Do you feel unsure about engaging in any process that would ask you to change? Do you struggle with anger or hostility? If you answered yes to either of these questions, motivational interviewing may be a way to begin addressing what’s not working in your life.
Motivational interviewing is a supportive therapeutic approach that centers your experience in an effort to inspire positive behavioral change. As a therapeutic approach, it continues to evolve and is also used in many nonclinical settings, like prisons and schools.
Motivational interviewers don’t teach specific techniques. Rather, they listen carefully and seek to understand your experience. They especially listen for moments when you express uncertainty about your decisions, so that they can help you to explore and resolve that doubt. Motivational interviewers also aim to build your desire and confidence to change aspects of your life that conflict with your values and goals.
If you participate in this type of therapy, you can expect your motivational interviewer to ask you open-ended questions that invite you to tell your story in your own words. Instead of asking, “Do you want things to be different?” for example, a motivational interviewer might ask you, “How would you like things to be different?”
A motivational interviewer also looks for your strengths and positive behaviors, and affirms them. For instance, they may highlight the resources you used to tackle a challenging situation, emphasizing, “You managed that situation really well.”
Reflective listening is another key component of motivational interviewing that involves the interviewer listening carefully to what you have to say, with interest and respect for your inner wisdom.
Such listening might include the interviewer repeating, paraphrasing or summarizing what they heard you say to check for understanding.
The deepest kind of listening involves the interviewer highlighting the emotional aspects of your communication, by replying with reflections such as, “So you feel–”
When motivational interviewing is effective, your motivation to change increases, and you make a commitment to change. Concrete steps toward the change goal might involve additional kinds of treatment, like attending a support group.
Because motivational interviewing has existed for 30 years, a lot of research exists on it. More recent overviews of the research on motivational interviewing show that it may help with:
Because a lack of motivation to quit using substances is a major barrier to change for people struggling with addiction, motivational interviewing is frequently used to treat substance use disorders.
The motivational interviewing process acknowledges that different people have different levels of readiness to change their behaviors. Rather than pressuring you to stop using, motivational interviewers help you become ready to change. This readiness may come from gently addressing your fears, such as what life will be like if you stop using.
Your therapist acts as a partner in motivational interviewing, not an expert. In other words, they’re there to guide you in figuring out what matters most to you and how you can live according to your chosen values.
Clients who struggle with both substance use and additional mental health issues, like depression, may need more in-depth counseling than the short-term motivational interviewing model provides.
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