What is Motivational Interviewing?

Pyramid Online Counseling      Education Center, Treatment & Therapy  
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in-person counseling session between male client and female counselor

Change in life is frequent. Whether we decide to change the television channel or our wardrobe, maintain healthier eating practices or pursue a healthier work/life balance, we change far more on a day-to-day basis than we typically realize.

There are so many external factors – media, family and peers, etc. – that together influence the changes we make. But ultimately, that desire to change, and to uphold our new practice once the change has taken place, must come from within us.

Motivational interviewing – communication between client and health expert, to strengthen the client’s motivation and foster a commitment to better practices – proves that change can start externally. In guiding an individual through concrete steps where they identify issues, outline a path toward change for the better and then go about realizing that path, motivational interviewing actually provides a roadmap for anyone struggling with recurring, negative behavioral habits.

The success of any motivational interviewing session hinges on the relationship between anyone involved. It’s not a class, or a teaching opportunity; rather, each individual learns about the other, through a partnership that sees everyone involved work toward a better version of themselves. Rather than position the client as somehow beneath the medical health professional, motivational interviewing really emphasizes a readiness for change, and the steps required to make those changes permanent.

What can I expect from a motivational interviewing session?

There are a few things you can expect from motivational interviewing, as a communicative form of treatment. Any therapist hosting a motivational interviewing session will first and foremost look to make anyone else involved feel comfortable. Clear, honest communication can only take place if the session is hosted in a non-judgmental, supportive environment.

Here are 3 other pillars of most motivational interviewing sessions:

1. A session defined by empathy

An empathetic therapist during a motivational interview can make all the difference. Empathy – being able to understand what others are feeling – is critical for a successful session, especially early on. Therapists will be able to see the world through their clients’ eyes, and to feel what they feel when they describe their experiences, good and bad. Clients during a motivational interviewing session need to feel like they are heard and understood, to provide the groundwork for a constructive discussion.

2. A venue for open discussion

A successful motivational interviewing session provides a venue for open discussion. As a client, you should feel comfortable bringing absolutely everything to the table. In addition, therapists are used to dealing with feedback, even with resistance. Motivational interviewing allows you the platform to talk freely and openly about your life, without restriction.

You can expect that your therapist or counselor, during regular conversation, will suggest best practices, alternative coping mechanisms, and alternative points of view to help you better pursue a healthy, happy life. Both ends of the conversation benefit from open discussion, which the motivational interview format always offers.

3. A conversation with someone who believes in you

Even if you don’t believe in your own capacity for change, know that you will be conversing with a therapist or a counselor who does. In fact, motivational interviewing is built on that premise: that you have the ability to foster and to maintain positive change in your own life. Especially if you have difficulty seeing that potential in yourself, your therapist will make a point of highlighting your capacity to positively control your own life. Through a conversational format, motivational interviewing helps you overcome self-doubt and reach a place where you can begin to take small, concrete steps toward the life you want to live.

What is communication like during motivational interviewing?

Therapists who regularly hold motivational interviewing sessions with clients follow a simple acronym – OARS – when it comes to leading thoughtful, comfortable, productive conversations with clients. OARS as an acronym outlines the type of interaction that defines motivational interviewing:

Open-ended questions – Questions with no immediate or factual answer. These questions are meant to promote discussion and prompt thought. There isn’t often an easy “yes” or “no” answer when it comes to open-ended questions; rather, they’re questions offered by the therapist or counselor that allow the client to dive deeper into their own reasoning or outlook.

Affirmation – A recognition of the positive aspects of a client. More than a compliment, an affirmation means taking a moment, as a therapist or a counselor, to recognize a particular strength of a client, or something that the client does well. As a client, enjoy the moments when you can pause and take affirmations to heart. Affirming a client’s strengths helps to provide a balance between polished areas of a client’s life and areas where the therapist finds opportunity for improvement. Affirmations also help the client see that opportunities for change aren’t as far off as self-doubt often makes them appear.

Reflection – The moments when a therapist or client takes the time to listen, rather than speak, to absorb the other’s words and thoughts. Reflection is what provides balance during the conversation format that motivational interfering follows, especially during those moments when a client is describing specific details of his or her life, or when the therapist in turn outlines positive life practices. Reflection doesn’t mean blindly following suggestions; rather, it means taking the time to really register the other’s words, and to put them to use toward the betterment of the conversation itself, and their own life.

Summary – A specific type of precise reflection, summary means essentially summarizing the high points of a specific motivational interviewing session. Before allowing the conversation to move toward another topic, or to focus on another specific area of interest, your therapist or counselor will often seek to summarize what has taken place in the conversation thus far. Whether it’s just a summary of your last few comments, or of their points regarding life improvement, summary allows you to benefit from conversation points without overly dwelling on them.

Achieving positive life change through the motivational interview format

A demonstrated benefit for clients who benefit from discussions, motivational interviewing helps to make the desk between therapist and client fade away. Therapy quickly becomes a conversation between one individual and another, where treatment, life, challenges, struggles and victories can all be discussed openly.

Through it all, the goal is change. Positive change comes from within, and when motivated by the right factors, will remain permanent after the change has been installed. Whether you’re answering an open-ended question, identifying your goals and aspirations or identifying with your therapist’s suggestions, motivational interviewing helps you take defined steps toward a better version of yourself.

Pyramid Online Counselors are here to help. Please contact us today to schedule your appointment.