What is Motivational Interviewing?

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What is Motivational Interviewing?

By: Taylor Googe, MSW

Social Services Supervisor


Working in the mental health field you have probably come across that particular client who comes in again and again. You might have wondered why they haven’t changed and what you could do to help. You have also probably noticed that directives such as “If you don’t stop drinking you are going to die” do not seem to be very effective.

Motivational Interviewing is a client centered approach to guiding clients to change their behavior by exploring ambivalence. Basically, this means that the client’s motivation to change comes from within, not from the therapist.  Your role is to help the client make a decision for themselves. This approach discourages the therapist from being an “advice giver” and encourages the therapist to instead be a collaborative and reflective listener.

The four main processes of Motivational Interviewing are:

  1. Engaging- open ended questions, affirmations, reflections, summarization
  2. Focusing- clarifying a goal
  3. Evoking- eliciting the person’s own motivation for change
  4. Planning-develop a specific change plan that the client is willing to implement

Motivational Interviewing is considered an Evidenced Based Practice that has been shown to be effective across many populations. Research shows it is effective in improving health outcomes while maintaining patient satisfaction levels.  There is also evidence to suggest that it is more cost effective than other methods.

Example Questions and Statements

“What things make you think that this is problem?”

“Ultimately it’s your decision, what would you like to try?”

“You are wondering if you should do something about ____?”

“If you don’t think that any of these ideas will work for you, perhaps you have been thinking of what might work instead?”

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