to RAs: the room itself makes a difference, so try to pick one that
affords the group some privacy.) You should only share what you feel
comfortable sharing. If someone says something interesting while working in
small groups or on an activity, ask them before you share their thoughts with
the whole group. When you share your own ideas, also remember to leave out any
identifying information, even about people who are not present.
care of yourself – It’s okay if you need to take a break! You can feel free
to step out of the room and return when you’re ready.
Adapted from the HAVEN, One Act, and Safe Zone program
When presenting information, one should keep in mind the idea of presenting
positive or negative social norms. For example, saying that 1 million Americans
do a certain unhealthy behavior makes it sound like a lot of people do it, when
the goal might actually be to convince people that the unhealthy behavior is not the norm. Instead, one should
emphasize how many millions of people AREN’T doing that behavior.
In the field of social psychology, Robert Cialdini discusses this issue
in the context of injunctive and descriptive norms. Injunctive norms are norms
of which a person thinks others approve or disapprove(1). Descriptive norms are those that a person
thinks other people actually do or enact(1).
To promote positive health behavior change, it is important to make sure your
messages are consistent and in the direction of change that you wish to see(1). Here is a good example: The UNC Core
survey data from 2010 indicates that 31.6% of students would rather NOT have
alcohol available at parties they attend and 70.1% of students refused an offer
of alcohol or other drugs in the last 30 days! This shows that many students do
not wish to be around alcohol and that many don’t drink, even when it’s
available. Before you present health behavior information, think about the
message your facts are actually sending.
Wellness Services takes a risk
reduction approach by encouraging students to make honest risk/benefit analyses
about drinking and other health behaviors. Harm reduction is a continuous
process for students in which accomplishing any step towards healthy behavior
change, rather than eliminating all risk, is seen as a positive outcome(2). We understand that
some students might make unhealthy choices sometimes and, without supporting or discouraging these choices, our goal is to
reduce the risks they take in doing so by providing resources to help them stay
healthy. As student leaders, you are a resource for other student and can empower them
with the information they need to make the best choices for them as
Stages of Change: The
Transtheoretical Model and Motivational Interviewing
Services, we also use a strategy called “motivational interviewing” to work
with individual students on changing health behaviors such as alcohol and other
drug use. In motivational interviewing, the Wellness staff empowers students
(or in your case, the RAs will empower residents) to talk about their own
behaviors and readiness to change them(2).
According to the Transtheoretical
Model (TTM), an individual moves through five stages in the process of behavior
People can move back and forth between stages as their motivation, or readiness
to change, fluctuates(2, 3). Still, any overall progress through the
stages as a result of a workshop or counseling intervention is great(2)! Whether you are speaking with a student
one-on-one or conducting a workshop with a group of residents, it will be
helpful to consider what mindset they are in and modify your presentation of
information accordingly when possible.
The five stages of change
- Precontemplation – In this first stage of change, a person has not
even considered that their behavior is unhealthy and therefore are not planning
on changing their actions(2, 3). When working with students at this level of
readiness to change, you should increase their knowledge about the risks
associated with their behavior(2).
- Contemplation – In this second stage, a person acknowledges the
risks that go along with a given behavior and intends to change their behavior
eventually though might need some help getting motivated(2, 3). In order to help students commit to
changing, remind them of the positive consequences of changing and teach them
the risk reduction skills they might need to do so(2).
- Preparation – In this third stage, a person is ready for and
intending to change, but might not have a specific plan of action(2). You can help students progress through this
stage by talking with them to set a goal and/or informing them about the
different changes they can make(2).
- Action – In this fourth stage, a person enacts the risk reduction strategies they have learned and makes
changes in their health behavior(2, 3)! As a student leader, you can support the students around you as they
employ these strategies for change and offer information and resources as
- Maintenance – In this final stage, a person can be said to have
actually changed their behavior(2). Note,
though, that they might still move backwards through the process, even at this
Whether or not that happens, providing resources and informational support to
your friends and fellow students can help them stay in or return to this stage of change(2).
It is likely that individuals
within your audience will be at different levels of readiness for
change, but that’s okay! Remember that wellness is here for you. If you need
information on a health topic other than what is already available to you, wellness can guide you and your students to other resources or provide further workshop
1. Cialdini, R. B. (2003).
Crafting normative messages to protect the environment. Psychological Science, 12(4),
2. Dimeff, L.
A., Baer, J. S., Kivlahan, D. R., & Marlatt, G. A. (1999). Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for
College Students: A harm reduction approach. New York: The Guilford Press.
J. O., Redding, C. A., & Evers, K. E. (2008). The Transtheoretical Model
and Stages of Change. In K. Glanz, B. K. Rimer & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Health behavior and health education:
Theory, research, and practice, 4th Edition (97 – 121). San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.