Motivational Interviewing: What Is It, And How Can It Change Your Life?
Content Warning: Please note that this article mentions substance use. Read with discretion.
Many people have aspects of their lives they hope to change, such as a career path, strained relationship, or a tendency to order takeout instead of cooking a home meal. Whatever the circumstance, it can take energy and motivation to make healthy changes.
When attempting to create change on your own, it may be beneficial to have a supportive network of friends, family, and professionals to support you, such as a counselor who can provide motivational therapy to help keep you on track. Some counselors devote their careers to studying how people commit to making healthy life changes. Psychologists trained in motivational interviewing (MI) help people facilitate change by resolving ambivalence and finding intrinsic motivators for making behavioral changes.
Changes can occur, whether ambitious, minor, or somewhere in between. If you're in a season of personal development, motivational interviewing might inspire you to make healthier changes in the present and transform your future.
What Is Motivational Interviewing?
Motivational interviewing was a process developed by clinical psychologist William R. Miller as an option for those experiencing a substance use disorder. The theory and practice of MI have evolved over subsequent decades, and it's now used in behavioral and cognitive psychotherapy for various conditions.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
Counselors may use MI to help clients find the internal motivation to make beneficial changes. Positive changes could include abstaining from substance use, adhering to medications, or maintaining healthy eating practices.
In an MI session, the therapist often engages a person in a candid discussion about their desires for change. The motivation to change may originate in the patient, not the therapist. Through extensive discussion or "interviewing" about a person's reasons for change, clients can move away from ambivalence and establish a clear, personal argument for change to start achieving their goals.
Who Can Benefit From Motivational Interviewing?
MI may be effective for many mental illnesses and symptoms and can be applied in a broad range of settings, including healthcare, education, and human services. Therapists often employ MI to treat substance use disorders, but MI strategies might also be used to support the following objectives:
Healthy nutrition and physical activity levels
Abstinence from smoking, gambling, risky sex, or other behaviors
Engagement in management programs for diabetes, cardiovascular health, or other health concerns
The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that MI benefits people with low intrinsic motivation to change. By discussing a client's goals, values, and strengths at length, MI may make it easier for people to verbalize and visualize reasons for change that they may not discover on their own.
Core Principles Of Motivational Interviewing
The success of MI may depend on three components of motivation, which can be summarized by the phrase "ready, willing, and able." These three components are:
Willingness: How open a client is to change
Ability: The confidence a client has to change
Readiness: Whether the change is an immediate priority
Clients may not feel motivated enough to begin working toward change without addressing these three components. Assuming the client is ready, willing, and able, a therapist can use MI to assist them in altering their thought patterns and behaviors. This therapeutic process is rooted in the following guiding principles, as outlined by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners:
Listen With Empathy: Therapists trained in MI learn to take an active interest in a client's internal perspective by showing genuine curiosity and using reflective listening.
Understand The Client's Motivations: If the patient isn't motivated, change may not occur, regardless of how much a therapist cares for the client's well-being. Instead, therapists trained in MI strive to support their patients' self-efficacy or autonomy by reflecting on the client's strengths and past successes and restoring confidence in their capacity for change.
Resist The Righting Reflex: Counselors may feel inclined to prescribe the "right path" for healthy change, but this can defeat the purpose of MI, as clients may resist change when therapists propose a strict plan of action. A well-trained MI counselor may roll with resistance and emphasize a client's decision to make changes independently, using reflective phrases.
Empower The Patient: Research shows that when clients are primary and active collaborators in their healthcare, the treatment outcomes tend to improve. In MI, empowerment may look like collaboration.
If you're a client, your counselor might prompt you to explore your ideas about making change, discuss your personal history of change, and identify discrepancies between your current situation and where you'd like to be.
Common Strategies Used In Motivational Interviewing
To build a client's motivation, counselors use several research-backed strategies. Below are therapeutic techniques that may promote change and support a healthy client-therapist relationship in MI.
A therapist's questions may require more than a "yes" or "no" answer. The patient in MI often does most of the talking, allowing the counselor to learn more about a client's values, goals, and uncertainties about changing a specific behavior.
Sincere affirmations can build strong relationships between counselors and clients. Using compliments or statements of appreciation and understanding, therapists can direct focus toward a client's strengths, past successes, and current efforts to create change.
Reflective Listening And Phrasing
In MI, a counselor may repeat the patient's verbalized vital points, which can clarify and deepen their understanding of the client's thoughts and feelings. This practice can also amplify or reinforce a patient's stated desire for change.
A Collaborative "Change Plan"
Rather than a set of techniques to "use on" people, MI offers strategies for counselors to use in collaboration with their patients. After establishing a strong therapeutic rapport, patients and therapists may create a "change plan" together. This plan can be shaped by essential questions, which might include:
Where do we go from here?
What do you want to do at this point?
After reviewing this plan, what's the next step for you?
The client is the change leader in this plan (and in all MI strategies). Their therapist can be a collaborative, trusting professional that recognizes their strengths, autonomy, and vision for the future.
The Benefits Of Online Motivational Interviewing
If you anticipate a change in your future but feel unsure where to start, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist. Although many people considering life goals may feel too busy for therapy, there are many options for counseling. For example, you can attend therapy online without commuting or leaving home..
On online platforms like BetterHelp, there may be many providers specializing in motivational interviewing. They can ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions, offer affirmations, and collaborate with you to create a change plan through your preferred session method. You can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions once you have signed up.
Online therapy can be as effective in treating a broad range of mental health conditions as in-person therapy. In 2017, a comparison of in-person and online MI found that online therapy was equally effective, based on the outcomes of adults in a health management program. In addition to positive treatment outcomes, online therapy is often a more accessible and affordable option for clients interested in MI.
"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."
MI is a practical, non-confrontational therapy that may appeal to diverse people and personalities. If you're struggling to change and believe you could benefit from MI, consider reaching out to a counselor. A licensed mental health professional can help you see your full potential, embrace your strengths, and implement changes for a healthier, more fulfilling life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
For more information, review these frequently asked questions about MI.
What Are The Five Principles Of Motivational Interviewing (MI)?
While psychologists' individual definitions and approaches may vary slightly, professionals often agree on the following five principles of MI:
Express empathy through reflective listening
Identify the discrepancy between clients' current behavior and future goals
Avoid argument and direct confrontation
Adjust to and "roll with" a client's resistance
Support a client's self-efficacy and optimism
What Are The Stages Of Change In Motivational Interviewing?
The transtheoretical model (TTM) of change, also called the "stages of change model," outlines the phases that individuals experience when attempting to adopt a healthy behavior or discontinue an unhealthy behavior. In MI, these stages include the following:
The final "relapse" phase occurs if the person returns to unhealthy habits, thought patterns, or behaviors.
Can Motivational Interviewing Be Manipulative?
Using MI, therapists may not convince clients that a problem exists or manipulate them to change their behavior. Instead, therapists are trained to ask open-ended questions and use reflective listening to identify clients' thoughts, values, goals, and preferences. MI is a client-centered counseling style tailored to an individual's process and interpretation of change.
What Is "Change Talk" In Motivational Interviewing?
In MI, change talk refers to any statements or non-verbal communication that indicate a person may be considering the possibility of change. Often, the more someone talks about their motivation and commitment to change, the more possible it may be that they choose to make a change.
What Is The "Spirit" Of Motivational Interviewing?
MI is often characterized by a particular "spirit." Compared to more traditional approaches, MI is a client-centered counseling style based on collaboration between the therapist and the client. Together, they may explore the client's thoughts and barriers around motivation for change while emphasizing the client's autonomy.
What Type Of Therapy Is Similar To Motivational Interviewing?
Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) is a similar counseling style that may be used to treat substance use disorders. Compared to MI, MET explicitly emphasizes a client's personalized assessment, feedback, and change plans.
What Is Absolute Worth?
Absolute worth is the understanding that every person is trying to figure out who they are and where they are going. In MI, absolute worth is a reminder that everyone has equal dignity and that when people feel respected, they may honestly discuss their issues and open themselves up to change.
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