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  • Motivational interviewing is a method counselors use to help their clients work through their feelings and find the motivation to make desired or necessary changes.
  • This technique is meant to take the pressure off and in turn make for a relaxed dynamic that makes the client feel more comfortable opening up about their problems.
  • There are several keys to employing motivational interviewing in therapy, one being open strategies: the therapist should create a safe environment and ask open questions that encourage the client to explore how they feel.
  • The counselor should also maintain a positive working alliance, one which allows the client to practice essential communication skills and allows for collaborative efforts between client and counselor.
  • Additionally, the counselor should assist their client in adopting more positive self-talk which will aid them in their journey toward great change.
  • Finally, in practicing motivational interviewing, the counselor should respect the client’s pace and encourage them to take time to reflect on what they’re feeling, what they’ve accomplished, and where they stand now.

Motivational interviewing is a counseling technique designed to help clients find their own way in resolving difficult feelings and changing harmful behaviors. This method is rooted in the notion that people excel more so when they figure something out themselves and aren’t told what to do.

How Do Therapists Employ Motivational Interviewing?

Now, how exactly do therapists master this in counseling? In summary, they encourage their clients to open up about what they want to change and why. And they continue to stimulate this conversation in a way that will motivate the client to act. Licensed Clinical Social Worker Karen Koenig, MEd, utilizes motivational interviewing in her practice and explains why it is so effective:

    “I practice a technique called motivational interviewing, which is based on the concept that clients do better when they figure out what to do as opposed to being told. When a client feels less pressured (by herself or her therapist), she has more of a chance of relaxing and wanting to talk about what’s on her mind.

    Built on collaboration and predicated upon curiosity, compassion, and acceptance, it employs open-ended questions about motivation, barriers to motivation, and the change process. It helps clients tap into their own desires, circumventing their fears. Clients feel challenges in a positive, non-threatening way, as if you’re on their side, helping them access what they already know.”

So, according to Koenig, motivational interviewing helps clients overcome their fears, focus on their goals, and confront challenges in an effective manner. And the therapist more or less holds their hand through it.

Motivational Interviewing Skills Checklist

A counselor who practices motivational interviewer assumes a client-centered approach to therapy. These counselors are often empathetic and supportive individuals, who are also great listeners. Furthermore, they meet the following criteria:

    1) Does the therapist use open strategies?
    In other words, the therapist should create a safe, comfortable environment for their client. They should also ask open questions, which encourage the client to share and explore how they’re feeling.

    2) Do they support and maintain a working alliance?
    Another important element to maintain is a strong working alliance—or what is often called the therapeutic relationship. A therapist can accomplish this by creating a judgment free-zone (that safe, comfortable environment mentioned above), encouraging the client to engage in effective communication skills, and prioritizing collaboration efforts.

    3) Do they teach self-talk strategies?
    The therapist should also teach their clients about self-talk and assist them in adopting more positive self-talk that will support their progress. When practicing this self-talk (as an aid of change) the client should talk about the problem at hand, recognize their need or desire to change, assert their ability to make the change, and then commit to taking the necessary steps toward change.

    4) Do they respect the client’s pace and encourage inner reflection?
    A significant part of the therapeutic process, which we haven’t yet touched on, is inner reflection. The client should take the necessary time to process their emotions and understand the progress that they’re making in therapy. And the counselor should encourage this process along, all whilst respecting the pace the client sets.

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is a staff writer at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

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