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Feature Article: What Is Motivational Interviewing (MI)?
The Changing Times
Motivational Interviewing for Positive Behavior Change
This spring has been very busy for me, with many talks at conferences for a variety of organizations. My favorite was the New York State Dietetic Association conference in Albany, NY because I had the pleasure of sharing a booth at the Expo with Jean Caton of The Profitable Woman. Jean has been my business coach for the past year, and I have really learned a great deal from her.
If you’ve never hired a business coach, I highly recommend it! Jean is special in that she is an RD and has an MBA, plus experience in the corporate world. She has helped me in moving my training and consultation business forward in many ways, including hiring a virtual assistant, Janine Gregor of Your Virtual Wizard, who has revamped my website and my blog and is teaching me how to use social media for business. Jean has also coached me to focus on what’s important to me as I build my business and encourages me to enjoy myself in my work.
All of this has been a revelation to me and it was wonderful having a chance to work directly with Jean in New York.
What Is Motivational Interviewing (MI)?
This month and next, I will explore the basic definition of MI. It’s just 2 sentences long, but there are a lot of ideas packed into those two sentences.
The definition has been evolving over the past 15 years. Various members of MINT, the international professional organization of MI trainers, have been tinkering with the language to try to capture the many ideas in MI. Here’s a current working definition of MI that I really like:
Motivational Interviewing is a directive, person-centered counseling style for helping people to resolve ambivalence about change. MI couples an empathic listening style with powerful behavioral strategies to help our clients convince themselves that they ought to change.
MI is directive. When I start to talk about the “spirit” of MI, people sometimes think we spend most of our time building a relationship with our clients. “But you don’t understand. I have to GET them to change!” Don’t be fooled. Motivational Interviewing techniques are designed to move the process of change ahead in a positive direction.
MI is person-centered. We are always interested in the client’s point of view. Often clinicians get lost in the focus on changing outcomes such as blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, body weight, etc. The changes in behavior necessary to influence these outcomes becomes the reason for talking to clients. We must remember that having this focus will not help the client move forward with change. We think of a “dual expertise” in MI. We are the experts in the best possible outcome, while the client is the expert in his or her own life.
MI is a counseling style. Many clinicians are taught the “top down” the “clinician is the expert and the client will be taught stuff” style, or the expert trap. The style of counseling used in MI collaborative. We are working together to achieve the best possible outcome. If you ever feel that you are wagging your finger at your patient, you are on the wrong track. Try a collaborative approach.
Our goal as MI practitioners is to help our client resolve ambivalence. In MI, we assume that all of us are ambivalent when faced with change, any change and that ambivalence is a normal part of the process. Our patients feel as we do about the change being proposed in the consultation with you. We aren’t looking to talk people out of feeling ambivalent, but to help them resolve that ambivalence in the direction of positive change. Ambivalence is good in that the person is considering change.
Next month: The MI Listening Style, MI’s powerful behavioral strategies and helping people convince themselves they ought to change.
You are welcome to use Dr. Glovsky's articles in any of your own publications provided you copy the following into the article: "Dr. Ellen Glovsky is a Registered Dietitian and Motivational Interviewing trainer. She is on the faculty of Northeastern University in Boston, MA, where she teaches courses in nutrition, public health and MI. Her website, newsletter, and blog are at Training With Dr. Ellen."
Ellen Glovsky, PhD, RD, LDN 2012. All rights reserved.