Each and every one of us plays an important role in the social support network of somebody close. Whether you are the devoted friend, caring sibling, or attentive parent, your thoughtful presence can be integral to the mental health of your loved ones. The question is, “How can you best support those around you?” Well, today I want to share a clinical technique designed for this very purpose: motivational interviewing.
Motivational interviewing was first introduced in 1983 by Dr. William Miller to help in the treatment of individuals with excessive drinking problems, but has since found use in all sorts of clinical and interpersonal settings. This method of guiding conversation is designed for the provision of empathic, non confrontational support, for the purpose of helping individuals identify unhealthy behaviors and make meaningful lifestyle changes (Channon, 2003; Miller & Rose, 2009). Since it’s initial conceptualization, the efficacy of motivational interviewing has been repeatedly shown through experimental trials (Jensen et al., 2011; Valisaki, Hosier, & Cox, 2006; Rubak et al., 2005).
Motivational interviewing centers on the idea that the individual who engages in unhealthy behaviors feels conflicted. On the one hand they understand that their behavior may be counter to their own identity or desire for their life. The interviewer should start by asking questions to identify this dissonance between behavior and self-concept. For example, an interviewer might ask a smoker, “How do you feel smoking affects your ability to engage in activities you enjoy?” Next, you want to demonstrate how a change in behavior could have some benefits. At this point, you can offer support and optimism about their capability of change (Bischof et al., 2021; Lussier & Richard, 2007). It is important to let the interviewee’s responses guide the conversation and to help them find motivation to change, rather than tell them to change. This requires the interviewer to ask questions and offer advice from an empathetic and non judgemental perspective. Remember, this is about how the interviewee’s behavior makes them feel, not how it makes you feel. Keep the focus on their thoughts and feelings and you're bound to have a positive conversation!
I hope these techniques will help to empower you to support those in need. Remember, we can all make an incredible difference in the lives of our loved ones. I believe in your abilities as a thoughtful, educated confidante. Now get out there and do some good!