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Motivational interviewing (MI) is a method of treatment for different problem areas. It is helpful in increasing clients' motivation to change. Here we look at what it means and how motivational interviewing can help.

What is motivational interviewing?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a counseling method that can be used in the treatment of various conditions. It is a client-centered, direct approach to enhancing intrinsic motivation and commitment to change by exploring and resolving ambivalence about changes and decisions. It is often part of a treatment plan for various problems and lifestyle changes.

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational Interviewing is a therapeutic technique that focuses on increasing individuals’ intrinsic motivation and commitment to change where the therapist works empathetically and respectfully to understand the client’s perspective. The therapist encourages the client to explore and manage ambivalence as a normal part of the change process while reinforcing the client’s sense of self-determination. Read more about MI below.

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Through a directive style, the therapist helps the client to explore and resolve inner decision-making anxiety without imposing the therapist’s own views or solutions, focusing on active listening and reflection as well as encouragement. Therapists aim to provide a direction for change for the patient during MI therapy.

It encourages a language of positivity where the client expresses openness to change, making motivational interviewing a flexible and adaptable method useful in various fields such as substance abuse and addiction treatment and for other behavioral changes such as health-related lifestyle changes.

What can Motivational Interviewing help with?

Motivational Interviewing is a common method in the treatment of addictions, especially alcohol, drugs and tobacco. It can also be helpful in promoting health behaviors such as weight loss and increased physical activity. It is also used to support medical adherence for chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

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Motivational Interviewing can also be helpful in treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. It can improve communication skills and the management of relationship problems. It can help young people discuss risk behaviors and lifestyle choices and supports individuals in career and education-related decisions and changes. It is thus flexible and adaptable to a range of problem areas.

At Lavendla, we have therapists and psychologists with experience in motivational interviewing. Feel free to book a first session with one of our staff today.

Pros and cons of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is client-centered and effective in addressing ambivalence about change, flexible for different behavioral changes and usually short-term, which is cost-effective. The method strengthens the client’s belief in their own abilities while building a strong therapeutic relationship, but it may be less effective for people who lack motivation or are not ready for change.

It requires the skill and experience of the therapist which can be challenging, it is not always sufficient for severe mental health conditions and may require combining MI with other treatment methods. A thorough assessment is always needed before starting treatment to see which intervention might be most helpful.

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Motivational Interviewing for addiction

Motivational interviewing is effective in treating addiction as it helps individuals deal with ambivalence about changing their behavior, strengthens their intrinsic motivation, improves self-confidence, supports the development of personal change plans and reduces the risk of relapse. It is often used as a complement to other forms of treatment such as behavioral therapy and is particularly useful in early stages of addiction treatment where individuals may be unsure about making a change. Its non-confrontational and supportive nature makes it an attractive method for many people struggling with substance abuse problems and it is therefore often used in addiction treatment.

Motivational Interviewing for ADHD and autism

Motivational interviewing can be useful for people with ADHD and autism by improving initiative and managing procrastination and distraction in ADHD, and supporting the development of social and communication skills in autism. The approach also helps with understanding and managing behaviors and enhancing self-awareness and confidence for both conditions, but the approach may need to be adapted for effective use and is often most beneficial when combined with other treatment strategies such as behavioral therapy and/or medication.

11 frequently asked questions and answers about Motivational Interviewing

What is motivational interviewing?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a counseling method that can be used in the treatment of various conditions to increase motivation for change.

How does Motivational Interviewing work?

The therapist encourages the client to explore and manage ambivalence as a normal part of the change process while reinforcing the client’s sense of empowerment.

What can be treated with motivational interviewing?

Motivational interviewing is a flexible and adaptable method useful in various fields such as substance abuse and addiction treatment and for other behavioral changes such as health-related lifestyle changes.

How long does Motivational Interviewing take?

Treatment time depends on the problem and the individual’s needs, ranging from a few sessions to a longer treatment.

What methods and techniques are used in motivational interviewing?

Motivational Interviewing focuses on active listening and reflection and encouraging change on the client’s own terms.

What is the basis of motivational interviewing?

The basis of Motivational Interviewing is to increase an individual’s motivation to change through an empathic, non-confrontational and client-centered communication style.

Can Motivational Interviewing be done online?

It is possible to receive treatment digitally via video. Please book a first appointment with one of our therapists.

Are there any disadvantages to Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational Interviewing can work as a support in a change process but there may be other methods that are more effective for specific conditions.

I have difficulty making a decision, can Motivational Interviewing help?

Motivational Interviewing is specifically designed to support different types of change and help people in different life situations. So it can be helpful.

What is a Motivational Interviewing therapist?

A Motivational Interviewing therapist is a person who is further trained in the method and uses it in therapy.

Where can I go if I need help?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists who work with motivational interviewing and can help you feel better.

What does a motivational interviewing treatment involve?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) therapy involves a communication style and process designed to strengthen a person’s own motivation and commitment to change. Here is an overview of what a typical motivational interviewing session might look like:

  1. Create an open atmosphere: Treatment begins with the therapist creating a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere where the client feels comfortable exploring their thoughts and feelings.
  2. Developing rapport: The therapist aims to build a good relationship with the client based on respect, understanding and empathy where the client can share.
  3. Active listening: An important part of motivational interviewing is active listening. The therapist listens carefully to the client’s expression and reflects back what is said to deepen understanding.
  4. Exploring ambivalence: Many clients have mixed feelings about change. The therapist helps the client to explore this ambivalence without pushing or arguing for a specific change.
  5. Identifying and strengthening motivation for change: Through the conversation, the therapist helps the client to identify their own reasons and motivation for change. This may include exploring personal values, goals and desires.
  6. Promoting change language: The therapist pays attention to and reinforces the client’s expression of desire, ability, reasons and need for change, which is called ‘change language’.
  7. Planning for change: When the client is ready, the therapist helps them develop a concrete plan to implement the changes they want to make. This may include setting goals, identifying strategies, and planning for possible obstacles.
  8. Supporting continued change: The therapist encourages the client’s belief in their own ability to make changes and helps them deal with any obstacles and setbacks.

This process is flexible and can be adapted to the individual’s unique needs and circumstances. The goal is to help the person find and strengthen their own motivation for change.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.