Motivational Interviewing Techniques to Know

People are creatures of habit, even if the habits they’ve developed are actively harmful to their health. One reason it can be so hard to change is that the impetus to do so must ultimately come from within yourself – and if you’re happy with the way things are, you’re unlikely to shake them up. A type of evidence-based therapy called motivational interviewing has proven effective in helping people move their lives in a more positive direction.

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing can help people change longstanding behaviors, especially any that are maladaptive. Psychologists Stephen Rollnick and William R. Miller developed this counseling approach in the 1980s.

Confrontational, argumentative or accusatory conversations start off on the wrong foot by causing defensiveness and anger. Instead, a motivational interviewer will sit down with you in a comfortable, non-judgmental setting. The interviewer will encourage their subject to “roll with resistance,” leading the conversation in whatever direction they’d like to go, with the goal of evoking positive self-talk around making specific changes.

The abbreviation OARS is one way to remember the set of communication skills required for successful motivational interviewing. This acronym stands for:

  • Open-ended questions
  • Affirming
  • Reflective listening
  • Summarizing

Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are one of the most effective conversational techniques, not only in motivational interviewing, but in any setting where you would like to know more in-depth information about someone. A counselor may ask you open-ended questions such as:

  • “What challenges are you facing right now?”
  • “What support do you think you need to accomplish your goals?”
  • “How do you imagine your life changing for the better?”
  • “What would make you feel more encouraged?”
  • “Do you see any solutions you can implement right away?”


Affirming is a well-established coaching technique that can make the interviewee feel seen, heard and validated. Affirmation can improve the interviewer-interviewee relationship and encourage more openness in the change talk that happens in sessions. An example of affirming might be: “It sounds like you’ve been going through a tough time. I’m sorry the people in your life aren’t more helpful.”

Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is a communication skill in which the interviewer paraphrases the interviewee’s change talk. This approach ensures there are no miscommunications or misunderstandings. It also allows the interviewee to reflect on their words, consider their innermost feelings and decide whether to add further clarification or corrections.


Motivational interviewing sessions typically end with summarizing, which is when the interviewer recaps their observations of the meeting without interpreting or judging. Hearing the interviewer summarize what you’ve said you would like to change is vital for lighting the spark needed to develop a realistic plan.

Learn More About Motivational Interviewing in Addiction Recovery

After moving through the four stages of OARS, you should feel more comfortable with the idea of rolling with resistance, stepping outside your comfort zone and altering your routine. Because motivational interviewing can be so effective, it might only take a few sessions to achieve your desired outcomes.

At Cumberland Heights, motivational interviewing is one of the evidence-based therapies we can add to our clients’ customized treatment plans. For more information about our accredited Tennessee treatment center, please connect with our team today.