Motivational Interviewing: Counseling That Motivates Change

Treating mental health problems is rarely straightforward. Moreover, there are times when therapists and psychologists treat patients by coming alongside and helping them help themselves. Such is the case with motivational interviewing (MI). MI is a form of counseling therapy that motivates patients to change their thoughts and behaviors.

MI is also a collaborative means of counseling. This is to say that therapists and patients work together to figure out exactly what is going on. Once they know that, they collaborate on solutions that ultimately lead to new behaviors and thoughts.

Not Like Setting a Bone

Mental health issues are, by their nature, difficult to pinpoint. Treating a mental health issue is not nearly as straightforward as setting a broken bone. If a child falls and breaks an arm, an x-ray will reveal exactly what happened. A skilled pediatrician can set the bone, apply a cast, and let nature do the rest. That is not the way it works in mental health.

A child demonstrating behavioral issues can be a source of frustration for parents and teachers. Taking the child to see a clinician might be the most appropriate course of action, but the clinician may not be able to diagnose the issue right away. It could take several sessions to reveal what’s going on with the child.

Once a diagnosis is made, multiple follow up sessions could be necessary to fully overcome the issue. Some kids can overcome what’s troubling them in a few short weeks. Others might need months or years.

Treating Patients With MI

Both children and adults can be effectively treated with MI. For starters, MI is a patient-centered therapy that focuses on the individual’s thoughts, perspectives, values, etc. It is designed to be non-judgmental as well. MI should be practiced with empathy and the understanding that each patient has within himself the capacity for change.

MI relies on three key strategies:

  1. Intentional Conversations – Clinicians utilize intentional conversations designed to help patients discover both their thoughts and reasons for changing. Conversations tend to utilize open-ended questions and reflections to draw out the patient’s deepest thoughts.
  1. Challenging Ambivalence – A patient’s ambivalence about change is challenged with MI. The advantages and disadvantages of change are explored, with the end goal being that the patient chooses to change on her own.
  1. Patient Empowerment – In an MI scenario, the clinician does not dispense advice or give instructions. Rather, he or she empowers the patient to explore those strengths, values, and motivations for taking action.

A good way to encapsulate MI is to say that it empowers a person to not only figure out why changing behaviors is good, but also how to actually do so to maximum advantage. Its strength is in demonstrating to patients that they have the capacity to change within themselves.

Useful in Many Areas

Studies have shown that MI can be useful in many areas of mental health. It is often utilized to address substance abuse and the negative behaviors that typically come with chronic illness. But in virtually any situation in which therapists and patients are seeking a definitive change in behavior, MI is on the table. When it works, it results in life-long changes rather than short-term fixes that eventually come undone.
We believe in solution-focused care at Aspire Psychological. When the best way to provide that care includes MI, we do everything we can to collaborate with patience to achieve a better future. If we can help you or your children, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We offer three office locations as well as online therapies.

Dr. Aryeh Berlin is a New Jersey licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Aspire Psychological Group. Dr. Berlin has vast clinical training experiences including a residential adolescent addiction treatment center in Israel, community mental health centers, and youth detention centers. Dr. Berlin has lectured on parenting children with emotional and behavioral difficulties, child development, helping children with school-related challenges and trauma. Audiences included attorneys, mental health professionals, parents, and educators.

Motivational Interviewing: Counseling That Motivates Change