Motivational interviewing is a counseling method that helps people resolve ambivalent feelings and insecurities to find the internal motivation they need to change their behavior. It is a practical, empathetic, and short-term process that takes into consideration how difficult it is to make life changes.
When It's Used
Motivational interviewing is often used to address addiction and the management of physical health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. This intervention helps people become motivated to change the behaviors that are preventing them from making healthier choices. It can also prepare individuals for further, more specific types of therapies. Research has shown that this intervention works well with individuals who start off unmotivated or unprepared for change. It is less useful for those who are already motivated to change. Motivational interviewing is also appropriate for people who are angry or hostile. They may not be ready to commit to change, but motivational interviewing can help them move through the emotional stages of change necessary to find their motivation.
What to Expect
In a supportive manner, a motivational interviewer encourages clients to talk about their need for change and their own reasons for wanting to change. The role of the interviewer is mainly to evoke a conversation about change and commitment. The interviewer listens and reflects back the client’s thoughts so that the client can hear their reasons and motivations expressed back to them. Motivational interviewing is generally short-term counseling that requires just one or two sessions, though it can also be included as an intervention along with other, longer-term therapies.
How It Works
Motivational interviewing evolved from Carl Roger’s person-centered, or client-centered, approach to counseling and therapy, as a method to help people commit to the difficult process of change. The process is twofold. The first goal is to increase the person’s motivation and the second is for the person to make the commitment to change. As opposed to simply stating a need or desire to change, hearing themselves express a commitment out loud has been shown to help improve a client’s ability to actually make those changes. The role of the therapist is more about listening than intervening. Motivational interviewing is often combined or followed up with other interventions, such as cognitive therapy, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and stress management training.
What to Look for in a Motivational Interviewer
Look for a licensed mental health professional who is empathetic and supportive as well as a good listener. Since motivational interviewing is a skill that improves with time, look for an interviewer with both formal training and experience. In addition to finding someone with the appropriate educational background and relevant experience, look for a motivational interviewer with whom you feel comfortable working.
- Hettema J, Steel, J, Miller WR. Motivational interviewing. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2005;1:91-111.
- Treatment Improvement Protocols. Enhancing Motivation for change in Substance Abuse Treatment. Chapter 3—Motivational Interviewing as a Counseling Style. SAMHSA. (1999, Rockville, MD)
- SAMSA-HSRA Center for Integrated Health Solutions website. Motivational Interviewing.