Motivational Interviewing: History, How it Works, Effectiveness
THC Editorial Team January 18, 2023
- What Is Motivational Interviewing?
- History of Motivational Interviewing
- How Does Motivational Interviewing Work?
- Effectiveness of Motivational Interviewing
What Is Motivational Interviewing?
Motivation is often incorrectly perceived as an innate capability or characteristic. More accurately, it is a socially influenced quality related to a person’s desire to pursue a goal or act in a particular way. Notably, this quality is instilled or enhanced within individuals if they are ready to accept change. Motivational interviewing does just that; it is a counseling style that challenges people to develop the internal motivations necessary to counteract or change certain behaviors they consider problematic in their lives.1 This form of counseling can act as a precursor to other psychological interventions, work in adjunct to psychotherapy, or be a stand-alone technique to change a particular behavior.
Changing negative behaviors allows people to develop healthier choices, which, in turn, affects long-term physical and mental health outcomes.2 Motivational interviewing is helpful for individuals who have addictions or physical health issues and those who lack motivation, display hostility, or are unready to commit to change. The main goal is to elicit self-motivation by helping people see how tapping into motivation and generating lasting change are possible and accessible.3
History of Motivational Interviewing
Motivational interviewing was first developed in the 1980s by clinical psychologists William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick to support patients with substance use disorders.1 Over time, other professionals have implemented motivational interviewing in public health, medical care, criminal justice systems, education, and familial systems.
As a counseling method, motivational interviewing has grown tremendously over the last few decades and is now an established, evidence-based practice. Its success is rooted in its view that the practitioner does not impose change; instead, practitioners who use this method cultivate and support self-directed change in their clients.
|In-Person Therapy||Online Therapy|
|$100 to $300 per session||$60 to $90 per week|
How Does Motivational Interviewing Work?
Motivational interviewing encourages clients to verbalize the changes they believe to be necessary and to explain their reasons for wanting change.3 The interviewer can be a psychologist, mental health counselor, social worker, or health care professional.
The interviewer’s job is to spark a conversation with a client about creating and committing to lasting change. Initially, interviewers will ask open-ended questions, listen reflectively, summarize and affirm the client’s points, and encourage self-motivational statements. This is a short-term type of counseling that lasts one or two sessions.
The Spirit of Motivational Interviewing
The spirit of motivational interviewing includes the following values:4,5
- The counselor and client work collaboratively
- The counselor accepts a client’s autonomy and ability to make their own choices in accordance with themselves.
- An empathic and supportive response to suffering in oneself and in others.
- The client already contains within themselves the antidote to change. The best ideas for the client come from the client.
Core Skills of Motivational Interviewing
Four core skills required by a therapist for successful motivational interviewing include:5,6
- Questions that call for more than a yes/no answer encourage the client to discuss what is on their mind openly.
- Positive feedback to build and reinforce a sense of belief in self
- Mirroring what the client is thinking and feeling and stating it back to the client to help demonstrate understanding, attunement, and empathy in the therapeutic relationship
- Selective summaries of some of the client’s own reasons for why change might be a good idea
Principles of Motivational Interviewing
Motivational interviewing is based on the following principles:3,6
- cultivate empathy through reflective listening
- discern individual goals/values from current behaviors
Roll with Resistance.
- avoid argumentative language
- adjust to the client’s resistance rather than opposing it
- support self-efficacy and optimism
A trained professional will individually guide the interview using an empathetic, supportive, and direct approach. Interviewers strive to form a trusted alliance with clients—one in which clients feel they can express themselves openly. An interviewer will actively examine a client’s problematic behaviors to assess what obstacles impede the client’s efforts to cultivate motivation and progress.
Four Main Techniques of the Motivational Interviewing Process
The four main steps for the motivational interviewing process are engaging, focusing, evoking, and planning.6,7
- Practitioners initially engage clients in establishing a trusting relationship. They utilize reflective listening to deeply understand current events and concerns in the client’s life. This stage focuses on developing rapport, easing a client’s guard, and pushing past ambivalence. If at any point the practitioner loses engagement with the client, they must reengage to move further in the process.
- Practitioners must then focus and establish a clear initiative and goal with their clients. This stage allows the client to state the target behavior or issue they want to address while recognizing potential barriers. This focus on a target is the goal-oriented aspect of motivational interviewing.
- Practitioners evoke their clients’ motivation and reasons for change. They aim to elicit their client’s ideas by actively listening and pointing out when their client uses language regarding change. This step focuses on drawing out the client’s internal motivation and reinforcing ways they can build it and target it toward a specific behavior.
- Practitioners help their clients effectively plan once there is significant engagement, a clear goal, and sufficient motivation. They help their client develop the skills to identify the target behavior to change, remove any barriers, and establish tangible steps.
Effectiveness of Motivational Interviewing
Motivational interviewing is very effective in many ways. For example, in a 2011 study of meta-analyses of randomized control trials of people dependent on or abusing substances, researchers concluded that motivational interviewing could reduce substance abuse compared to no treatment.8
A 2018 study found that motivational interviewing improved treatment outcomes (i.e., how well the therapy improves a client’s symptoms) for individuals with anxiety disorders when used as an adjunct to cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders.9
In a 2017 study, a group of Australian psychological researchers found that two motivational interviewing sessions that lasted for as little as 15 minutes effectively enhanced clients’ attendance in mental health treatment.10
Additionally, substantial evidence indicates that combining motivational interviewing with other existing treatments enhances overall treatment engagement.14
Although motivational interviewing was initially developed to treat substance abuse, it has been extended to treat many mental health problems. The change it elicits from clients is valuable and positively affects many aspects of mental health care, such as reducing symptoms and increasing treatment attendance.