What is Motivational Interviewing?
Motivational Interviewing is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals clarify their goals and make concrete behavioral changes.
These behaviors vary widely, but they often include drug use, health-related behaviors, and addictive behaviors. Its goals are to support individuals in working through conflicting feelings, evaluating their options for action, and finding motivation to make desired change. Though Motivational Interviewing can be more directive than some forms of therapy, the therapist doesn’t tell you what changes you should make; rather, they support you in sorting through your thoughts and feelings as you decide what you genuinely want to change.
Motivational Interviewing is often quite brief, with treatment sometimes lasting as few as one or two sessions. That said, it can also be used as an addition to or a component of longer-term treatment models.
How Motivational Interviewing works
Motivational Interviewing relies on the partnership between an empathetic, supportive therapist and an individual who is contemplating some kind of behavioral change. The philosophy behind it is often described as person-centered or humanistic, which in this case means that Motivational Interviewing assumes that the individual can and should be the one who decides to make change.
According to this philosophy, the therapist is there to listen empathetically to your concerns and reasons for wanting change, notice and point out your existing motivation for change, and aid you in the process of committing to making change. You may or may not commit to making change, but in Motivational Interviewing, the choice belongs to you, and your therapist’s role is to support you in that choice.
What happens in a typical Motivational Interviewing session
Motivational Interviewing may a lot like other forms of talk therapy, but one of its main differences is that it focuses on a specific area of change that you’re interested in working on.
You may identify this area of change ahead of time, and your first session will likely start with your therapist asking you a series of questions about this area of change and your related thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If, for example, you’re contemplating quitting smoking, your therapist might ask about your history of smoking, how you feel about smoking, and what makes you wonder if you might want to quit.
From that point, you’ll continue to discuss the factors affecting your decision, with your therapist prompting you as needed to get a complete picture of the change you’re considering and the reasons you might choose different courses of action. Often, you’ll be asked to outline different decisions you might make and describe the pros and cons of each, along with your feelings about them. Your therapist might also offer you information about the situation you’re contemplating or ask clarifying questions to help you understand your options more clearly.
Depending on the course of your treatment, you may come to a decision within a session or two. Your therapist may also work with you on your plan for committing to any change you’ve chosen, and voicing your commitment aloud can be an important component of treatment.
What Motivational Interviewing can help with
Motivational Interviewing can help with challenges including, but not limited to:
Motivational Interviewing was designed for people struggling with drug or alcohol use, and it is also used to treat other addictions including gambling, sex, and shopping.
It is also a common treatment in medical settings, sometimes as a way to help individuals commit to behavioral changes that are necessary for medical reasons (such as taking medication regularly or making dietary changes). More recently, it has become a treatment option for conditions like anxiety and depression as well.
Generally speaking, anyone who is considering making a substantial behavioral change might benefit from Motivational Interviewing.
Effectiveness of Motivational Interviewing
Research has found that Motivational Interviewing can be an effective short-term treatment for a variety of behavioral health issues.
One review of a wide range of Motivational Interviewing studies found that although the degree of effectiveness varied depending on who was receiving treatment and what the target problems were, the treatment nonetheless had positive outcomes for many participants. 
Another study found that Motivational Interviewing can also help improve health-related behaviors in medical settings and is associated with better communication between patients and doctors. 
What to look for in a Motivational Interviewing therapist
Motivational Interviewing can be provided by a wide range of practitioners, including social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists. There is no specific credential that all Motivational Interviewing therapists have, but you’ll want to make sure that your therapist has an up-to-date license, as well as experience or advanced training in using Motivational Interviewing.
You might ask potential therapists how long they’ve been practicing Motivational Interviewing, what kind of training they’ve received in this modality, and whether they have experience using it with individuals who are targeting the same kind of behavioral change that you’re interested in working on.
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