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Motivational Interviewing : A look at behavior changing therapy

BOSTON, MA — A type of counseling called motivational interviewing may help people change behaviors such as addictions, the March issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter reports.

Motivational Interviewing & Behavior Therapy

As the name implies, during motivational interviewing, the mental health professional asks questions and acts as a partner in dialogue rather than giving advice or instruction. The counselor tries to make the clients feel comfortable examining all aspects of the behavior, including their own mixed feelings about change. The Harvard Mental Health Letter says that this method is often best suited for people who do not yet see they have a problem or who have not yet decided to do something about it.

Effectiveness of Behavior Modification Therapy

How effective is it? An analysis of controlled studies found that, when used in connection with other therapies, motivational interviewing is as effective as most treatments for alcohol and drug problems, and often quicker and less expensive. Motivational interviewing has also been found helpful in treating bulimia, persuading schizophrenic patients to continue taking antipsychotic drugs, and encouraging people with diabetes and hypertension to change their diet and exercise habits. However, in one study, it failed to help people quit smoking, and in another, it did not prevent unprotected sex and intravenous drug use in people at risk for HIV/AIDS.

Effectiveness of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing has not been tested by itself. But according to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, its uses are not necessarily restricted to formal counseling, and it can be incorporated into a wide range of programs for brief treatment and prevention of psychiatric disorders and other health problems.

Also in this issue:

Tracing the roots of schizophrenia in the genome and the brain Nocebos: The opposite of placebos Preventing relapses of depression without medication Is there a price to pay for cutting back on sleep?

More Harvard Health News »


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Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.