What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational Interviewing is a therapeutic approach that originated within the substance use treatment world of counseling. However after significant research, and in our practice, clinicians have found that clients dealing with all sorts of issues respond well to this kind of therapy. Motivational Interviewing is a particular kind of conversation and therapeutic relationship aimed at strengthening a person’s own motivation for and commitment to change. It is a collaborative, person-centered partnership that honors autonomy and considers clients as expert on their own lives. The foundation of Motivational Interviewing is a respectful relationship with a focus on building rapport in the initial stages of counseling.

How Motivational Interviewing Works

Motivational Interviewing centers on exploring and resolving the clients’ ambivalence and focuses on motivational forces within the client that facilitate change. This technique supports change in a manner congruent with the person’s own values and concerns. A central concept in Motivational Interviewing involves the identification, examination and resolution of ambivalence about changing behavior. 

Ambivalence, the term used to describe feeling two (often conflicting) ways about something, is a typical and natural part of the change process. Think of a time you encountered change in your personal or professional life; I bet you felt a combination of ways – perhaps nervous, excited, anxious, eager, and even slightly reluctant. Change is a constant in our lives and causes us to evolve, pivot, and adjust in ways we had not originally planned for. Mastering change is a lifelong process, and the tools learned in Motivational Interviewing can be used throughout all stages and changes of our existence. 

This type of therapy is a collective, goal-oriented approach that is designed to strengthen an individual’s motivation for and movement towards a specific goal by eliciting and exploring there person’s own arguments for and against change. Motivational Interviewing can be characterized by three key elements; collaboration between therapist and client, evoking the client’s ideas about change, and emphasizing the client’s autonomy. 

Techniques of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing focuses on collaboration instead of confrontation. In our practice, we find that a collaborative approach builds rapport and facilitates trust in the helping relationship. This does not necessarily mean that the therapist and client automatically agree about the nature of and actions required to make changes in their lives. Although they may see things differently, the therapeutic process is focused on mutual understanding, not the therapist being right. 

Drawing on the client as the master of their own experience is a hallmark of Motivational Interviewing. Motivational Interviewing acknowledges that the true power for change rests within the client. When change begins with the client’s own convictions, it has shown to be durable and long lasting. Counselors maintain that there is no single “right way” to enact change and there are multiple avenues by which a client may achieve their goals. Therapists will call on clients to share their thoughts and ideas rather than imposing their own opinions as a motivational strategy. Incorporating the client’s ideas, motivations, and values, clinicians and clients work together to develop a menu of options as how to achieve the desired change. 

The Spirit of Motivational Interviewing:

Each clinicians delivery of Motivational Interviewing will vary depending on their style and the client’s individual goals, needs and preferences. As a therapeutic approach, MI is characterized by a clinical way of being, or a “spirit” which can be described by the interpersonal relationship between client and clinician and the collaborative nature of the therapy. If you are interested in exploring Motivational Interviewing, you can expect that your therapist will: 

Express Empathy

  • Clinicians will empathize with your concerns and explore them deeply to understand your reservations about change
  • Maintain a non-judgmental approach
  • Assure that you feel heard and understood
  • Demonstrate they recognize barriers that you, the client, faces


Support Self-Efficacy

  • Clinicians will support your self-belief in your ability to change
  • Focus on your past successes, skills and strengths that you have or can easily learn
  • Promote self-esteem and build confidence in your ability to do the skills needed to facilitate change
  • Emphasize your personal choice and control


Roll with Resistance
Resistance arises as a normal, expected product of the interaction, and indicates to the therapist that the client is not yet ready for that change. Rather than pushing or coercing the client into change, clinicians practicing Motivational Interviewing will:

  • Respect the resistance and roll with it
  • Reflect what we hear without judgment
  • Acknowledge that clinician will never fully understand the client’s experience and thus the client is guiding the therapy in a way that feels right for them
  • Take a break from any specific conversation until the client feels ready to return to it


Develop Discrepancy 

Change won’t occur without discrepancy; it allows the client to realize that their current behavior isn’t leading to their goals and be more open to change. Clinicians will assist clients in developing discrepancy by: 

  • Defining the most important goals or the goals that the client wishes to work on first
  • Address the gap between where the client is and where they want to be
  • Help clients see how some behaviors don’t mesh with the ultimate goals that are
    important or valuable to them
  • Assist clients in determining the difference between their core values and their behavior
  • Develop a plan to ease out some of the old behaviors and replace them with more effective and goal-oriented methods


Supporting Change Talk 

Change talk refers to the statements or considerations that clients make that reveal their commitment or desire for change. In Motivational Interviewing, we focus on change talk as a pathway towards change; we know that the more someone talks about making a change, the more likely they are to follow through with it. The therapist will support change talk in sessions by:

  • Exploring positive and negative consequences of change and of continuing the current behavior
  • Discussing what it might be like for the client once they have successfully made the desired change and achieved their goals
  • Considering potential outcomes if the client decides not to make changes and continue in the status quo
  • Assigning a number on a scale to the importance of the desired change and considering how that number may increase or decrease based on contextual factors
  • Reviewing the clients goals, values, and motivations for change

Motivational Interviewing has a strong proven success rate amongst clients who want to make all sorts of changes in their lives. If you believe Motivational Interviewing might be right for you, contact us to set up a complementary consultation.