Techniques For Motivational Interviewing

By Julia Thomas|Updated April 12, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Robin Brock , LISW

One of the best ways to change something, be it about you or something else, is motivation. If you don't have the motivation, you'll have a hard time trying to change anything. You either won't feel like it or put it off for another day. Motivational Interviewing (MI) helps people find the drive to change; it is short-term and focuses on empathy. Many of us know how difficult it is to "do it" when a person tells you "just do it."

Many therapy approaches can solve your problems, and today, we will be looking at one such method: Motivational interviewing, or MI.

Useful Cases For Motivational Interviewing


Many of us have tried to end an addiction. It doesn't have to be drugs, but instead food, social media, or any other addictive habit. However, our love for the habit was stronger than our motivation. MI can give you the motivation needed to succeed.

Managing Diseases

Some people lose all motivation to manage their diseases. If one has diabetes, they may not have the motivation to check their blood sugar often. Maybe they feel jaded about having diabetes, or maybe it's something deeper. MI can help get to the bottom of it.

Preparing For Change

Many people don't like life changes. Be it a divorce, a new job, a new location, or anything else, hating change can make people lose their desire to adapt. This can slow their life progress and make them not want to succeed. Some motivational interviewing can help people learn to embrace change and see it as a challenge rather than an obstacle.

Emotional People

Motivational interviewing is good for people who are too emotional to be motivated. Anger, sadness, or apathy are reasons why someone may not be motivated, and by addressing these, the person can be ready for a change.

Techniques and Principles

MI uses many techniques to help the person change. The counselor knows how people work, and will try everything they can to get the client motivated. Here are some techniques and principles.

Battling Resistance

People are contradictory. They want to change, yet they have a resistance to do so. A therapist is prepared to handle resistance in many ways. From people outright saying no to subtle hints, such as their body language or how they say certain words. A good therapist will learn how to get around the resistance, not by fighting it, but instead by asking permissive questions and hearing the client out. MI teaches that the therapist should avoid telling the client that they are wrong. Instead, the therapist should invite the client to think about new ways of solving a problem or tell the client to change their thinking around. It's a friendly form of therapy that doesn't want to be argumentative.

Advice Offering

How does a therapist offer advice while not causing resistance? It's a tricky rope to walk, yet MI therapists are good at what they do. They know that people don't like being told to do something, but instead, they like to have a choice. The choices MI brings are not delivered in a judgmental manner, but instead in a casual way.

This is performed in many ways, including:

  • The therapist always asks before giving advice. People don't like the advice they didn't ask for, and by asking, they are more open to listening.
  • Then, the advice is given. It's given not in a way that demands change, however. You'll hear language such as, "You should consider doing this," rather than "do this." Telling someone they should consider their options makes the client feel like they're not being rushed. A therapist may also say "It's your choice," to give the client more freedom of thought.
  • The therapist then asks for feedback about the advice they gave. Then, they give confidence about their advice. They are not only confident about their advice, but also about the chances of the client taking it.

Therapeutic Paradox

Another technique for clients who have made little progress is the therapeutic paradox. What is this? They are statements made by the therapist that seem contradictory.

For example, say a client is having a hard time quitting smoking. The therapist may say, "You've tried to quit, yet I see you're still smoking. Maybe it's not time for you to quit right now."

The client will be resistant to the therapist's words. They may say that they want to quit smoking, and then the therapist can figure out why they have had such a hard time quitting.

It's a riskier technique, but it can be effective for clients who refuse to change.


In the end, the client needs the confidence and motivation to change their ways. Having high self-esteem can make them self-efficient, and the therapist knows how to make the client more motivated. Telling them that they have a good plan, or that they have made progress, can give them the extra boost they need to keep going.


One of the biggest techniques used by MI therapists is empathy. The therapist can put themselves in the client's perspective, and this can allow them to see it through their eyes. Many clients come to feel like no one understands them, and by having a therapist who is good at understanding, the therapist is more likely to succeed in changing the client. The therapist acknowledges that change is difficult and that they know how they feel.

Columbo Approach

Another technique used by MI therapists is the Columbo approach. For those who have never seen the TV series Columbo, the titular protagonist used skills to try to rationalize discrepancies. The therapist may ask a question about the behavior of the client that sounds like a curious question. It's not meant to be judgmental, but instead, a question that wants more information.

When they find contradictory information, the therapist will present it in a way that is not judgmental but instead makes the client think about how their mindset is. They will end their questioning with a call to reflect on their actions.

A good example is a client who is trying to quit smoking. The client may say earlier they have a desire to live a long life, but they are continuing to smoke. The therapist may ask the client, "How can your smoking make you live a long life," and this lets the client think about their actions quite well.


MI therapists have five principles, and many put them into an acronym known as DEARS. Develop discrepancy, express empathy, amplify ambivalence, roll with resistance, and support self-efficacy.

In Summary

Develop Discrepancy

The therapist wants the client to realize that their beliefs are contradictory, and they are not compatible with one another. Their problematic behaviors are not in tune with their goals.

Express Empathy

The therapist will then be understanding of the client's struggle. They can put themselves in the shoes of the person on the chair, and this opens the client to hearing advice.

Amplify Ambivalence

The therapist wants the client to keep thinking about their contradictory behavior and realize that they have to make a choice.

Support Self-Efficacy

Finally, the therapist wants the client to be confident with all the progress they have made. By showing off the progress the client has made, the client can be able to find the motivation to carry on. And that is the goal of MI, to increase motivation.


MI is quite effective, as it knows how the human psyche works. Humans have a mind that is quite a puzzle. We want to change, but contradictory thoughts and actions prevent us from doing so. Be it a byproduct of evolution, or another underlying reason, many of us don't have the motivation to change. MI helps get past all the roadblocks that make humanity resistant to change. For example, it's not confrontational or judgmental. No one likes to hear judgmental comments about themselves, and MI helps deliver the changes in a way that does not feel condescending or judgmental.

Of course, the client needs to be the one who ultimately makes the decision. MI is good at battling resistance to change, but the client needs to be the one to take the path that will lead them to improvement. MI gives the client the map and compass they need, and the client will be the one who uses it.

Conclusion & Parting Thoughts

If you're having trouble changing your life, you may have some benefits if you try MI. Look for a specialized therapist who has studied motivational interviewing, and has the satisfied clients to prove it. A good therapist will not judge but instead encourages you to think about your contradictory thoughts and provide a second route to take in life.

Start feeling better today by talking to a BetterHelp therapist.

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