Motivational interviewing is a therapeutic approach that taps into a client’s intrinsic desire to make positive changes in their lives. Motivational interviewing techniques focus on the goals of the client. The therapist meets the client wherever they are on the spectrum of readiness to change. Motivational interviewing was first developed in the 1980s by clinical psychologists Stephen Rollnick and William R. Miller as a way to bring about behavioral changes in clients who abused substances. It has since been used to help with a number of issues and situations including the treatment of mental health disorders, classroom management, parenting, and physical health conditions.

How Motivational Interviewing Works

Motivational interviewing is often a good starting off point for people entering addiction recovery programs. It helps people that may be uninterested in changing find their motivation to go on the journey of recovery. If they’re hostile about getting help, motivational interviewing can help them turn around their attitudes and get ready to make the changes they need for a better life.

The trained therapist encourages the patient to talk about why they want to change and what’s motivating them. The interviewer will also reflect the thoughts back to the patient so that they can hear them from someone else and clarify. It’s all about making sure that the patient is truly motivated to become a better person and take on the challenges of a life change.

Motivational Interviewing Techniques

man in suit with pen and patient engage in motivational interviewing therapyAccording to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, motivational interviewing includes four principles:

Avoiding argument and expressing empathy – Therapist and client have an open, nonjudgmental relationship and don’t exert energy toward small situational details or “rights” and “wrongs.” The therapist listens objectively and works together with the client to come up with options rather than dictating solutions. The client is empowered to either accept or dismiss these options.

Rolling with resistance – Sometimes clients put up defenses when they are not ready for change. In motivational interviewing, the therapist respects this resistance and reframes resistance into a discussion on the positive and negative consequences of change. The client sees that it is their decision to change aspects of their life that aren’t working for them.

Developing discrepancy – The therapist works with the client to help them understand how their behaviors may be impacting their goals. The client sees how their actions don’t align with the person they want to be or the circumstances they desire.

Supporting self-efficacy – The therapist and client identify situations where the client has obtained the desired outcome through their own means. Examples of self-efficacy are powerful reminders that the client is competent and does have the ability to make a positive change in their life.

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