I came across motivational interviewing when I was working for a substance abuse charity a few years back. I also know it’s used in other areas of mental health support. Thus, I’d been wondering for a while about how I could adapt motivational interviewing into a self-help article, and this is what I came up with. I may, in the future, do a full review/summary of motivational interviewing; if that’s something you’d like to learn about, let me know in the comments section.
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In a nutshell, motivational interviewing is a method therapists used to promote change, especially in the face of resistance to change. One of the core beliefs in motivational interviewing is that the therapist and clients work together to help the client implement changes. However, ultimately the client is responsible for choosing and carrying out the actions that’ll lead to change (Miller and Rollnick, 2002).
Adapting motivational interviewing theory and techniques into a self-help, wellbeing, and goal-setting approach could help you identify and change things in your life that might be holding you back. This could be useful if you struggle with self-sabotaging behaviours and/or thinking errors.
If there’s something you’re thinking about changing or are in the process of trying to change, then engaging in this thought exercise could help you succeed in making that change.
Motivational interviewing states that change is enhanced when potential or perceived discrepancies between your current situation and your hopes for the future are examined or how your current behaviours differ from your desired or ideal behaviours (SAMHSA, 1999).
Questions to Ask Yourself
Motivational interviewing makes use of open-ended questions because they invite you to reflect and elaborate (Miller and Rollnick, 2013). Thus, the following will aim to apply that approach to your own thoughts and ideas around change to increase the likelihood that change will occur and remove any ambivalence.
One good way of using these open-ended questions to help develop changes could be to write these down rather than using them as a thought exercise. If you have a journal, then you could write and answer the questions in your journal. If you don’t have a journal, then a notepad and pen or writing app will also do.
As you go through these and ask yourself these questions, it would also be beneficial to provide yourself with examples so that they’re grounded in your reality, rather than being something you can dismiss as being ‘abstract’.
You may have some problems in your life that are starting to bother you, or someone may have expressed some concerns about your behaviours. Taking some time to self-reflect on this could help you make appropriate changes, seek appropriate support, etc.
So what kind of questions could you ask yourself to get the ball rolling on this? Well, you could start by finding out your feelings on the matter. For example, you could ask yourself: How do I feel about…? Borrowing from the substance abuse field, you could complete this question by saying: How do you feel about your current drug use and the effects it’s having on your quality of life?
Expression of concern
If you have concerns about making a change, then it’s time to start asking yourself what your concerns are, so you can work to overcome them. But be honest with yourself when you do this, as this will be more effective the more honest you are. If, like me, you have problems with procrastination and low motivation, then list that as a concern.
An example of what you could ask yourself is: What worries do I have about…? Therefore, if you had an issue with your alcohol use, then you could complete that question by asking: What worries do I have about my level of alcohol consumption and its effects on my health?
Explore decisional balance
Think of this as asking yourself what the pros and cons, positives and negatives, or benefits and costs of keeping the status quo are. Therefore, you could first ask yourself what the positives of remaining the same, creating a list, and following that with a list of the negatives of staying the same.
For example, if you with struggling with substance dependency, then you could have a list of positives that might include: it helps me cope, I enjoy using, etc., and on your list of negatives you might have: it’s pushing my loved one’s away, I can’t stop thinking about using, etc.
Intention of change
This is a pretty simple question you can ask yourself: What would I like to do about…? Taking a step away from using substance dependency as an example, you could ask yourself: What would I like to do about my self-harming?
This one reminds me of SMART goals because it seems to bring some of the principles around using SMART goals into motivational interviewing (although it might actually be more the other way around): I’m a big advocate of using and adapting SMART goals.
Anyway, so why call this step optimism? Well, the way I see it, if you’re already thinking about change, then this will help you create a list of motivations to start making those changes, by asking yourself one simple question: What makes you feel that now is the right time to change?
If you’re already thinking about making changes, then this should create a list of good motivational points you can return to should you feel your motivation start to slip. Although, I’m aware this also has the potential to give you a reason to not pursue your desire to change. However, if you’ve made it this far, then I already believe in your commitment to making that change, so don’t give up now.
Motivational interviewing encourages empathy and respect from the therapist when exploring and identifying the client’s thoughts on their behaviours (Boyle, Vseteckova, and Higgins, 2019). However, in this situation, there is no therapist.
There are a couple of ways you could apply this to yourself, starting with treating yourself with kindness. More often than not, we’re our own worst critics. I know I’m mine (Thinking Errors). Show yourself comparison, to err is human, so focus on working towards self-improvement rather than dwelling and getting stuck in your past.
But to truly encompass the idea of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to better understand the other person, I was reminded of a common question that’s often used, and which I used in my 12 Benefits Of Having A Safety Plan worksheets/workbooks (which you can find on my Resources page). That question goes like this: What would you do or say to support your friend who was in this situation instead of you?
This is a skill that therapists used to summarise what the client has said in a session, which could be done to highlight what the client has said or to point out contradictory statements the client has made. They can also be used to seek clarification, to move the discussion forward, or so the therapist can provide additional information or ask a question based on the summary they’ve made.
However, I think that as you’re working on your own effects to change, if you’ve written a lot of notes whilst working through this, then you could benefit from writing a summary of what you’ve said as well. It’ll help focus what you’ve written in a more compact format, whilst allowing you to have another chance of examining what you wrote while you write your summary. So be sure to reflect on what you’re summarising when you do your summaries.
An effective way of promoting the changes you want to make is to apply SMART goals to them, so you can create a realistic set of steps you can take to achieve your aims. To find out more about SMART goals, click here or if you’re already familiar with SMART goals, then you can click here to get my free printable worksheet.
Well, that’s it for adapting motivational interviewing into a form of self-help, let me know what you think about it in the comments section.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Boyle, S., Vseteckova, J., & Higgins, M. (2019). Impact of Motivational Interviewing by Social Workers on Service Users: A Systematic Review. Research on Social Work Practice, 29(8), 863–875. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/1049731519827377.
Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2002). Motivational interviewing. [electronic resource] : preparing people for change (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing : helping people change (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
SAMHSA. (1999). Enhancing Motivation For Change in Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 35. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64967/pdf/Bookshelf_NBK64967.pdf.