What Exactly is Motivational Interviewing?

This guest article was graciously contributed by Hillary Bolter, LCSW, LCAS, owner and foundering of Bolter Counseling & Consulting. In her private counseling practice, Hillary specializes in helping individuals who have PTSD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, individuals who have a history of substance abuse, and more. In her consulting practice she teaches helping professionals Motivational Interviewing skills that allow them to empower their clients towards change.

At LifeTutors, we see the value that Motivational Interviewing can bring to helping professionals, particularly within the realm of coaching and mentorship. We have hosted in-house trainings for our coaches in the past with Bolter Consulting and look forward to continuing the growth of our coaches with these techniques.

Many people are not aware of what Motivational Interviewing is, or they don’t understand the value that Motivational Interviewing can bring to the table when working towards change. Read on to learn what exactly Motivational Interviewing is and why it matters from a a Motivational Interviewing expert, Hillary Bolter.

There are lots of misconceptions out there about MI! I thought I’d share some facts this week about what MI actually is!

Here are some basic facts about Motivational Interviewing!

MI is a conversation style. Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative conversation style that strengthens a person’s own motivation and commitment to change. It’s a bit of a strange name. Many people hear the word “motivation” and think cheerleading, coaching or being the motivator for others. Co-creators Bill Miller & Steven Rollnick named it Motivational Interviewing because it is an interview- a conversation between two equal partners- that evokes the individual’s motivation for change. 

MI is very different from persuasion. The problem is, we often turn to persuasion, advice giving, and logic to try to help a person change. It’s a normal response to ambivalence to try to persuade! We know that when someone is ambivalent about change (and ambivalence is NORMAL!) trying to convince them to change usually evokes opposition to change. And that is absolutely what we want to avoid. Plus, persuading people to change is exhausting, and it doesn’t usually work. 

MI is evidence-based. 1600 clinical trials, and counting. (That’s a heck of a lot). The first research on MI in the 1980’s demonstrated MI is more effective than advice giving, and that even a few brief MI conversations can be as effective as 10 or more sessions involving other interventions, like CBT or 12 Step. Now, much of the research is centered around the use of MI with other interventions, including ways MI can amplify the effectiveness of interventions, AND MI is used across many, many different disciplines. 

MI can be learned by anyone. There is no evidence that educational levels impact the ability for someone to learn MI. As Bill Miller has joked, “Even psychologists can learn it.” MI skills can be used by anyone and everyone. I integrate parts of MI into parenting. I recently ordered a book about integrating MI into parenting adolescents, as I am developing a course on MI for the layperson (targeted at those who have friends or family members struggling with mental health or substance misuse struggles).

MI is simple, but not easy to practice. The concepts of MI are straightforward and make sense. Unfortunately, that leads many people to feeling like they do it already. To truly integrate MI into practice, the learning journey takes commitment and time. It’s hard to stop persuading, advising and directing, PLUS use reflective listening, evocative questions, affirmations and summaries (OARS) to effectively guide conversation toward change. Having said that, you can pick up some MI skills relatively quickly and they can be immediately impactful. And, to truly ‘do MI,’ is a commitment!

You are welcome to check out my blog and sign up for my MI Tip of the Week here if you’d like to learn more!

Sincerely, Hillary Bolter, LCSW, LCAS

Member, Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers

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