Inspiring Change through Motivational Interviewing

Posted September 08, 2015 by Rachel Kremen

Charles Daniels
Charles Daniels of Father’s Uplift inspires men to spend quality time with their children using the motivational interviewing technique.

Helping people make a long-term, healthy lifestyle choice doesn’t have to be daunting. The key lies in motivating—not indoctrinating—the client.

“If the person isn’t really ready to change, they are not going to change,” says Charles Daniels. As CEO and Founder of Father’s Uplift, Daniels helps men stay engaged in the lives of their children. He says one of the cornerstones to his approach is a technique called motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing is a style of communication for helping someone explore and resolve their ambivalence to change.

At the heart of motivational interviewing is a guiding approach to conversations. In Daniels’ case, instead of simply stating the importance of positive male role models, he may ask questions like, “What things could go wrong if your child doesn’t have a strong male role model.” He then listens to the client, and restates the client’s response, which often helps the client see how a change might impact the people they love.

“Find out what motivates them, and why are they doing the behavior in the first place,” Daniels suggests. One way to help someone delve deeper into the reasons for their behavior is to ask questions that don’t include a suggested answer. By asking such open-ended questions, a counselor can treat each client as an individual with unique challenges.

Laurie Adams, a certified smoking cessation specialist and executive director of the Baby & Me Tobacco Free program, also uses motivational interviewing. She says many of her clients are low-income adults, who do well when treated with respect and the core elements of motivational interviewing.

“Pregnant smoking women might expect to see graphic pictures of the results of smoking and feel guilty about being a smoker. Motivational interviewing helps the women know you care by listening to their concerns. You need to help the person see they are worth the change,” says Adams. “Using motivational interviewing takes some barriers down so they start believing they can quit.”

Adams says another critical aspect of motivational interviewing is avoiding the word “but.” For example, a counselor might tell a client, “It sounds like you think it will be hard to quit smoking if your spouse keeps smoking and you really want to change.” Using the word “but” instead of “and” puts the two thoughts in conflict.

“When you take out the word ‘but,’ there’s no controversy,” she says.

Letting the client rank their desire to change at different points in their life can also be motivational. A woman might not feel fully committed to quit smoking once pregnant. However, if she sees that her level of commitment to quit is much higher than it was pre-pregnancy that may boost her confidence, Adams says.

The benefits of the motivational interviewing approach aren’t just felt by the client, Adams adds, because it frees the counselor from the need to change the client. It’s more about guiding the client through the stages of change and improving the desire to change behavior.

“Motivational interviewing is about them believing they can quit. And if they are not ready, we can successfully define their readiness for change and allow them the opportunity to improve their belief that quitting is possible,” says Adams.

Daniels agrees that it is important to remember that ultimately, the decision to change lies with the client and long-term success might take multiple attempts. A good counselor lets the client know that if they set a date to make a change and miss that date, they can always reschedule. “Let them know your door is always open,” Daniels says.

To learn more about NICHQ's infant health work, visit the infant health section of our website.


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