Page Link blogbanner

Educator Blog


Dec 20, 2018, 12:24 PM
<3.5-min. read> Motivational interviewing isn’t new. It’s been around since 1983, when it was first described in an article published in "Behavioural Psychotherapy." But its use has evolved since its original focus on treating problem drinkers. Have you missed out on the benefits this counseling approach can provide in helping students improve client safety?

Maybe it’s time to review some of the research proving the positive impacts this directive, client-centered approach has elicited in behavior change. We’ve gathered together a list that may inspire you to more specifically incorporate motivational interviewing (MI) into your curriculum.

1. Motivational interviewing increases healthcare providers’ ability to identify at-risk patients.

Patient is meeting doctorConsider a study of primary care professionals who participated in simulation training on how to use MI for screening, brief interventions, and referral to treatment with patients suffering from substance use, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Their goal? To build patients’ motivation and increase protective — AKA healthy — behaviors. In a 3-month follow-up after the study, participants self-reported that they had experienced a 51% increase in identifying at-risk patients.1 The benefits of this new knowledge didn’t end there. Participants also reported:

  • A 60% increase in patients screened
  • A 58% increase in patients with whom treatment options were discussed
  • A 53% increase in collaborative decision-making with patients about treatment plans.

2. Motivational interviewing improves clients’ well-being and quality of life.

Wound-care specialists in the United Kingdom knew that well-being and quality of life were important factors in treating patients with chronic injuries. “Encouraging patients to take medications, engage in healthy lifestyles, and quit harmful habits is vital,” staff wrote in a paper, “Improving Well-Being and Quality of Life Using Motivational Interviewing.”2 So they decided to test the theory that MI could positively effect change in their clients.

The results from questionnaires completed by clients before and after attending baseline and follow-up sessions indicated that adding MI to standard care “significantly improved participants’ well-being.” The researchers noted that that it was “important to ask the [client] what optimal well-being is for him or her.”

3. Motivational interviewing helps clients achieve enduring change.

Asian woman meeting doctorNutritionists regularly use MI in helping clients change their eating and activity patterns. In an article in "Today’s Dietitian" touting the benefits of MI, author Dawn Clifford, PhD, RD, writes, “Motivational interviewing (MI) is an ideal counseling style for assisting the most ambivalent clients.”3

In her article, she writes, “When clients voice personal internal motivations, they are more likely to move toward change than when they are given lists of reasons they should change.”

Similarly, in the paper, “The Spirit and Intent of Motivational Interviewing,” authors state that “the concepts and methods of MI are scientifically proven to be effective for developing therapeutic rapport and to enhance positive health behavior changes or recovery during hospitalization.” They noted that the positive effects were noticeable during observations conducted by psychiatric healthcare providers who could “see the patient’s response being more open to discussion.”5

4. Motivational interviewing involves patients in the direction of their care.

Smoking cessation is a specific area that has seen positive results from MI. In an interview, Jayne Josephsen, EdD, RN, CCCTM, CHSE, CHPN, professor of nursing at Boise State University in Idaho, says, “What really happens in [the MI] process is that people kind of identify what their values are. They discover that they really want to stop smoking. They want to spend more time with their grandchildren and the rest of their family. Sometimes with small children, people don’t want to smoke around them.”4

Such realizations, she adds, help patients identify what’s most important regarding their overall health and quality of life. This realization gets them more involved in the direction of their care.

5. Motivational interviewing can reduce hospital admissions and length of stay.

Doctor examining senior patientA community mental health team (CMHT) in Singapore wondered if their efforts could be more effective if they used MI with their clients. Using a quasi-experimental method, they selected a convenience sample of 120 participants and performed MI with each persona once a month for 1 year. The results? Positive. “Participants who underwent the CMHT services with MI were more compliant to treatment, resulting in significant reduction in hospitalization and improvement in functionality,” the study’s authors wrote.5

In addition, the researchers determined that MI is effective in facilitating better illness management for patients in the community. “Adoption of the MI approach may potentially provide significant benefits for psychiatric support services in the community,” the authors wrote.


1Albright G, Adam C, Serri D, Bleeker S, Goldman R. Harnessing the Power of Conversations With Virtual Humans to Change Health Behaviors. Mhealth. 2016;2:44. Published 2016 Nov 28. doi:10.21037/mhealth.2016.11.02

2Lindsay E, Mechen C. Improving Well-Being and Quality of Life Using Motivational Interviewing. Wounds UK. 2018;14(5):138-141. Accessed December 19, 2018.

3Clifford D. Motivational Interviewing. Today’s Dietitian. 2016;18(7):48-55. Accessed December 19, 2018.

4AHC Media. Motivational Interviewing Gains Strength in Patient-Centered Care. Hospital Case Management. 2018;26(12):153-164. Accessed December 19, 2018.

5Mallisham SL, Sherrod B. The Spirit and Intent of Motivational Interviewing. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. 2017;53(4):226-233. doi:10.1111/ppc.12161.

6Chay Huang Tan S, Wen Hui Lee M, Gentatsu Tan Xiong Lim, Jern-Yi Leong J, Cheng Lee. Motivational Interviewing Approach Used by a Community Mental Health Team. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services. 2015;53(12):28-37. doi:10.3928/02793695-20151020-03.

Photo credit:,, and Bearfotos