by Jim Reynolds, Ed.D., LMHC, MAC

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know”.

Carl Rogers (1980, p.129). A way of being. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

We are currently living in very uncertain times. So much of our lives have changed due to the worldwide corona-virus pandemic. The pandemic is illuminating, and interrelated with, the widespread disparities that exists in many areas of our communities, including our social, economic, medical, racial, and cultural institutions. The “status quo” seems like a myth; there is no such thing as “normal” anymore. Now more than ever, we need to find a way to constructively talk about what is happening both inside and outside ourselves. We need to find an effective way of communicating about change that could contribute to our efforts to unify and heal the turmoil that many of us are currently witnessing and experiencing. 

The International Trauma Training Institute (ITTI) is delighted to offer a timely new course titled “Motivational Interviewing”. The course was developed and will be taught by myself, Dr. Jim Reynolds, Director of Addictions Training for ITTI. I am a Florida licensed mental health counselor, a NAADAC certified master addiction counselor, and an NBCC approved clinical supervisor. I have been a clinician and counselor educator for over 30 years. I have developed and taught masters and doctoral counseling courses at several universities. In this course I offer a detailed description and orientation to this effective evidence-based counseling perspective which focuses upon how to assist individuals to bring about change.

The theoretical foundations of Motivational Interviewing were built upon the person-centered theory of Carl Rogers (1902-1987). Carl Rogers was a true leader, pioneer, and a founder of the humanistic psychology movement. He looked at human nature through the lens of empathetic hope and promise for the actualization of human potential. His legacy of non-judgmental acceptance and compassion are the foundations upon which Motivational Interviewing was built. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his work with intergroup and international conflict resolution. His work specifically focused upon conflict resolution in South Africa and Ireland. He was dedicated to the service of people of all demographic and sociocultural backgrounds. He elevated the values of human dignity and worth into both the counseling session and everyday life.

At the core of Motivational Interviewing is the requirement of being a good listener. Many counselor educators would insist that being a good listener is perhaps the most important skill to possess. Our current worldly circumstances would suggest that we all would benefit from being better listeners. Empathic listening and communication skills can go a long way in reducing conflict, divisiveness, and strife. The understanding and use of Motivational Interviewing in our personal and professional communications with others can lead to growth, healing, and transformation for both ourselves and others. Using Motivational Interviewing can change you as well as the other person. It can transform people in many ways, both inwardly and outwardly. Motivational Interviewing can help develop deeper connections with others. It can contribute to a deeper trust in the inner wisdom, personal strengths, and unique gifts and talents of others.

The efficacy of Motivational Interviewing is supported by more than 1200 publications in prestigious journals and books. It is currently utilized in a wide variety of problem areas and professional settings such as addictions, physical therapy, corrections, dental health, weight loss, medication adherence, smoking cessation, treatment retention, exercise, etc. Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative, respectful, person-centered approach which strongly acknowledges that the responsibility for change belongs to the client. It is also evocative and encourages counselors to recognize and utilize client ambivalence regarding change. In this course you will learn that the “spirit” of Motivational Interviewing is respectful, empathic, and honors client autonomy and their ability to choose how and when change may occur. Importantly, it is also directive, strategic, and utilizes client’s own ambivalence to help bring about change.

My own journey of learning about Motivational Interviewing was professionally and personally transformational. I discovered that Motivational Interviewing is an effective evidence-based counseling perspective which focuses upon how to assist individuals to bring about change. I learned that Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative, respectful, person-centered approach to counseling which strongly acknowledges that the responsibility for change belongs to those we are trying to help. It is also evocative and encourages us to recognize and utilize the experience of “ambivalence” regarding change. This seems almost contraindicated; ambivalence is the discomfort people experience when they are considering behavioral change. It is usually the case that part of us may want to change, but part of us does not. Ambivalence is almost always present when people are considering change. As ambivalence currently appears to be skyrocketing in almost all areas of our lives, how can we learn to utilize this ambivalence to help draw out motivation to change? This course will specifically address how counselors can utilize this ambivalence to help bring about behavioral change.

For me, learning Motivational Interviewing has involved a substantive change in my approach to counseling. I now recognize a qualitative shift in my consciousness when I can effectively utilize Motivational Interviewing in the therapeutic relationship with a client. When first using Motivational Interviewing, my understanding of the dynamics was somewhat indescribable. I did not fully understand the meaningful connection that occurred with a client when I effectively utilized it. From a person-centered perspective, it is the empathic, non-judgmental, accepting, genuine, and unconditional positive regard that are fundamental qualities that create this therapeutic alliance. Being fully present with a client allows for powerful and transcendent experiences of oneness and well-being. As Carl Rogers (1980, p.129) asserted, “Our relationship transcends itself and becomes part of something larger. Profound growth and healing and energy are present.” However, although Motivational Interviewing has been developed upon person-centered counseling theory, it has a specific directive agenda about bringing about behavioral change.

This course offered by ITTI presents the core skills and basic processes of Motivational Interviewing. Participants can learn how to recognize and assess client readiness to change. The course also provides information regarding how to direct discussions in a way that invites the client to make arguments for change. This involves utilizing client ambivalence and purposefully reinforcing what is recognized to be client “change talk”, as opposed to “sustained talk” which is about not changing. Participants will also be informed of tips and suggestions about how specific language, timing, and responses can help bring about client change. Also, the eight stages of learning Motivational Interviewing are explored in this course.

Regardless of your theoretical orientation in counseling, this course presents the basics of Motivational Interviewing in a usable and practical manner. It offers useful information about what Motivational Interviewing is, and what it is not. Participants can build proficiency by learning Motivational Interviewing guiding principles, core skills, and the basic processes of Motivational Interviewing. The practical “how to” information provided in this course can offer counselors a powerful tool for their clinical toolbox, and an effective way of communication that can be personally and professionally beneficial.