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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Motivational Interviewing: Salting the Oats

03/7/16 01:41 PM | Ken Kraybill | Case Management, Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a conversational style that encourages people to take a closer look into the mirror of their lives and to consider what changes, if any, they might want to make. MI is an invitational approach, never seeking to impose or coerce (read more on Motivational Interviewing).

MI is rigorously person-centered. It is grounded in the belief that people already possess the essentials of what they need to determine the course of their lives: life experience, hopes, wisdom, knowledge, skills, and already-existing motivation. The primary role of the practitioner is to help shine a light on those essentials that may be obscured by various events in a person’s life. As William R. Miller notes, the mindset of MI is that “you already have what you need, and together let’s find it.” Even with this in mind, there is a place in MI for offering information and suggestions. However, the primary focus is to tap into the expertise people already have and build upon it.









MI is decidedly relational. It recognizes that people are more likely to engage in self-discovery and increase their motivation to change within the context of a safe, welcoming, collaborative relationship in which the practitioner combines “compassionate curiosity” with skill. Foundational to this relational approach is a genuine belief in people’s inherent worth and potential.

MI is primarily a guiding approach. Using specific communication skills and strategies, effective MI practitioners help individuals identify a particular concern or dilemma that they are willing to explore. We then typically guide the conversation to elicit “what’s working and what’s not” in the present. More importantly, MI conversations also encourage people to imagine a future different from the present. By inviting people to describe hypothetically why they might want to change, how they would consider going about it, how important it is to them, and how confident they are that they could succeed in changing, we are encouraging people to talk themselves into changing. This is far more effective, of course, than trying to talk people into changing.

Ultimately, MI practitioners don’t have the power or ability to get people to change. However, we can make a significant difference in enhancing people’s motivation to change by accompanying them as they look more closely into the mirror of their lives. As Madeline Hunter once said: “They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. But I say, you can salt the oats.”

Join t3, Ken Kraybill, and Ali Hall for an online course on "Motivational Interviewing: Facilitating Change" starting March 17, 2017!

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Image by Vincent Anderlucci (CC by 2.0).

Ken Kraybill

Written by Ken Kraybill

Ken has worked in health, behavioral health, homelessness, and housing for more than 30 years. As the Director of Training for t3, he develops curricula and provides training nationally in best practices including Motivational Interviewing, outreach and engagement, Housing First, trauma-informed care, and renewal for care providers. He is also a member of the international Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT).