What is motivational interviewing?

Motivational interviewing is an evidence-based communication approach. It is focused and goal orientated, with the helper/counsellor/clinician focusing on intentionally facilitating change by helping their client to explore and resolve their ambivalence (Rollnick & Miller, 1995).

Exploring the client’s ambivalence about making a change, is achieved by creating a discrepancy between the client’s current situation and the desired one. By creating a discrepancy, the client will come to see that what they’re currently doing will not lead them to a future goal, i.e. improved health and wellbeing. Creating this discomfort is the beginning of change…

A spirit of collaboration

The core spirit of motivational interviewing is one that is based on collaboration between the helper and their client. It is seen as a friendly partnership between equals, rather than an association with a superior and authoritarian figure as such.

As the partnership is a collaborative one, motivational interviewing supports the client’s own personal values and beliefs. It supports the client’s own ideas, concerns and expectations. It is driven by the client’s agenda and not by the helper/clinician’s check list.

As motivational interviewing is based on working together with your client towards positive change, one of the core skills is to listen reflectively.

What is reflective listening?

Reflective listening is listening with intent, by simply repeating the client’s key words or statements, or paraphrasing/rephrasing the client’s key points, by using your own words or similar words.

Reflective listening not only allows the helper/counsellor/clinician to recap and summarise the client’s message, but it also allows the helper to form a reasonable guess as to the unspoken meaning. Forming a reasonable guess and reflecting this back to the client can help the client move forward…

When you’re listening reflectively, you’re seeking to understand or clarify the client’s story and perspective. Done in a supportive and non-judgemental way, reflective listening can facilitate change by reducing the client’s resistance. Through reflective listening, an increase in change talk often occurs – that is, the client starts to mention their desire, ability, reason, and need to change, as well, as how committed they are to make the change.

Of course learning how to listen reflectively with ease and confidence takes time and practice. When practiced regularly with every client however, you also learn to listen with your eyes and heart – you’re listening with intent to understand the client’s situation and perspective. With this understanding, comes empathy – you start to see the world through the client’s eyes. You come to appreciate and acknowledge your client’s experience, view point and personal ambivalence without judgement, and without imposing your own thoughts and beliefs… With empathy comes acceptance. When there is acceptance, and the client feels heard and validated, they are more open to change.

Listening reflectively is a gift that we can offer our clients every day in consultation. This gift however, can also be offered when we’re interacting with our colleagues and our loved ones. When you “choose to offer the gift of a reflection… your present will most always be received with open arms” (Naar-King & Suarez, 2011)…

Want to learn more? Want to know how to use this highly effective approach with your clients and improve your knowledge, confidence and skills in motivational interviewing?

If you would like to learn more about listening reflectively, as well as how to engage and communicate with your clients that will motivate them for change, rather than against it, then sign up for our upcoming one day training on motivational interviewing.

Alternatively if you would like a session on motivational interviewing presented in your workplace, please contact us today.

Our training programs are ideal for professionals who would like to offer extended support (or brief intervention depending on time), and would like to increase their skills, knowledge and confidence in motivational interviewing to enable them to do this.

Applying the principles of motivational interviewing in every client consultation is possible and achievable. Let us show you how.

We hope you enjoyed this article and until next time wishing you all great health and wellbeing!

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Miller WR & Rollnick S (2002). Motivational interviewing: preparing people for change. 2nd ed. New York (NY): Guilford Press.

Miller WR & Rollnick S (1991). Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People to Change Addictive Behavior. New York (NY): Guilford Press.

Naar-King, S. & Suarez M (2011). Motivational interviewing with adolescents and young adults. New York: Guilford Press.

Rollnick S, Miller WR & Butler C (2008). Motivational interviewing in health care: helping patients change behavior. New York (NY): Guilford Press.

Rosengren DB (2009). Building Motivational Interviewing Skills: A Practitioner Workbook. New York (NY): Guilford Press.