Motivational interviewing

An approach to counseling for behavior change attracts growing interest.

In the 1990's, researchers sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducted Project MATCH, one of the largest clinical trials ever undertaken. They compared three treatments for alcoholism: cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step facilitation (preparation for Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step self-help groups); and motivational enhancement therapy, a technique aimed at improving readiness and willingness to change drinking habits. All three treatments were equally effective for several types of alcoholic patients, but motivational enhancement therapy took less time and cost less. This finding and others have drawn attention to motivational interviewing, the counseling method at the heart of motivational enhancement therapy.

The word "interviewing" suggests inquiry rather than advice or instructions. Interviewers ask questions because they don't know all the answers. In motivational interviewing, therapists or counselors function as partners in dialogue rather than experts. They avoid warnings, confrontations, and direct attempts to argue, persuade, or educate. They do not use diagnostic labels. This approach by gentle indirection recalls Carl Rogers's client-centered therapy, but it has the more specific goal of planting the seeds of behavior change.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »