Motivational Interviewing and Behavior Change | Geneia

Motivational Interviewing and Behavior Change

January 08, 2015
Cassandra Leighton


It’s that time of year again. You know which one I’m talking about—the gyms are full, your workplace cafeteria’s salad bar is the new water cooler, and social media is full of promise-makers to help with your goals for the year. Here we are starting into 2015, and everyone is working hard on their New Year’s resolution—or as we call it in the healthcare world their journey toward behavior change.

Unfortunately, the fact is that many of these resolutions will come to an end before the year is out. Long before the year is out. The University of Scranton suggests that only 8% of people actually succeed in their New Year’s goals. The reason is changing behavior, or how you act, is hard. Really hard. That’s because changing your behavioral nature often means altering how you live, act, and conduct your daily life. 

The issues of maintaining New Year’s resolutions are translatable to the healthcare world. Enabling patients’ behavior change is integral to healthcare professionals as they strive to improve population health outcomes.

We understand that behavior change related to chronic disease management and prevention is important to improving outcomes, reducing costs, and increasing appropriate utilization of services.  However, many patients lack the necessary environments and attitudes to make change attainable and sustainable.

Uncovering A Patient’s Nature to Effect Behavior Change

To support patients in their journey to behavior change, healthcare professionals are leveraging Motivational Interviewing (MI) as a strategy. MI is a “directive, client-centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients explore and resolve ambivalence.”[i] It focuses on uncovering the patient’s intrinsic motivations and aspirations, such as being able to garden or to walk their daughter down the aisle, to push for small steps of progress that move toward a greater, desired behavior change.

The techniques of MI center on asking patients open-ended questions, providing affirmations of any indication of change, reflecting on patient statements, and summarizing what the patient has said. Although simple in theory, working with patients with different needs, motivation levels, and all too often a limited frequency of visits is challenging and requires practice.

When providers and healthcare professionals get MI down, however, the results are demonstrable. Patients of providers using MI are more likely to use “change talk” in conversations[ii] and experience a statistically significant amount of positive outcomes across many measures important to achieving benchmarks.[iii]

The promise of better outcomes and the reduction in chronic disease is driving MI to the forefront of patient treatment. Crucial in making MI a highly effective and viable tool is strong education, training and coaching to build and practice key skills.

In the spring of 2015, The Geneia Institute will be offering trainings to build frontline staff’s MI capacity and capabilities through the course Motivational Interviewing for Enhanced Care Delivery.

So as you tie up your shoelaces or grab a healthy lunch, remember that your Care Team members too likely have a 2015 resolution: To help patients live the highest quality life possible and we endorse MI’s ability to do that. 

With an added focus on MI to get to sustainable behavior change, perhaps together we can all reach our 2015 goals.


[i] Rollnick S., & Miller, W.R. (1995).  What is motivational interviewing?  Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23, 325-334.

[ii] Keeley, R. D., Burke, B. L., Brody, D., Dimidjian, S., Engel, M., Emsermann, C., ... & Kaplan, J. (2014). Training to Use Motivational Interviewing Techniques for Depression: A Cluster Randomized Trial. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 27(5), 621-636.

[iii] Lundahl, B., Moleni, T., Burke, B. L., Butters, R., Tollefson, D., Butler, C., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing in medical care settings: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Patient education and counseling, 93(2), 157-168.


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