Motivational Interviewing Techniques: Examples & FAQs

December 21, 2023

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Motivational interviewing techniques are included in a counseling strategy aimed at helping people discover the motivation necessary for positive behavioral changes. This client-centered method proves especially effective for those grappling with mixed feelings about altering their behavior.

Conflicting desires, like simultaneously wanting to change behavior while feeling unprepared for it, are common. Motivational interviewing aims to address this ambivalence and heighten a person’s motivation to embrace change. Developed by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick for treating alcohol addiction, this approach uniquely empowers people to take charge of their own recovery journey. Read on to discover if changing behavior using motivational interviewing techniques is achievable.

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing is a therapeutic approach rooted in counseling designed to elicit and enhance an individual’s motivation for positive behavior change. Developed in the early 1980s by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, this client-centered method recognizes the common experience of ambivalence – conflicting feelings about changing behavior. Key features of motivational interviewing include:

  • Client-centered approach: Motivational interviewing places the person engaging with therapy at the center of the therapeutic process, promoting collaboration and empowerment.
  • Exploration of ambivalence: The approach acknowledges that people may simultaneously desire change while harboring reservations. Resolving this ambivalence can help increase motivation to make changes.
  • Open-ended questions: Practitioners utilize open-ended questions that require more than a “Yes” or “No” response to encourage people to explore and articulate their own motivations and goals. 
  • Reflective listening: Reflective listening is a cornerstone of motivational interviewing. Practitioners empathetically mirror and validate the thoughts and feelings of the person in therapy.
  • Affirmations and empowerment: Positive affirmations are employed to reinforce the strengths and capabilities of individuals, leading to a sense of self-efficacy and empowerment.

Originally developed for addressing alcohol addiction, motivational interviewing has since found widespread applications in various behavioral health settings. It offers a supportive and non-confrontational environment, and helps people to become more invested in making positive lifestyle changes.

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Effectiveness of Motivational Interviewing

How effective is motivational interviewing, then? Research has consistently demonstrated the effectiveness of motivational interviewing across a spectrum of behavioral health issues. 

  • Versatility: MI has proven effective in addressing various concerns, from substance abuse and smoking cessation to weight management and mental health disorders.
  • Positive outcomes: Many studies show that people who engage in motivational interviewing are more likely to initiate and sustain positive behavior changes than those who do not. 
  • Patient engagement: MI’s emphasis on collaboration and client-centered communication results in higher levels of patient engagement and leads to increased motivation and commitment to change.
  • Reducing ambivalence: The technique excels in resolving ambivalence, a common barrier to behavioral change. By acknowledging and exploring conflicting feelings, MI helps people move toward a resolution that aligns closely with their goals.
  • Tailored approach: MI enables therapists to tailor their approach to the specific needs, preferences, and readiness for change of the person seeking help.
  • Integration into healthcare settings: The adaptability of MI has led to its integration into diverse healthcare settings, including primary care, mental health clinics, and addiction treatment centers.
  • Long-term impact: MI has demonstrated its effectiveness not only in initiating change but also in sustaining long-term positive outcomes, contributing to its enduring popularity among practitioners.

As an evidence-based approach, MI continues to evolve and be embraced as a valuable tool in promoting positive behavior change.

Examples of Motivational Interviewing Techniques

How do motivational interviewing techniques work? Motivational interviewing involves counselors assisting individuals in exploring their feelings and identifying personal motivations, employing four fundamental techniques. Therapists employ open-ended questions to gather information, affirmations to express support and acknowledge strengths, reflective listening to convey empathy and understanding, and summaries to consolidate information.

Open-ended questions

These inquiries prompt deeper contemplation. Examples include, “How would you like things to be different?” or “What have you tried before to make a change?


Statements that validate strengths and positive behaviors, and affirmations help people become more confident that they can initiate change. Examples include acknowledging resourcefulness or expressing gratitude for seeking help.

Reflective listening

A cornerstone skill of MI, reflective listening communicates that the therapist is attentive and seeks understanding. It also provides people with the chance to correct misunderstandings and elaborate on their feelings, engendering more empathy and a closer therapeutic alliance.


Summaries are special reflections demonstrating comprehension that show the therapist has listened. Techniques like collecting reinforce what the client has said, linking helps identify associations in the discussion, and transitioning guides the end of a session or the introduction of a new topic. Examples include, “Let me see if I understand what you’ve said so far” (collecting) or “What do you think about that?” (transitioning).


When was motivational interviewing developed?

Motivational interviewing was developed in the early 1980s by clinical psychologists William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick. Initially designed to address alcohol addiction, it has since evolved into a widely used therapeutic approach across various behavioral health domains.

How is motivational interviewing helpful?

Motivational interviewing is helpful in promoting intrinsic motivation and streamlining behavioral change by engaging people in a collaborative and non-confrontational manner. It empowers individuals to explore and resolve ambivalence, ultimately enhancing their commitment to making positive changes in their lives.

How do motivational interviewing techniques work?

Motivational interviewing techniques work by utilizing open-ended questions, reflective listening, and affirmations to guide individuals in exploring their motivations for change. The approach emphasizes empathy, autonomy, and collaboration, creating a supportive environment that encourages clients to articulate their own reasons for pursuing positive behavioral changes.

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Our team of experienced mental health professionals blend behavioral interventions, motivational therapies, and holistic treatments to help you improve well-being and restore functioning as you address mental health issues. Designed to feel homely and welcoming, our beachside treatment center offers a sanctuary at turbulent times where you can kickstart your recovery. Call 844-413-0009 for immediate assistance in Southern California.

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