Motivational Interviewing (MI)

It is possible to experience conflicting desires, such as changing your behaviour and thinking that you're not ready to change your behaviour. The motivational interviewing approach holds that resolving this ambivalence can increase a person's motivation to change.


What is Motivational Interviewing (MI)?

MI is a counselling approach designed to help people find the motivation to make a positive behaviour change. This client-centred approach is particularly effective for people who have mixed feelings about changing their behaviour.


Key Elements of MI

✽   Collaboration over Confrontation

Instead of being aggressive or argumentative with the client, the therapist will attempt to see the situation from the client's point of view. Along these lines, the therapist is not the expert because no one understands the client's experience better than the client. The goal here is for the therapist to act as a support rather than a persuader.

✽   Evocation Instead of Education 

In other forms of therapy, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the client is given information by the therapist to encourage change in their ways of thinking, beliefs, or behaviours. At times, this approach can trigger feelings of defensiveness in the client. 

MI has the goal of creating an internal desire for change from the client. The therapist listens more than talks and draws out the client's perceptions instead of imposing perceptions on him. This way, the client will be more interested in maintaining the change over a more extended period.

✽   Autonomy Rather than Authority 

MI places all the power on the client. The therapist shows respect for the client's responsibility and decision-making ability.


How does it Work?

In MI, counsellors help people explore their feelings and find their motivations. They do this using four primary techniques. Therapists gather information by asking open-ended questions, show support and respect using affirmations, express empathy through reflections, and use summaries to group information.

✽   Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are questions you cannot answer with a simple "yes" or "no." Instead, these types of questions encourage you to think more deeply about an issue.

Such questions often start with words like "how" or "what," and they allow your therapist to learn more about you. Examples of open-ended questions include:

  • "How would you like things to be different?"
  • "What have you tried before to make a change?"
  • "What can you tell me about your relationship with your parents?"

✽   Affirmations

Affirmations are statements that recognize a person's strengths and acknowledge their positive behaviours. Done right, affirmations can help build a person's confidence in their ability to change.

Examples of affirming responses include:

  • "You are a very resourceful person."
  • "You handled yourself well in that situation."
  • "I am so glad you came into the clinic today. I know it is not always easy to seek help."
  • "I appreciate that it took a lot of courage for you to discuss this with me today."

✽ Reflective Listening

Reflection or reflective listening is perhaps the most crucial skill therapists use. Reflection lets a client know that their therapist is listening and trying to understand their point of view. It also allows the client to correct any misunderstandings and to elaborate on their feelings.

✽   Summaries

Summaries are a particular type of reflection. They show that the therapist has been listening and understand what the client has been saying.

Therapists can use summaries throughout a conversation. Some examples of summarizing techniques include:

  • Collecting

Collecting reinforces what the client has said. For example, a therapist might say, "Let me see if I understand what you have said thus far."

  • Linking

Linking entails making associations between two parts of the discussion. For example, a therapist might say, "A minute ago, you said you wanted to talk to... Maybe now we can talk about how you might try..." 

  • Transitioning

Transitioning wraps up the end of a session or moving on to another topic. For instance, a therapist might say, "A minute ago you said... But the last time we met, it seemed like... What do you think about that?"