Most of us have aspects of our lives that we might like to make changes to. This may bring about negative feelings at times, but it's normal. It's part of our process of creating happy and healthy lives for ourselves while figuring out who we are and how to stay true to that while growing. You may want to become better at managing money, or you may hope to take steps to overall living a healthier life. Perhaps you are struggling with a larger challenge that you would like to change. You may have a serious health condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure that needs managing. Or perhaps you deal with substance use or anxiety and are seeking to manage and overcome those things.
Whether you are looking to make a small change or completely turn your life around, motivational interviewing (MI) may help set you on the right path even when other counseling techniques have failed or aren’t right for you.
What Is Motivational Interviewing?
As its name implies, motivational interviewing helps those struggling to find the motivation to make important changes in their lives. Motivational interviewing was first described by William R. Miller in Behavioral Psychology in 1983 as a method of therapy for problem drinkers. The theory and practice of MI have evolved over the preceding decades, and is now widely used in behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy for treating a wide variety of conditions. If you believe this method could be a good fit for you, continue reading. You may be able to join the many people who have changed their lives through the use of this therapy tool.
An article in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology describes motivational interviewing as a “client-centered, directive therapeutic style to enhance readiness for change by helping clients explore and resolve ambivalence.” In essence, MI is a short-term therapy technique used by counselors to help clients find the internal motivation for change through empathy with the client's situation, acknowledgment of how difficult making a life change is, and through client-oriented goal setting. The counselor helps the client identify whether their current actions are taking them closer to or farther away from their stated goals. Essentially, a counselor leads a client to see how negative behavior is deterring desired outcomes without creating tension or confrontation.
The Spirit Of Motivational Interviewing
Many scholarly articles about MI focus on its underlying spirit. This is not a prescription for how to practice MI per se, but rather it's a frame of mind in which a counselor should approach motivational interviewing.
This spirit focuses on:
As stated above, motivational interviewing isn't a simple list of techniques. There are, however, recommended principles and strategies to help a counselor follow the spirit of MI.
Express Empathy - Miller states that "[t]he counselor's accurate understanding of the client's experience facilitates change." He encourages counselors to practice empathy by putting themselves in their client's shoes and by trying to truly understand where the client is coming from. Afterward comes the expression of that empathy through reflective listening.
Support Self-Efficacy - MI asserts that there are as many ways to change as there are problems and clients. Counselors should hold clients responsible for their choices and remind them that if one plan does not work, they are limited only by their creativity to find another. Clients must believe that change is possible, as well as be willing to try various options while working to change their life.
Roll With Resistance - In the spirit of reducing conflict, counselors should not fight against a client's resistance, but rather lean into it. This may not feel like the typical client/counselor relationship. Instead, the counselor simply acknowledges a client's resistance and allows the client to find their own solutions to the perceived problems.
Develop Discrepancy - Ambivalence, or having mixed or contradictory ideas and feelings about something is at the core of MI. Counselors can identify change talk (statements that indicate a client’s desire to change), help clients to expand on these ideas and increase their level of commitment to change.
Motivational Interviewing Strategies
Below are a few of the proven strategies used by counselors who practice successful motivational interviewing:
What Conditions Can Motivational Interviewing Treat?
Motivational interviewing has proven to be particularly effective for substance overuse disorders. Often those with addictive tendencies have a difficult time correlating in-the-moment decision making, such as getting high or having a drink, with long-term consequences, such as losing custody of children or poor long term health. MI helps lead a client to see these conflicting goals and actions and allows them to create a self-directed plan for change.
Other challenges that motivational interviewing has been shown to be particularly helpful with include:
Who Does Motivational Interviewing Work Best For?
Motivational interviewing can vary in effectiveness depending on the person and their particular needs. Because MI is specifically non-confrontational, it can work well for clients who struggle with anger or low self-esteem. Motivational interviewing also works well for those who are having trouble finding the motivation to begin their journey toward change. It is believed that the nature of motivational interviewing, which meets clients exactly where they are at, can facilitate treatment adherence.
How BetterHelp Can Help
If motivational interviewing seems like a tool that would bring about positive change in your life, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist today. If you've got a busy schedule or want to avoid an additional commute to a therapist's office, consider using an online platform like BetterHelp.
Online therapy has been found to be just as effective overall as in-person therapy in treating a broad range of conditions and concerns, from depression to PTSD to substance overuse and addiction to relationship issues (and much more). In fact, an in-depth study collaborated by multiple universities worldwide reviews 373 studies of the effectiveness of online therapy, and found it to not only be just as effective as in-person therapy, but also more effective in that it removes many of the barriers in place with conventional therapy. These include things like privacy issues, negative stigma, cost, as well as timing issues and location.
Speaking of the latter, BetterHelp tends to be more affordable that traditional therapy, as you don’t have to commute or secure transportation to and from sessions, and our therapists don’t have to pay to rent out office space (meaning their rates can stay lower). Additionally, the remote nature of our platform enables sessions to be held via phone call, video chat, live voice recordings sent back and forth, or instant messaging/texting, and these can be held anytime and anywhere that works best for you – including the comfort of your own home! You’ll just need an internet connection to get started.
Continue reading below to find reviews of some of our board-certified therapists, from people seeking help with similar issues.
"Erika is not just amazing, she is a game changer! I was struggling with lots of negative thoughts and procrastination that was paralyzing me but since I started my sessions with her, I have had breakthroughs. Every time I see her, something miraculous happens. I feel more energetic, clearer and motivated to continue the process of growing and changing. I definitely recommend her. She truly cares and brings tons of positive vibes into the sessions."
"Neville is a great listener and for the first time in my life I feel understood by someone. He knows my concerns and he knows how to get myself able to fix them. He's motivating me to get myself up again and try more and more, at least with babysteps. That's what I call a friend."
Motivational interviewing has made a difference in the lives of many. It's a gentle, yet effective, therapy approach that brings about positive changes in the lives of people who use it. If MI seems like something that would benefit your life, reach out to a counselor today. You can move forward, accomplish your goals, and live a happy and healthy life no matter how many times you've set out and failed before. With the correct tools, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Take the first step today.
Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:
What is the main goal of motivational interviewing?
Motivational interviewing is an evidence based approach utilized to help individuals move towards positive behavior change. While it is most commonly used in substance abuse treatment, research has shown that it can also be beneficial for managing physical health conditions and helping children to adopt more positive health behaviors.
Motivational interviewing is a collaborative process that involves coming alongside an individual wherever they are at, exploring feelings of ambivalence around change, and increasing a person’s motivation to make positive changes in their lives.
Additional resources on motivational interviewing are available through Guilford Press.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is motivational interviewing good for?
Motivational interviewing is a counseling style that is used in a wide variety of health care settings such as substance abuse treatment and in helping people manage physical health conditions. It aims to increase clients’ motivation for change by exploring their feelings of ambivalence around changing their current behavior.
Clinical trials tested the efficacy of motivational interviewing in medical settings. The results proved the effectiveness of motivational interviewing in increasing motivation for change as compared to other interventions. Use of this counseling style could be beneficial in addressing a wire array of issues in health care and achieving positive health outcomes.
What are the 5 principles of motivational interviewing?
The five principles of motivational interviewing include: express empathy through reflective listening, identify the discrepancy between clients’ current behavior and future goals, avoid argument and direct confrontation, adjust to client resistance and support self efficacy and optimism.
What are the stages of change in motivational interviewing?
The transtheoretical model (also called the Stages of Change model) emphasizes five stages of change individuals move through when attempting to adopt a healthy behavior or discontinue an unhealthy behavior. The stages of change (precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance) provide a solid framework to assess one’s readiness for change,
What are the 4 principles of motivational interviewing?
When using motivational interviewing, a counselor must center the session on its core principles: express empathy, support self efficacy, roll with resistance and develop discrepancy between a clients’ current behavior and future goals.
Studies testing the effectiveness of motivational interviewing have proved that it increases motivation for change in substance abuse treatment and other health care settings.
Is motivational interviewing manipulative?
The essence of motivational interviewing is not to manipulate a client to change their behavior. It is a client-centered counseling style that is tailored to an individual’s process of change. Therapists cannot convince a client that a problem exists or force them to change behavior. Instead, they will ask open ended questions and use reflective listening to identify the clients’ thoughts, values, goals and preferences. The effectiveness of motivational interviewing has been proven, as it has been shown to reduce ambivalence and increase motivation for change.
What is change talk in motivational interviewing?
Change talk in motivational interviewing refers to any time a client discusses their desire or ability to change, reasons for change, or need for change. All of these statements are indicative of a client preparing to make a change. Discussing current actions or plans to make a healthy choice denotes an increased level of commitment to change.
To evoke change talk, a therapist may ask open ended questions and use reflective listening. They can then respond appropriately to help the client consider a greater commitment to change.
What is the spirit of motivational interviewing?
Motivational interviewing is a client-centered counseling style that is based on collaboration between the therapist and client, exploring clients’ thoughts and barriers around motivation for change, and emphasizing autonomy of the client.
A therapist will ask open ended questions and use reflective listening to encourage clients to consider their motivation for change and any ambivalence they may feel.
What type of therapy is motivational interviewing?
Motivational interviewing is a counseling style that focuses on behavior change. It helps the client identify ambivalence in regards to making a change. It is utilized in a variety of health care settings such as substance abuse treatment.
A similar counseling style that may be used in substance abuse treatment is called Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET), which is a more structured intervention used to motivate clients to consider changing their behavior around alcohol and/or drugs.
The effectiveness of motivational interviewing is significant compared to other interventions in achieving positive health outcomes.
What is absolute worth?
Absolute worth refers to the understanding that each person is on their own journey and is of incredible value. The more a therapist can express empathy and understanding for one’s situation, the more likely the client will be to open up about their struggles. When using this counseling style, a therapist must ask open ended questions and use reflective listening to spur the client to reflect on their thoughts around making a change.
Studies have revealed the effectiveness of motivational interviewing, as it has been shown to increase motivation for change in substance abuse treatment and other health care settings.
How do you do absolute value?
Absolute value is not a term in motivational interviewing. However, absolute worth refers to providing the client with a sense of being respected and understood. It is essential to the spirit of motivational interviewing. Therapists prioritize using reflective listening and expressing empathy in order to establish a positive space for clients to explore their thoughts around making a certain change.