Motivational Interviewing


What is Motivational Interviewing?

Stephen Rollnick, Ph.D., & William R. Miller, Ph.D.

Reprinted with permission from Rollnick S., & Miller, W.R. (1995). What is motivational interviewing? Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23, 325-334.


Our best current definition is this: Motivational interviewing is a directive, client-centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence. Compared with non-directive counseling, it is more focused and goal-directed. The examination and resolution of ambivalence is its central purpose, and the counselor is intentionally directive in pursuing this goal.

The spirit of motivational interviewing

We believe it is vital to distinguish between the spirit of motivational interviewing and techniques that we have recommended to manifest that spirit. Clinicians and trainers who become too focused on matters of technique can lose sight of the spirit and style that are central to the approach. There are as many variations in technique there are clinical encounters. The spirit of the method, however, is move enduring and can be characterized in a few key points.

1. Motivation to change is elicited from the client, and not imposed from without. Other motivational approaches have emphasized coercion, persuasion, constructive confrontation, and the use of external contingencies (e.g., the threatened loss of job or family). Such strategies may have their place in evoking change, but they are quite different in spirit from motivational interviewing which relies upon identifying and mobilizing the client's intrinsic values and goals to stimulate behaviour change.

2. It is the client's task, not the counsellor's, to articulate and resolve his or her ambivalence. Ambivalence takes the form of a conflict between two courses of action (e.g., indulgence versus restraint), each of which has perceived benefits and costs associated with it. Many clients have never had the opportunity of expressing the often confusing, contradictory and uniquely personal elements of this conflict, for example, "If I stop smoking I will feel better about myself, but I may also put on weight, which will make me feel unhappy and unattractive." The counsellor's task is to facilitate expression of both sides of the ambivalence impasse, and guide the client toward an acceptable resolution that triggers change.

3. Direct persuasion is not an effective method for resolving ambivalence. It is tempting to try to be "helpful" by persuading the client of the urgency of the problem about the benefits of change. It is fairly clear, however, that these tactics generally increase client resistance and diminish the probability of change (Miller, Benefield and Tonigan, 1993, Miller and Rollnick, 1991).

4. The counselling style is generally a quiet and eliciting one. Direct persuasion, aggressive confrontation, and argumentation are the conceptual opposite of motivational interviewing and are explicitly proscribed in this approach. To a counsellor accustomed to confronting and giving advice, motivational interviewing can appear to be a hopelessly slow and passive process. The proof is in the outcome. More aggressive strategies, sometimes guided by a desire to "confront client denial," easily slip into pushing clients to make changes for which they are not ready.

5. The counsellor is directive in helping the client to examine and resolve ambivalence. Motivational interviewing involves no training of clients in behavioural coping skills, although the two approaches not incompatible. The operational assumption in motivational interviewing is that ambivalence or lack of resolve is the principal obstacle to be overcome in triggering change. Once that has been accomplished, there may or may not be a need for further intervention such as skill training. The specific strategies of motivational interviewing are designed to elicit, clarify, and resolve ambivalence in a client-centred and respectful counselling atmosphere


6. Readiness to change is not a client trait, but a fluctuating product of interpersonal interaction. The therapist is therefore highly attentive and responsive to the client's motivational signs. Resistance and "denial" are seen not as client traits, but as feedback regarding therapist behaviour. Client resistance is often a signal that the counsellor is assuming greater readiness to change than is the case, and it is a cue that the therapist needs to modify motivational strategies.

7. The therapeutic relationship is more like a partnership or companionship than expert/recipient roles. The therapist respects the client's autonomy and freedom of choice (and consequences) regarding his or her own behaviour.

Viewed in this way, it is inappropriate to think of motivational interviewing as a technique or set of techniques that are applied to or (worse) "used on" people. Rather, it is an interpersonal style, not at all restricted to formal counselling settings. It is a subtle balance of directive and client-centred components shaped by a guiding philosophy and understanding of what triggers change. If it becomes a trick or a manipulative technique, its essence has been lost (Miller, 1994).

There are, nevertheless, specific and trainable therapist behaviours that are characteristic of a motivational interviewing style. Foremost among these are:

· Seeking to understand the person's frame of reference, particularly via reflective listening

· Expressing acceptance and affirmation

· Eliciting and selectively reinforcing the client's own self motivational statements expressions of problem recognition, concern, desire and intention to change, and ability to change

· Monitoring the client's degree of readiness to change, and ensuring that resistance is not generated by jumping ahead of the client.

· Affirming the client's freedom of choice and self-direction

The point is that it is the spirit of motivational interviewing that gives rise to these and other specific strategies, and informs their use. A more complete description of the clinical style has been provided by Miller and Rollnick (1991).

Learning to Learn

Research by Miller& Rollnick and others support training this method in a Learning to Learn model. This can be done by adding consultation as a follow-up to all scheduled trainings

General Objectives of an MI Training

Participants will learn the definition and theoretical Framework for Motivational Interviewing

Participants will identify the four components of MI Spirit: Express Empathy, Roll with resistance, Develop Discrepancy, Support Self Efficacy

Participants will discuss ethical considerations of motivational interviewing

Participants will learn and practice in role play early strategies of Motivational Interviewing

Participants will learn to identify resistance within the client counselor interaction

Participants will practice methods of dealing with resistant clients

Participants will learn self evaluation and methods for further study


Flip Chart, DVD, LCD Handouts


We determine the cost of our training based on the context of the training which includes the type of group to be trained, the work they do, the application with which they will be using Motivational Interviewing, the size and diversity of the group and the overall goal an commitment of the group to learning to learn Motivational Interviewing. We welcome collaborating with you about these variables to determine the cost of your training.

Optimum Training Model: 2-3 six hour days with group or individual follow-up consultation of 4-6 sessions.

CEU’s provided by sponsoring agency

Handouts provided by sponsoring agency

Per Diem with travel negotiable depending on location

Additional follow-up consultation (see attachment)


Annie Fahy LMSW, RN has completed Training of Trainer with Miller& Rollnick, and Motivational Interviewing for Supervisors with Miller & Moyers. She is active in the MINT trainer network. (References available upon request)

Larry Walton LCSW has completed Training of Trainer with Miller& Rollnick, and Motivational Interviewing for Supervisors with Miller & Moyers. He is active in the MINT trainer network. (References available upon request)