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The Guide to Motivational Interviewing: Preparation and Steps

Motivational interviewing is a motivational technique that helps individuals to bring about motivational change. As the name suggests, it has been designed to help people move from a place of resistance and ambivalence into action – or at least closer to action.

Motivational interviewing can be very helpful for those who want to make changes in their lives but don’t know how or where to start. It can also be used by professionals working with clients who are resistant or ambivalent about making specific changes, such as changing jobs or ending an addiction. This article will discuss motivational interview preparation tips and strategies so you’re prepared for your next motivational interview!

A motivational interview is a type of conversation that has been designed to help people move from a place of resistance and ambivalence into action – or at least closer to action. It can be very helpful for those who want to make changes in their lives but don’t know how or where to start. This article will discuss motivational interview preparation tips and strategies so you’re prepared for your next motivational interview!

The Idea of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing was first developed by William R Miller and Stephen Rollnick as an alternative approach within the addiction field, particularly when working with problem drinkers (Miller & Rollnick 2002). They found that many clients were resistant or ambivalent about making specific changes such as changing jobs, ending an addiction, etc.

The motivational interview is based on the idea that individuals know what they need to do in order to change their behavior, but may not be able or ready yet to perform those behaviors. The goal of motivational interviewing is therefore twofold – helping clients develop insight into how and why changes might benefit them; and promoting readiness for change by increasing motivation (Wilson, et al., 2009). Motivational Interviewing has been found effective across a wide range of clinical populations including substance use disorders (Miller & Rollnick 2002), eating disorders (Robinson-O’Brien et al., 2008), and depression (McCown, Johnson & Strecher 2005). It can also be used successfully with groups such as heavy drinkers within Alcoholics Anonymous settings (Miller & Tonigan 1996).

Motivational interviewing is a motivational technique and therefore requires the interviewer to be fully present and in tune with their client’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It also involves promoting insight into how changes could benefit an individual (Wilson et al., 2009), which can prove difficult when working with clients who are resistant or ambivalent about making specific changes such as changing jobs or ending addictions. However, by using motivational interview preparation tips and strategies you will know what your focus should be during the conversation so it isn’t all on you! 

Stages of Motivational Interviewing

There are three steps of motivational interview:

  1. Assessing readiness for change.
  2. Exploring the pros and cons.
  3. Planning an action experiment.

Change

The first step of motivational interviewing always includes assessing readiness for change – this means exploring whether now is a good time for your client to make some positive improvements (e.g. attending motivational interviews). The client’s motivation to change is the driving force behind any successful motivational experience, so you need to create an environment where your client will be comfortable enough to open up about their concerns. This could also mean discussing how they see themselves at present and what positive changes might look like for them – this can often make a difficult conversation much easier. If it feels as though now isn’t quite ‘the right time’ then that should be respected – perhaps working towards taking action in the future if appropriate.

Pros and Cons

The second step of the motivational interview is exploring the pros and cons of changing – this means looking at both positive and negative aspects of change (e.g. motivational interviewing benefits vs costs). This is about helping your client weigh up whether the changes they want to make will be worth it for them, as well as encouraging self-reflection by asking reflective questions such as:

  • What would you like to see yourself doing differently?
  • How do those behaviors affect other people in your life?
  • What are your future goals?

Further Plan

The last step involves planning an action or behavioral experiment – this means setting goals with achievable steps that can help clients move closer towards their desired outcome (e.g. motivational interviewing strategies) It’s important not to push clients into taking specific actions but rather encourage them through open-ended questions such  as:

  • What do you think would be your next step?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • In what way might that help achieve the change in the future?

Considering Motivational Interview

Motivational interviewing has been found to be an effective and non-confronting motivational technique for many clinical populations, but it can also prove difficult to use with some individuals. As well as considering motivational interview preparation tips and strategies, we need to bear in mind each client’s unique circumstances before attempting a motivational approach. Some clients may benefit from additional therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), while others will respond better to techniques such as mindfulness or acceptance-based approaches. This is why there are so many different types of motivational interviewing techniques, so always ensure you have a backup plan in place!

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