The more psychologists probe the depths of human behavior, the more we realize how complex the human psyche is. For instance, people act on principles they value and believe, and their choices are also highly motivated by emotions, circumstances, and current mental state. Plus, physiological changes can alter all of the previously mentioned factors.
The study of behavior change has far to go. However, psychologists have developed ways to help individual patients work through their choices and develop better patterns of life. One such approach is motivational interviewing.
What is motivational interviewing?
William R. Miller devoted his life to studying the psychology of change, especially when it came to addictive behaviors. Initially, he focused on helping patients overcome alcohol addiction and substance abuse. By implementing patient engagement in the counseling process, he hoped to inspire change initiated by the patient.
In a clinical trial, Miller studied the potential effects of the motivational interviewing principles. His success in these initial trials led to the widespread growth of this counseling method. Now it’s recognized as a scientifically backed approach to motivate behavior change.
Though the original focus was on alcohol, motivational interviewing helps patients with more than just external habits. In fact, this method of counseling guides patients to deal with many unresolved internal struggles such as anger, fear, and anxiety.
People trained in motivational interviewing can potentially enable patients to resolve private struggles and harness the power of self-motivation that lead to behavior change.
What’s the purpose?
The purpose of motivational interviewing is to help patients be honest with themselves about unsettled internal difficulties. It operates on the principle that many addictive behaviors, mental health problems, and unhealthy lifestyle choices are caused by personal struggles,.
When patients address these psychological health factors, they often improve their quality of life and limit disease progression. This kind of guidance can help low-risk and high-risk patients navigate chronic diseases.
In other words, motivational interviewing promotes emotional health that leads not only to behavior change but to improvements in physical conditions. As a result, patients can become healthy people both mentally and physically.
How to know if motivational interviewing is being done well
Health professionals - or health coaches - trained in motivational interviewing focus on five primary counseling principles. They are as follows:
- Express empathy through reflective listening.
- Develop discrepancy between clients' goals or values and their current behavior.
- Avoid argument and direct confrontation.
- Adjust to client resistance rather than opposing it directly.
- Support self-efficacy and optimism.
All in all, this counseling approach focuses on kindness, positivity, and self-awareness. It avoids abrasive language providing a safe place for patients to verbalize any antagonism or struggle with lifestyle change.
Rather than constantly correcting patients’ faults, coaches trained in this technique use questions to direct the conversation. Similar to the Socratic method, these questions guide patients toward self-assessment and honesty about their current situation. Counselors create non-stressful environments for patients to express feelings. These safe environments promote the growth of skills to self-manage stress and address mental illness.
Are there times it’s not done well?
Unhelpful (and sometimes harmful) motivational interviewing happens when health professionals deviate away from the five principles listed above. Here are several scenarios where counselors stray from their role of supportive guidance.
Fixating on the problem isn’t helpful for patients. If anything, it only causes patients to obsess more about their already obsessive habits. Instead, skilled counselors ask questions allowing patients to reveal contributing factors to ongoing struggles. Patients often just need to talk through their internal difficulties to help them self-adjust their mindset and their lifestyles.
Another poor counseling tactic is to inundate patients with the negative repercussions of their habits or emotional struggles. While such extrinsic motivation can affect immediate behavior change, fear tactics rarely produce enduring positive motivation.
Patients often aren’t truly able to deal with their internal struggles because they are often driven solely by fear. Instead, patients may temporarily fix their problems only to find themselves returning to their former habits in the future.
If motivational interviewers aren’t applying the key principles of this counseling trend, it won’t be effective for patient wellness. In some circumstances, these negative tactics can even be detrimental for patient outcomes.
Can psychology really help motivate behavior change?
Motivational interviewing seems to be enabling whole person wellness. Combining traditional medicine and this form of counseling can support patient wellness for the long run.
Motivational interviewers have the ability to positively impact the interplay of disease and patient behavior. For instance, weight loss, addictions, and physical exercise can all be improved with motivational interviewing.
Around 75% of patients who receive this type of counseling receive benefit psychologically or physiologically. This patient-centric counseling approach can result in more physically and emotionally healthy patients.
Have you tried motivational interviewing with patients? Comment below with your experience!
Interested in how motivational interviewing can help your patients achieve behavior change?