Recently, someone asked me what I like most about Motivational Interviewing (MI). It’s a great question, since there are so many things I love about MI! If you’re a helping professional wondering if you might like to learn about Motivational Interviewing, or if it’s worth your time to improve your strategies for motivating others, today I’d like to share my list of my top 5 favorite things about MI. Hopefully a reason or two will get you thinking about using MI in your work!
1. It’s structured…
When I first started learning MI, my favorite aspect was the structured nature of MI. There are “rules” to follow and things to say when you might otherwise not know what to say to a client. MI is not “directive” (telling someone what to do), but MI does have a direction. Because MI teaches us how to be mindful of the purpose and direction of the conversation, I find I am more focused and therefore more productive in conversations with clients, and I’m not as distracted by the red herrings that clients may use to throw off the scent on their trail toward positive behavior change. The path to change is clear in MI!
2. …But not too structured.
While there is a structure for the conversation, and a clear goal in mind, MI is also about learning a way of being with clients. Yes, there are behaviors that are consistent with MI (we call these “MI-Adherent”), yet, there is a lot of flexibility to accommodate a variety of styles within an MI conversation. Further, practitioners can choose “step in and out of” MI as needed, depending on their work. (for example, by using what some may call the “MI sandwich”).
Further, practitioners have an opportunity to have fun with metaphors in the conversation, while being curious about the client’s needs and perspective. By the way, using creative metaphors is another one of my favorite parts of MI!
3. MI Embraces Client Autonomy
Often teachers and helping professionals have a big concern about those they serve: “They just won’t take responsibility!” We are always working to help those we serve lead better and more fulfilling lives; part of that is working with what is within our control. Supporting autonomy deliberately, like we do in MI, encourages clients to take ownership, and reminds them that there are parts of their lives that are within their control.
Using statements like, “this is really up to you,” and, “you’re the only person who knows what will work best” will earn you extra bonus points in MI because you are freeing the client to choose a positive behavior change. In the end, when we encourage client freedom, we also free ourselves; we as practitioners don’t need to feel “tied” to the outcome. We want what is best for the client, but it’s okay if he chooses not to change (yet!) when we know we’ve done our best to help him.
4. MI Embraces Client Strengths
If you love the power of a strengths-based approach, MI may be for you! In MI, affirmations are a foundational skill, ideally sprinkled throughout all conversations. Different than cheerleading, a true affirmation recognizes a character strength that is meaningful to the client. MI also includes specific techniques to learn about or review a client’s past success as he works toward making a future positive behavior change. Again, these structured, change-seeking techniques help me when I am “stuck” in a sustain-talk conversation with a client.
And the 5th reason to try MI?…
5. MI really works!
You’ve heard some of my stories about how I’ve used MI to help my students and clients move toward positive behavior change. With over 1000 published controlled clinical trials to date, we know that MI leads to positive results in most contexts. MI also crosses cultures well, as it is being taught in 54 different languages currently. Looking for more information on the effectiveness of MI? You can find the latest research on MI here. There is also a cool-looking infographic you can find here, with a bit of MI research and notes about the process of learning Motivational Interviewing. Overall, the research shows us that MI is effective, and the skills of MI (such as accurate empathy) can help across a variety of areas. Yes, MI is an evidence-based practice!
I wonder, what are your favorite things about MI?
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