When To Practice Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing has a good evidence base for its effectiveness in helping people to build and then strengthen their readiness, willingness, and ability to pursue specific changes that are discussed and agreed upon by both interviewer and client. MI can be helpful in helping people develop their own reasons for planning and activating certain changes. Through various processes that unfold in strategic MI conversations, people are assisted to construct their own, personally constructed argument for change. This internal motivation is what distinguishes MI from the “persuasion” approach to encouraging change.

Persuasion-approaches serve to “talk the client into changing”. Ultimately, persuasion involves “implanting” or “installing” reasons to change. The MI approach however works to evoke, or to “surface” people’s internal; motives for change. It avoids attempts to install, coerce, cajole, threaten, warn, or otherwise convince people that they ought to make specific changes.

When skillfully practiced, MI is often used with clients (or for clients) to assist them with developing motivation (readiness, willingness, and ability) to make changes such as:

  • Improved medication compliance (adherence to a medication regimen)
  • Participation in a treatment program
  • Engagement with an assessment process
  • Engagement with a treatment planning process
  • Reduced use of harmful substances
  • Increased exercise activity
  • Specific modifications to diet
  • Modifications to lifestyle (sleep schedules, work-home balance, management of free time, etc)
  • Deciding to pursues a way to forgive or “let go” of resentments, hurts, and toxic feelings
  • Changing study habits
  • Etc.

MI can be used with anyone who is conflicted as a result of their focus on their reasons NOT to change, where reasons for change exist, but have not been well examined or talked about by the client. MI works to create a safe and comfortable environment for the client where s/he can hear themselves speak aloud their thoughts about specific changes. In that environment, the MI provider works to help clients hear their own pro-change arguments (with acknowledgement of client reservations, hesitations, and “downside-of-change” arguments). In this way, clients are assured of getting a “darned good listening to” (as opposed to the “darned good talking-to” that may otherwise be the case).