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, peers–that 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.
Understanding motivational interviewing
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, it’s a time when each individual learns about the other, through a partnership where everyone works toward a better version of themselves. Rather than positioning the client as somehow beneath the counselor, motivational interviewing really emphasizes 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 a motivational interviewing session. Any therapist will first and foremost look to help you involved feel comfortable. Clear, honest communication can only take place if the session is hosted in a non-judgmental, supportive environment.
Here are three other pillars of most motivational interviewing sessions:
1. A session defined by empathy
An empathetic therapist can make all the difference. Empathy 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 promotes open discussion. As a client, you should feel comfortable bringing absolutely everything to the table. Therapists are used to dealing with feedback, and with resistance. Motivational interviewing allows you the space to talk freely and openly about your life, without restriction.
You can expect your therapist to 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 counselor who does. In fact, motivational interviewing is built on that premise: you have the ability to foster and 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 life. Ultimately, 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 conversations with clients. OARS outlines the steps of motivational interviewing:
Open-ended questions – Questions with no immediate or factual answer 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 to allow the client to dive deeper into their own reasoning or perspective.
Affirmation – A recognition of the positive aspects of a client. More than a compliment, an affirmation means taking a moment to recognize a particular strength of yours or something you do well. As a client, enjoy the moments when you can pause and take affirmations to heart. Affirming your strengths helps to provide a balance between polished areas of your life and areas where the therapist finds opportunities for improvement. Affirmations also help you 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 you describe specific details of your 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 your own life.
Summary – A specific type of precise reflection, summary means essentially revisiting 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 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, summarizing allows you to benefit from conversation points without over-dwelling on them.
Achieving positive life change through a motivational interview
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, setting your goals or identifying with your therapist’s suggestions, motivational interviewing helps you take defined steps toward a better version of yourself.