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Motivational Interviewing and Why It's Important?

Learn more about the importance of Motivational Interviewing, a powerful and effective tool you can use to help people make lasting changes in their lives.

By Emma Hainsworth on Feb 29, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing is an evidence-based approach to helping people make changes in their lives. It's a collaborative conversation style where the therapist helps clients explore and resolve ambivalence by focusing on their own motivation to change.

In this guide, we'll explore the concept of Motivational Interviewing and its importance. We'll also discuss some of its fundamental principles and the Stage of Change Model, used to determine clients' readiness to make positive. We'll also look at some key benefits of using the MI approach.

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Making changes in one's life can be daunting, but it is also an enriching and liberating experience. Change can come in many forms, from drastic life transitions like moving to a new city or starting a new career to mundane everyday decisions such as taking up a new hobby or improving one's time management skills. 

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a powerful and effective tool for helping people make lasting changes. It's an approach that focuses on the client's own motivation to change rather than simply providing guidance and advice.

It uses different techniques to help clients explore their feelings and motivations around making changes. These Motivational Interviewing Techniques can include a range of methods, such as open-ended questions, summarizing statements, and eliciting change talk. 

MI was developed in the 1980s by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick as an evidence-based approach to assisting individuals with substance use issues. It has since been adapted in various settings, such as mental health counseling, parenting support, education, and employment.

Four Guiding Principles of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing is based on four core principles: resist the righting reflex, understand the client's motivation, listen with empathy, and empower the client (Hall, Gibbie & Lubman, f2012):

Resist the righting reflex

To "resist the righting reflex" means to refrain from immediately giving advice and instead delve into the client's emotions and motives for wanting to make changes.

Understand the patient’s own motivations

It is important to grasp your client’s unique motivations, values, goals, and beliefs to aid them in understanding why they desire transformation. By doing so, you can also help them accomplish their goals more quickly.

Listen with empathy

Listening with empathy involves hearing what the client is saying and trying to understand their perspective and emotions. It means paying attention to their tone of voice, body language, and other non-verbal cues to understand their feelings.

Empower the patient

Empowering your patient to take action and make choices can create meaningful and lasting change more effectively. This approach involves giving your client the information and support they need to make informed decisions about their health rather than imposing advice or direction.

In addition to these principles, MI uses questions to help clients explore their ambivalence and understand why they may resist making changes. These Motivational Interviewing Questions encourage reflection and introspection, which can help create a more straightforward pathway toward making changes.

When is Motivational Interviewing Used?

Motivational Interviewing is most often used to help individuals make changes in their lives. You can use this to:

Encourage clients to seek help and treatment

Motivational interviews can encourage people to seek help or treatment for mental health issues, substance use, and other difficulties. You can use them to explore the ambivalence around seeking help and provide support and guidance.

Assist clients in setting and achieving personal goals

You can use MI to help clients set personal goals and develop an action plan for achieving them. This could include anything from improving their self-esteem to developing better coping skills.

Help clients take control of their lives and reach their full potential

Motivational Interviewing is a highly effective tool for helping individuals take control of their lives and reach their full potential. It provides a safe and supportive environment where your client can explore their feelings and motivations, helping them make long-lasting changes.

The Stages of Change Model and Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing uses the Stages of Change Model to help clients progress through their journey of change. This model consists of six stages (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983):


In this stage, the client is unaware of the need for change. You can use Motivational Interviewing to help them explore their motivations and feelings around changing various aspects of their lives.


The client is aware of the need for change but has yet to be ready to take action. During this stage, you should continue to explore their motivations and feelings while helping them develop a plan of action.


The client is ready to take action and is making plans for how to do so. During this stage, you should provide support, guidance, and structure as the client implements their plan.


The client is actively making changes in their life and implementing their plans. You should continue to provide support and guidance and help them troubleshoot any barriers they may face.


The client has successfully made changes and is actively maintaining them. This is a time for celebrating successes and providing ongoing support as necessary.


In this stage, the client has returned to their old behaviors. You should use Motivational Interviewing once again to explore why this happened and help them re-engage with their action plan.

In addition to the Stage Change Model, another approach that you can use is the OARS Motivational Interviewing technique. These methods can assist clients in examining their emotions and incentives.

Benefits of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing has a lot of research backing its effectiveness in helping individuals make lasting changes. Here are some of the benefits of MI:

It increases motivation to change

According to a study by Hettema, Steele, and Miller (2005), Motivational Interviewing can help increase motivation for change in people dealing with alcohol and drug problems. This means that with the support of a motivational interviewer, individuals are more likely to feel motivated to make positive changes and stick to them.

The research highlights the importance of MI as a valuable tool to help people struggling with substance abuse overcome their challenges and progress toward recovery.

It improves treatment outcomes

In a study by Dunn, Deroo, and Rivara (2001), Motivational Interviewing was found to be more effective than usual care in improving treatment outcomes for patients with alcohol and drug problems. The patients who received MI showed significant improvements in reducing their substance abuse and were more likely to complete the treatment than those who received usual care.

It reduces resistance to change

According to a study by Lundahl and Burke (2009), Motivational Interviewing reduced resistance to change among patients with substance abuse problems.

The study discovered that MI was especially helpful in reducing resistance to change among patients who were initially against the treatment. This is important because resistance can make it difficult to achieve successful treatment outcomes.

It helps clients with high worry and severity

A study by Westra, Arkowitz, and Dozois (2009) found that Motivational Interviewing reduces anxiety symptoms among individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The study showed that patients who participated in Motivational Interviewing significantly reduced anxiety symptoms more than those who received cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

It also found that MI helps individuals identify and address the underlying psychological factors contributing to their anxiety and supports them in developing a personalized plan for behavior change.

Motivational Interviewing App – How Can Carepatron Help?

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With Carepatron, you have an all-in-one solution to manage appointments, take payments, and monitor progress. Our robust platform makes it simple to keep track of client information, scheduling, payment histories, and generate invoices. We also provide tools to help you maximize efficiencies, such as automated appointment reminders and a one-click patient check-in process.

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Motivational Interviewing Software


Dunn, C., Deroo, L., & Rivara, F. P. (2001). The use of brief interventions adapted from motivational interviewing across behavioral domains: A systematic review. Addiction, 96(12), 1725-1742. 

Hall, K., Gibbie, T., & Lubman, D. I. (2012). Motivational interviewing techniques - Facilitating behavior change in the general practice setting. Australian Family Physician, 41(9), 660-667. PMID: 22962639.

Hettema, J., Steele, J., & Miller, W. R. (2005). Motivational interviewing. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 91-111.

Lundahl, B., & Burke, B. L. (2009). The effectiveness and applicability of motivational interviewing: A practice-friendly review of four meta-analyses. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(11), 1232-1245.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.

Prochaska, J., & DiClemente, C. (1983). Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: toward an integrative model of change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51(3), 390–395.

Westra, H. A., Arkowitz, H., & Dozois, D. J. (2009). Adding a motivational interviewing pretreatment to cognitive behavioral therapy for generalized anxiety disorder: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23(8), 1106-1117.

Commonly asked questions

What is the primary goal of Motivational Interviewing?

The primary goal of Motivational Interviewing is to help individuals explore and resolve ambivalence about making changes in their lives.

Who created Motivational Interviewing?

William Miller and Stephen Rollnick developed Motivational Interviewing in the 1980s to help individuals with substance abuse problems. The technique has since been adapted in other areas, such as therapy and psychology.

Who uses Motivational Interviews?

Many healthcare professionals use Motivational Interviewing, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers.

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