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Motivational interviewing (MI) refers to a counseling approach in part developed by clinical psychologists Professor William R Miller, Ph.D. and Professor Stephen Rollnick, Ph.D. The concept of motivational interviewing evolved from experience in the treatment of problem drinkers, and was first described by Miller (1983) in an article published in Behavioural Psychotherapy. These fundamental concepts and approaches were later elaborated by Miller and Rollnick (1991) in a more detailed description of clinical procedures. Motivational Interviewing is a method that works on facilitating and engaging intrinsic motivation within the client in order to change behavior. MI is a goal-oriented, client-centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence. Compared with non-directive counseling, it's more focused and goal-directed. It departs from traditional Rogerian client-centered therapy through this use of direction, in which therapists attempt to influence clients to consider making changes, rather than non-directively explore themselves. The examination and resolution of ambivalence is a central purpose, and the counselor is intentionally directive in pursuing this goal.
MI recognizes and accepts the fact that clients who need to make changes in their lives approach counseling at different levels of readiness to change their behavior. During counseling, some patients may have thought about it but not taken steps to change it while some may be actively trying to change their behavior and may have been doing so unsuccessfully for years. In order for a therapist to be successful at motivational interviewing, four basic interaction skills should first be established. These skills include: the ability to ask open ended questions, the ability to provide affirmations, the capacity for reflective listening, and the ability to periodically provide summary statements to the client. These skills are used strategically, while focusing on a variety of topics like looking back, a typical day, the importance of change, looking forward, confidence about change, and so on.
Motivational interviewing is non-judgmental, non-confrontational and non-adversarial. The approach attempts to increase the client's awareness of the potential problems caused, consequences experienced, and risks faced as a result of the behavior in question. Alternately, therapists help clients envision a better future, and become increasingly motivated to achieve it. Either way, the strategy seeks to help clients think differently about their behavior and ultimately to consider what might be gained through change. Motivational interviewing focuses on the present, and entails working with a client to access motivation to change a particular behavior, that is not consistent with a client's personal value or goal. Warmth, genuine empathy, and acceptance are necessary to foster therapeutic gain (Rogers, 1961) within motivational interviewing. Another central concept is that ambivalence about decisions is resolved by conscious or unconscious weighing of pros and cons of change vs. not changing (Ajzen, 1980).
The main goals of motivational interviewing are to engage clients, elicit change talk, and evoke motivation to make positive changes from the client. For example, change talk can be elicited by asking the client questions, such as "How might you like things to be different?" or "How does ______ interfere with things that you would like to do?" Change may occur quickly or may take considerable time, and the pace of change will vary from client to client. Knowledge alone is usually not sufficient to motivate change within a client, and challenges in maintaining change should be thought of as the rule, not the exception. Ultimately, practitioners must recognize that motivational interviewing involves collaboration not confrontation, evocation not education, autonomy rather than authority, and exploration instead of explanation. Effective processes for positive change focus on goals that are small, important to the client, specific, realistic, and oriented in the present and/or future.
While there are as many variations in technique as there are clinical encounters, the spirit of the method, however, is more enduring and can be characterized in a few key points:
MI uses four general processes to achieve its ends:
It is a time-limited four-session adaptation used in Project MATCH, a US-government-funded study of treatment for alcohol problems and the Drinkers' Check-up, which provides normative-based feedback and explores client motivation to change in light of the feedback.
Motivational interviewing is supported by over 200 randomized clinical control trials  across a range of target populations and behaviors including substance abuse, health-promotion behaviors, medical adherence, and mental health issues.
MI groups are highly interactive, focused on positive change, and harness group processes for evoking and supporting positive change. They are delivered in four phases:
Many studies using MI have specific inclusion/exclusion criteria. For example, Project MATCH excluded those who were homeless and involved in the criminal justice system. A randomized trial in drug abuse services conducted by Miller and Rollnick (2002) provided Motivational Interviewing sessions to patients in order to elicit behavior change by exploring and resolving ambivalence. They enrolled 152 outpatient and 56 inpatient clients who were entering a public agency for drug problems. The researchers reported and excluded clients if they reported insufficient residential stability.
This is not an attempt to take away from the credibility of Motivational Interviewing or any Motivational Interviewing research. It seems to work very well with specific groups in specific environments. Future interventions must include every client entering the facility under study (within the parameters of informed consent) or they will not represent real world clinical activities (Patterson, 2008 & 2009).
Examples of fields in which motivational interviewing is being applied include:
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