How frontline care teams can use motivational interviewing strategies to support value-based care
Thought Leadership

The power of motivational interviewing. What’s your why?

February 2, 2021
Personal motivation for behavior change in times of COVID.
Principal Clinical Transformational Consultant


For many of us, COVID fatigue is in full force. Ultimately we are social beings not social distancers. We’re tired of being homebound. We want to be out having fun with our family and friends. We can’t wait for masks to be just for skiing and Halloween again.

So as time goes on, have you found yourself becoming lax on following the latest guidelines? Has news of the coming vaccines made you a mask slacker? Have you been tempted to attend your favorite aunt’s birthday party? Do you still apply hand sanitizer before and after going in a store? Has the six feet distance between you and other shoppers become three feet?

If you as a healthcare professional have slipped, imagine how your patients are doing. For instance, despite recent research revealing an increase in mask wearing by Americans, there are still many who are not following the guidelines. While we all know behavior change is easier said than done, why is it so hard?

The Behavioral Science Factor

The answer is rooted in behavioral science, where we see that simply telling someone what’s best for them and what they need to do to improve doesn’t typically effect change – as we frequently see when counseling patients who need to make healthy lifestyle changes. Often, patients are ambivalent to change and to overcome their uncertainty, powerful motivational interviewing (MI) techniques are used. The University of Massachusetts cites motivational interviewing as “a collaborative, person-centered form of guiding to elicit and strengthen motivation for change.”

What is motivational interviewing?

The Power of Motivational Interviewing

With MI the power and responsibility to change is in the hands of the patient. Using techniques such as collaborative discussions that create trust, and providing feedback that doesn’t advise, but rather reinforces and encourages based on the patient’s own needs, desires and values, you’ll better engage your patient in their behavior change.

At the heart of MI are strategies that center on drawing out the patient’s unique attitudes and feelings with regard to specific behaviors, helping them realize what they consider most important. In other words, this is the patient’s “why” – their motivation for change, which is then emphasized by the healthcare professional in discussions with the patient. Specific to COVID-19, their why may be to stay healthy, protect their favorite aunt, or get their children safely back in school.

Motivational Interviewing and COVID-19

When considering COVID-19, MI techniques are effective in multiple situations, including compliance with mask-wearing. Through open-ended questions, healthcare professionals can help patients uncover underlying reasons for their reluctance to wear a mask. For example:

  • You may ask why they’re not worried about getting the virus, and they tell you that they’re healthy and they watch for symptoms because their health is important to them.
  • You can then follow up by asking if you can share additional information, and provide data that dispels the misinformation that they have used to form their opinion.

Your voice is vital. With the tremendous trust patients place in their healthcare providers you play a significant role in advocating for and influencing mask wearing and all COVID-19 guidelines.


So as you ponder putting on that mask, and staying home versus straying off to that party, think about it. What’s your why?