What is Motivational Interviewing?

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Has there ever been something that you desperately wanted to do, but had trouble actually following through and doing it?  A great example of this occurs at the beginning of every year.  The ball drops on New Year’s Eve, confetti flies, and emphatic resolutions are made to get healthy.  On New Year’s Day, we run to our local gyms, sign up for new memberships, stop at the grocery store (proudly passing the candy and junk food aisles) and peruse the health food aisle.  We set our minds to finally drop those extra pounds that we have been regretfully holding onto.  And then what happens?  Some of us are able to stick with our resolutions and follow through, while others start strong and fizzle out by mid January.  Ultimately, what dictates one’s success is their level of motivation, investment, and commitment to change. 

Clinical psychologists, William Miller and Stephen Rolnick, recognized the importance that motivation plays in behavior change.  In 1983, they published an article introducing a concept called motivational interviewing and in 1991, expanded on the concept by discussing clinical procedures.  Motivational interviewing aims to help people to identify and address ambivalence that they have in making behavior changes.  Motivational interviewing is based on the premise that people can be encouraged and influenced to consider making changes to achieve desired goals.     

One of the foundations of motivational interviewing is the understanding that people enter counseling at different levels of motivation.  Some may be simply thinking about making a behavior change, while others may be both thinking about it and taking action.  Individuals that make a New Year’s resolution to get healthy are clearly at different levels of readiness.  There are those who think that it would be great to lose weight and eat better, but never take any steps to do so.  There are others who think it would be great to be healthier and take ineffective steps to do so.  Then finally, there are others who think about it and take the necessary steps to achieve their goals.  These are the people who go on to actually fulfill their resolutions.

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Motivational interviewing is primarily focused on the significance of change, looking ahead and not back, and exploring a person’s confidence regarding making changes in their behavior.  Motivational interviewing helps a person to become fully aware of negative behaviors and consequences that can result.  Clinicians attempt to help clients to see their negative behaviors in a different way and instigate them to think about what could potentially be acquired from changing them.  Motivational interviewing helps a person to reduce uncertainty about making changes in their lives, usually by devising a list of pros and cons. 

The major objective of motivational interviewing is to develop a therapeutic rapport with a client, to initiate talk about change, and to instigate a client to improve motivation to make positive behavior changes.  Motivation always needs to come from the individual and is never inflicted by the clinician or from outside influences.  Motivational interviewing includes four components, including engaging, focusing, evoking, and planning.  Engaging helps a clinician to establish a trusting, therapeutic rapport with clients, focusing helps a person to find direction, evoking helps a person to explore their motivation to change, and planning helps a person to come up with a plan of action after they have made a pledge to change.  

Thus, if a person engaged in a motivational counseling session, they would develop a trusting relationship with their clinician, talk about goals, honestly examine readiness to change, and finally come up with a plan to make it happen.  If people were to preemptively participate in motivational counseling, perhaps New Year’s resolutions would be far more successful.

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.