Motivational Interviewing Techniques: The Gold Standard of Training

This Article Was Published On 16-08-2019

Motivational Interviewing techniques: the gold standard of training

When it comes to changing the mindset of your clients, it can be easier juggling water than getting them to change. Whether you are trying to get people to start to make changes or aiming to keep clients progressing, motivational interviewing techniques are the most effective way of creating positive change within the caring profession.


So what are motivational interviewing techniques? 

Simply put, motivational interviewing (MI) is a therapeutic tool that’s built around teaching the service user to trust themselves, value themselves and be able to make informed choices neatly delivered in a chatty bundle. Motivational interviewing techniques are intended to be delivered in as natural a conversation as possible, ensuring your client’s recovery moves forwards organically. After people have undergone MI training they often say that it is misnamed, because you don’t project motivation: instead you allow the client to discover what motivates them to change. Motivational interviewing techniques are flexible. There’s no right answer, just a more effective approach with a set of principles that guides even the most challenging, hostile or stuck service users forward.


Where did motivational interviewing techniques originate from? 

Motivational Interviewing Techniques: The gold standard of trainingMotivational interviewing techniques have been with us now for nearly 40 years. MI began as a direct result of Bill Miller trying to find out why particular professionals were so effective. For a long time, many professionals in the field of change work were inconsistent, with some amazing results one day followed by no progress with the next. He reasoned that those who were consistently effective must adopt motivational interviewing techniques and strategies that can be copied, offering the same high level of quality care to every service user. 


Miller identified the naturally occurring approaches that we take for granted as the actual tools behind motivational interviewing techniques, showing that delivering deliberate tools is crucial to practitioners. He outlined how having a good relationship was key, how showing care and compassion should be deliberate and evident throughout – common sense? Maybe not when you are working with a hostile person.


He also shared that the key to change is not to force it, but to allow the person you are supporting to discover the reasons to change for themselves. By using these motivational interviewing techniques, your clients can begin to communicate within themselves, and to you. I had my own epiphany that there must be a better way than trying to convince people by accident way before I knew that MI existed.


Early in my career, I was working with a young man who was repeatedly offending and I had planned my approach in advance. I was so armed to the teeth with reasons to stop offending and stepping back from their addiction I could have been mistaken for one of the Beegees. 


“You will get access to your kids.” 

“They are coping fine without me. And anyway they don’t need my problems, it’s hard enough growing up without having to have me to worry about.”

“You will have more money.” 

“I don’t need anymore and all I do is waste it.” 

“You can get a job.”

“Life works for me right now and I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck telling me what to do and treating me like they own me.”


Ultimately, the more I argued with him about why he should change his ways, the more he was finding new and creative reasons for why it worked for him. So I took a different approach. I asked him “so what made you turn up today?” His reply was that he wanted to find out I wanted to help him, or just tell him why he should quit. 

This was my epiphany. Even before I’d been formally trained in motivational interviewing techniques, I had inadvertently stumbled across a core principle: that motivation cannot be imposed, but already exists.

Motivational interviewing techniques: the gold standard of training

Why are motivational interviewing techniques so effective?

Motivational interviewing techniques were created as a response to observing effective practitioners delivering their best work. The genius of MI is that the techniques were built from watching what works, and recognising that it was the use of motivational interviewing techniques, and not simply being lucky, that helped the relationship progress to a place of effective change in that session.


Motivational interviewing techniques give practitioners both the permission and the tools they need to leave their ego behind. As compassionate caring professionals, we want the best for anyone in front of us. We are just as sensitive to suffering as anyone, if not more, and it is that desire to prevent suffering that makes us push too much at times. When a person is still not moving we may want to promote our own desires to see them succeed. Looking beyond this, motivational interviewing techniques are a beautiful set of tools to reduce conflict, to promote progression and let the practitioner learn to let any resistance from the client be a source of encouragement that they are doing the right thing, instead of viewing it as a form of personal rejection. 


Ultimately, MI allows practitioners to maximise their own potential, to be flexible, but most of all equip the client to recognise that they are responsible for themselves, empowering them to make the right changes at the right time, in the right way. If you want to be the most effective practitioner you can be, motivational interviewing techniques give you the opportunity to watch your clients grow rapidly and sustainably. Incorporating MI will mean you notice the strains and stresses of a demanding job begin to diminish; instead of taking on responsibility for your clients’ changes or trying to become the expert in their recovery, you can empower them to make sustainable changes for themselves.


Motivational interviewing techniques are the gold standard of change work because they benefit everyone. The service users move forward more quickly, becoming less vulnerable to exiting treatment; the practitioner goes home feeling more accomplished, less likely to burn out and when things do not progress as we would hope, they are less likely to blame themselves. The commissioners and service managers benefit because it delivers those vital KPIs more predictably.

Building a foundation of motivational interviewing techniques is the best investment you can make for both your service, and your service users. If you’d like more information on making the most of MI, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.