A Client’s Guide to Motivational Interviewing

A Client's Guide to Motivational InterviewingOne of a counselor’s integral roles is to facilitate the process of change or, at the very least, foster a client’s ability to consider life changes when they are not ready to move into a stage of action.

While many theoretical counseling approaches help facilitate the process of change, the techniques found in motivational interviewing are immensely beneficial in helping clients work toward changing their lives, especially when it comes to addictive disorders (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012).

This article will focus on helping clients to understand the key components of motivational interviewing.

Key Components of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing features several key components that are conducive to helping clients change (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012). The system is client-centered and emphasizes client autonomy (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012). The main principle behind the approach involves the counselor asking thoughtful, purposeful questions that move the client toward a sense of personal motivation, thus giving them the confidence they need to consider or work toward change (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012).

Using motivational interviewing, the counselor guides the client through discussions that focus on reasons they may be resistant to change, what their life might be like once change occurs, as well as the discrepancies between their current life situation and their ultimate goals (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012). By engaging in this process, clients develop an understanding of their own values and goals, while developing the self-confidence to pursue such ends (Grand Canyon University, 2008). As self-confidence and motivation increase, so does client commitment to change (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012). Throughout the process, empathy, support, and understanding are utilized by the counselor, along with open-ended, change-oriented, questions (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012).

Motivational interviewing is based heavily in the Stages of Change Model (Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992). Counselors help clients determine where they stand on this scale and help them move forward through the stages. Stages include pre-contemplation (not considering change), contemplation (considering change), preparation (preparing for action and change), action (implementing change strategies), and maintenance (working to maintain progress) (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012).

Using Motivational Interviewing with Clients Presenting with Addictions

Because motivational interviewing can be used with other theoretical approaches to counseling, proper adjustments can be made to ensure appropriate interventions are used. Motivational interviewing has been effectively paired with CBT and REBT to bring about client change. Restructuring thinking and belief systems that fuel behavior will help a client move toward change (Greenfeld, 2011). Melding these two approaches for substance abuse treatment seems like a perfect combination of motivation and action.

The counselor’s beliefs about why a client should cease substance use are irrelevant. Instead, the process focuses on the client’s beliefs about why change is important (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012). Initially, some clients may feel as though abstinence is hopeless. However, once their self-confidence is increased throughout the process, they may be more motivated to work toward sobriety. Furthermore, some clients may have never fielded a question involving sobriety and what their life would be like upon that change occurring. This process will facilitate such personal exploration.

Motivational interviewing is useful with addicted clients in various stages of change (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012). Some clients may not be ready to consider change or modifying the amount or frequency of their substance use. In such cases, motivational interviewing does not emphasize the counselor forcing change techniques on clients but, instead, calls for the counselor to begin a discussion of what change might mean for their lives (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2012).


It can be seen that motivational interviewing offers a great deal in the way of effectiveness and usefulness. Motivational interviewing offers several benefits to individuals who are receiving counseling services for their substance abuse. While avoiding judgment and offering empathy and support, counselors can help clients consider what change might mean for their lives. Discussions of this type might cause clients to reflect on possibilities they never considered before treatment.

Throughout the process, self-efficacy is fostered, which motivates clients to work toward change. The techniques also help counselors to manage client resistance. Instead of challenging resistance, counselors use techniques to adapt to it. Resistance occurs in the majority of initial sessions, and motivational interviewing gives a counselor the tools to overcome this challenge. Finally, motivational interviewing takes emphasis away from “why” individuals engage in specific behaviors, and places emphasis on “how” it can be changed.

Capuzzi, D. & Stauffer, M.D. (2012). Foundations of Addictions Counseling (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Grand Canyon University. (2008). Lecture 4: Motivational interviewing. Lecture conducted from Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, AZ.

Greenfeld, J.M. (2011). Using rational emotive behavior therapy to initiate and maintain regular exercise in college-age men: A qualitative investigation. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from University of Iowa Research Online.

Prochaska, J.O., DiClemente, C. C., & Norcross, J. C. (1992). In search of how people change. American Psychologist, 47, 1102–1114.

A Client’s Guide to Motivational Interviewing

Tyler J. Andreula

Tyler J. Andreula graduated Summa Cum Laude from Montclair State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. Soon after, he went on to pursue a Master of Arts degree in counseling at Montclair State University, and training in cognitive-behavioral therapy from the Rational Living Therapy Institute and the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists. Tyler is a National-Certified Counselor and Licensed Associate Counselor. He currently works as a clinician with children, teens, and young adults with unique emotional and behavioral needs, providing individual and group counseling services, case management, and SMART Recovery groups.


APA Reference
Andreula, T. (2013). A Client’s Guide to Motivational Interviewing. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 19 Dec 2013
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Dec 2013
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