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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Reflections from the Field: Motivational Interviewing Facilitates Change

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When I graduated with my Master’s of Social Work (MSW) in 2013, I felt ready to tackle the world. I knew all about social justice. I had learned all the theories. I had learned about trauma. About the importance of community. The impact of racism and oppression. The endless cycle of poverty. White privilege. Cultural humility. I soaked it all in, and I couldn’t wait to start applying this knowledge in the field of social work. Cut to three weeks later, walking into my first day of work at a homeless shelter - and the undeniable truth that I had no idea what I was doing.

Motivational Interviewing: Salting the Oats

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.