What Is Motivational Interviewing?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2019
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Motivational interviewing is an approach to counseling where the therapist and client collaborate, and the therapist provides encouragement for the client to establish self-sufficiency and autonomy. This approach is widely applied in addiction counseling, but it can be useful for the treatment of other issues as well. Patients with an interest in motivational interviewing as a therapy approach can search for practitioners by consulting professional organizations, asking for referrals, and checking listings in their areas.

This model of therapy is an example of an approach centered on the client. The therapist is not judgmental or confrontational in the session and works with the client, not against him. In a motivational interviewing session, the therapist talks with the subject and encourages her to come to her own realizations about the issue bringing her to therapy. Rather than proposing ideas, the therapist wants the client to come up with concepts independently.

In addiction treatment, for example, rather than confronting the client to discuss the addiction, the therapist will talk with the client about his drug use, life, and emotional state. Eventually, the client may start talking about addiction, creating an opening for a conversation about whether he wants treatment, and what kinds of options are available that he might find helpful. This can increase the chances of success as the client must actively opt for treatment, rather than being compelled into it.


Motivational interviewing sessions require rapport between patient and therapist, especially if counseling is mandated by a court or treatment program. This technique can be effective with resistant patients as long as the therapist is patient and can find a way to reach the client. Patients accustomed to adversarial therapist relationships may become more comfortable in a setting where they control the conversation and play an active role in therapy. For treatment-resistant patients who do not do well with other kinds of therapy, motivational interviewing may be a good option.

Training in this technique is available from a number of institutions that train counselors and therapists. Practitioners will have an opportunity for clinical practice with supervision. In these sessions, they apply motivational interviewing while an experienced therapist watches and provides guidance. Over time, the trainee will become more independent, until she is able to conduct sessions on her own and can apply for certification to become a licensed therapist. Many therapists belong to professional organizations to access networking opportunities and facilitate professional development.


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