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Motivational Interviewing Techniques and Why They Are Helpful

Uncover the power of Motivational Interviewing Techniques to help your client reach their goals. Plus, get examples of techniques you can use in your sessions.

By Harriet Murray on Jun 16, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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Motivational Interviewing Techniques

Motivational Interviewing helps people become more self-aware and take action to reach their goals. It is based on the philosophy that behavior change is a process that involves both the client and the therapist. Motivational Interviewing Techniques are powerful tools for helping your clients reach their goals.

In this guide, we’ll unpack why Motivational Interviewing Techniques can be effective in your sessions and provide some helpful examples of techniques you can use.

What are Motivational Interviewing Techniques?

Motivational Interviewing Techniques are tools used to stimulate and support self-motivated change. They involve open-ended questions, reflective listening, summarizing, and affirming your client’s goals. They also focus on addressing ambivalence, exploring the pros and cons of making a change, and helping the client find intrinsic motivation.

MI techniques can help empower your client to become more self-aware and take action. These techniques can also create a non-judgmental and supportive environment, allowing clients to discuss any ambivalence about making a change and explore the pros and cons of their current situation.

Why are Motivational Interviewing Techniques Helpful?

Motivational Interviewing Techniques are helpful because they focus on the present and future rather than the past. This can help create a sense of hopefulness, which is essential for successful change. MI techniques are also handy because:

They help identify a client’s values, goals, and motivations

Using Motivational Interviewing Techniques, you can determine what is important to your client and how they plan to reach these goals. You can then set goals tailored to your client's needs and values.

They create a collaborative environment for you and your client

MI techniques create a safe environment for your client to talk openly about their feelings, thoughts, and ambivalence. This allows you to establish a trusting relationship, which can help them feel more comfortable and confident when discussing their goals and concerns.

They empower the client to take action

You can use MI techniques to help your client become more self-aware and take action. These can also help you provide encouragement and support, which can be invaluable in helping your client reach their goals.

They can help to reduce resistance and ambivalence

Motivational Interviewing Techniques can uncover any ambivalence the client may have about making a change. This can help them explore all their options and make informed decisions.

In addition to MI techniques, you can also use OARS Motivational Interviewing. OARS stands for Open-questioning, Affirming, Reflecting, and Summarizing. It focuses on developing a rapport with the client and exploring their goals.

The Stages of Change Model and Motivational Interviewing Techniques

The Stages of the Change Model and Motivational Interviewing Techniques are closely related. Motivational Interviewing was developed as a practical approach to helping individuals move through the different stages of change.

The six stages of change are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and relapse Model (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983):


During this stage, your patient may still need to recognize that they have a problem and is not considering a change. You can utilize rapport building and reflective listening as Motivational Interviewing Techniques to help them explore their ambivalence and potential concerns about change.


At this stage, your client should be aware of the problem and be considering making a change. To help them through the process, you can ask open-ended questions, provide information and feedback, and evoke self-motivational statements.


You can use goal exploration, strategies for change, and action development as MI techniques at this stage. Your client should also be ready to take action and make a plan for change at this point.


In this stage, your client should make changes and implement their plan. Some of the Motivational Interviewing Techniques you can utilize at this stage include providing support and encouragement, reinforcing positive changes, and helping clients cope with setbacks or relapses.


Suppose your patient has made significant progress and is working to sustain their changes over time. In that case, you can focus on relapse prevention, identifying and addressing ongoing challenges, and promoting long-term success.


If your client experiences setbacks or returns to their previous behaviors, you can use MI techniques to help them. These techniques may include exploring the reasons for the relapse, reaffirming your client's commitment to change, and working together to develop a plan to get back on track toward their goals.

Overall, MI techniques can be tailored to fit the unique needs and goals of clients at different stages of change and can help facilitate progress toward long-term success.

10 Motivational Interviewing Techniques Examples

At the core of MI are a few basic principles, including expressing empathy and developing discrepancy. Several specific techniques can help individuals make positive life changes from these core principles. Here are 10 examples of Motivational Interviewing Techniques:

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions encourage clients to elaborate on their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. For example, "Can you tell me more about what's been happening for you lately?"


These statements acknowledge your client's strengths, positive qualities, and efforts toward change. For example, "I really admire your commitment to making changes in your life."


Through this method, you are restating what your client has said to show that you are actively listening and to help the client feel heard and understood. For example, "So what I hear you say is that you're feeling really stuck right now."


This means bringing together the main points your client has shared to help them see the bigger picture and identify patterns or areas of focus. For example, "It sounds like you're feeling overwhelmed with work and family responsibilities, and you're struggling to find time for yourself."

Evocative questions

Evocative questions aim to elicit your client's own reasons for change rather than imposing your ideas or values. For example, "What do you think might be the benefits of making changes in this area?"

Eliciting change talk

In this technique, you actively listen for any statements made by your client that indicate a desire, ability, or commitment to change. For example, "It sounds like you're ready to take some steps towards making changes. What do you think those steps might look like?"

Developing discrepancy

This method aims to help your client see the discrepancy between their current behavior and their goals or values to motivate them to make changes. For example, "You've mentioned that you value being healthy, but your current behavior isn't aligned with that value. Can you tell me more about what's holding you back from making changes?"

Rolling with resistance

By “rolling with resistance,” you avoid arguments or confrontations with your client and, instead, seek to understand their perspective and find areas of agreement or common ground. For example, "I can understand why you might feel hesitant to make changes. Can you tell me more about your concerns?"

Providing information

It means giving your client accurate and relevant information about the risks, benefits, and options for change. For example, "Here are some resources and information that might be helpful as you consider your options for treatment."

Supporting self-efficacy

Using this approach, you are helping your client develop confidence in their ability to make and sustain changes by highlighting past successes, providing encouragement and positive feedback, and offering strategies for coping with setbacks. For example, "I believe in your ability to progress in this area, and I'm here to support you along the way."

Apart from these techniques, you can also use Motivational Interviewing Questions to help your clients reflect on their values and goals, which can often be the key to lasting behavior change.

Benefits of Motivational Interviewing Techniques

Using Motivational Interviewing Techniques can be an effective way to help individuals make positive changes in their lives. Here are some of its advantages:

It may lead to modest improvements in physical activity

A systematic review and meta-analysis found that MI techniques effectively promoted physical activity among adults (O'Halloran et al., 2014). 

The authors found that motivational interviewing could help increase physical activity levels in people with chronic health conditions, although the effect was small to moderate. The study also found that Motivational Interviewing was more effective when the sessions were delivered in person and included follow-up sessions. However, insufficient evidence suggests that motivational interviewing improved cardiorespiratory fitness or functional exercise capacity.

It helps promote healthy behaviors

Lundahl and colleagues (2013) reviewed 48 studies involving almost 10,000 participants to determine whether Motivational Interviewing Techniques are effective in promoting positive health behaviors.  

The study found that MI was successful in helping people make positive changes in various areas, such as reducing alcohol and tobacco use, promoting exercise and healthy eating habits, and increasing confidence in making positive changes. The authors recommended that healthcare professionals use MI techniques to help their patients make positive life changes.

It improves the patient’s self-care attitude

Motivational Interviewing Techniques can help people with chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma, and heart disease better care for themselves.  

A study by Elwyn et al. (2014) showed that MI effectively improved patients' self-care behaviors, leading to better health outcomes and lower healthcare costs. In simple terms, MI can help people with chronic conditions manage their illnesses better by asking them questions that motivate them to care for themselves.

Motivational Interviewing Technique App – How Can Carepatron Help?

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With Carepatron, you can easily search for the information you need fast. Our platform also keeps your patient data secure and helps you up to date with compliance regulations. What’s more, Carepatron lets you be even more connected with your patients through its messaging and communication features.

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Motivational Interviewing Software


Elwyn, G., Dehlendorf, C., Epstein, R. M., Marrin, K., White, J., & Frosch, D. L. (2014). Shared decision making and motivational interviewing: Achieving patient-centered care across the spectrum of health care problems. Annals of Family Medicine, 12(3), 270-275. doi: 10.1370/afm.1615

Lundahl, B., Moleni, T., Burke, B. L., Butters, R., Tollefson, D., Butler, C., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing in medical care settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Patient Education and Counseling, 93(2), 157-168. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2013.07.012

O'Halloran, P. D., Blackstock, F., Shields, N., Holland, A., Iles, R., Kingsley, M., Bernhardt, J., Lannin, N., Morris, M. E., & Taylor, N. F. (2014). Motivational interviewing to increase physical activity in people with chronic health conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Rehabilitation, 28(12), 1159-1171. 

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.

Commonly asked questions

How can a therapist apply Motivational Interviewing Techniques when treating families or children?

Motivational Interviewing Techniques can be used to help families and children make positive behavior changes. They are particularly helpful when the family or child needs to be motivated to change their behavior, such as when addressing substance use or unhealthy eating habits.

Are there any risks associated with Motivational Interviewing?

The main risk associated with Motivational Interviewing is that it can be used to manipulate or coerce people into making decisions they are not ready for. To ensure the safety of your clients, keep the conversation respectful and supportive.

Who typically uses Motivational Interviewing Techniques?

Motivational Interviewing Techniques are used by healthcare professionals, therapists, social workers, and counselors to help individuals make positive behavior changes.

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