Motivational Interviewing: The right way to use it in teaching

All of us have an interior belligerent teenager who resists, rebels, and feels misunderstood.

Should you’re a coach, you could be aware of situations the place a shopper’s inner-teen surfaced.

Possibly it was when a shopper…

… skilled even more durable regardless of you cautioning them to take time to get better.

… complained of heartburn, however while you instructed an acid-taming meal plan, they responded by happening a three-night spicy wings bender.

mentioned they needed to get higher sleep, however gave you 100 the explanation why they couldn’t put their telephone away earlier than 1 am.

Earlier than you think about using reverse psychology (“By no means stretch, and drink eight ounces of Sriracha earlier than mattress each night time…”), what if we instructed you there’s a framework that may dissolve these sorts of teaching tensions?

One that can assist you perceive:

  • Why shoppers’ actions generally contradict their intentions
  • Why individuals typically insurgent in opposition to good recommendation 
  • The right way to assist shoppers make clear the adjustments they’re truly prepared to make, and discuss themselves into motion 
  • The right way to collaborate higher with shoppers, getting them higher outcomes and making your job simpler and extra satisfying

This framework exists!

It’s referred to as Motivational Interviewing—and when you get it, your shopper outcomes might be mind-blowing.

What’s Motivational Interviewing?

Developed by medical psychologists William Miller, PhD, and Stephen Rollnick, PhD, Motivational Interviewing is a communication fashion that helps individuals:

✅ Discover objectives

✅ Strengthen their very own motivation and dedication

✅ Undertake new habits

✅ Stop unproductive habits

✅ Efficiently change for the higher

Motivational Interviewing: Advantages for the coach

Coaches who use Motivational Interviewing operate type of like tour guides for somebody exploring a brand new nation.

(On this case, that nation is the Land of Health and Diet.)

Like a private tour information, you could have experience, insider’s data, and concepts on the very best issues to do, however you don’t have a programmed route that you simply’ll drive shoppers to stay to.

You may share a few of your insights, however in the end, your shoppers will determine the place to go.

An excellent Motivational Interviewing coach will even be genuinely curious, respectful, and non-judgemental a couple of shopper’s preferences.

(“Oh, you’d reasonably spend the day picnicking on the Seine as a substitute of visiting the Eiffel Tower? I completely get that.”)

You respect your shopper’s autonomy, and work together with them as an equal companion.

You typically say, “What would you love to do subsequent? I’ve some concepts, however I’d love to listen to what you’re considering first.”

Because of this, even once they’re in international territory, shoppers find yourself feeling supported, but in addition free.

Motivational Interviewing: Advantages for the shopper

Motivational Interviewing works particularly properly when an individual is:

  • Extremely ambivalent, caught between wanting to alter, and wanting to remain the identical (“I need to go to mattress earlier, however I don’t need to quit my free time at night time.”)
  • Not very assured about their potential to alter (“I’ve by no means been athletic. I simply don’t know if I’m the exercising ‘kind.’”)
  • Unsure about whether or not they even need to make a change (“Do I actually need to eat extra kale? Sounds gross.”)
  • Not satisfied about the advantages of change (“Will meditating actually decrease my blood strain?”)

Uhh.. that’s most shoppers, isn’t it?


How Motivational Interviewing works

The primary function of Motivational Interviewing is to resolve ambivalence, or “stuckness” in a shopper.

That is achieved by way of empathy, rapport-building, and freedom to discover change choices—together with not altering in any respect.

Wait—not altering?!

When most coaches and practitioners hear this, they bristle. They really feel it’s their job to assist shoppers change and enhance.

If a shopper isn’t progressing, many coaches will (naturally, understandably) strive more durable—convincing, encouraging, even lecturing a shopper about all the great, life-affirming causes to alter.


“Serving to more durable” normally doesn’t work.

Positive, a number of unicorn shoppers simply want extra prodding to make progress.

However many purchasers don’t reply to straightforward encouragement, rationalizing, and problem-solving. The more durable you attempt to assist them, the more durable they push again, persevering with their outdated habits.

Take this widespread teaching situation:

A shopper involves you as a result of they need to eat more healthy.

A former athlete, their weight has crept up as a result of they changed a busy coaching schedule with a desk job, and plenty of snacking.

Their garments now not match, and their physician has warned them that they’re at excessive threat of creating prediabetes. They’ve two younger children, and their motivation is excessive to set instance for them and be a wholesome guardian.

You’ve taught them about parts, protein, greens—all of the vitamin fundamentals.

And but, a number of periods in, they haven’t modified a factor.

In fact, you ask them what’s up.

Consumer: I sit all day however really feel so drained after work. I don’t have the vitality to train; all I need to do once I get house is watch recreation highlights with a beer and a few chips.

Coach: Okay, I can perceive that. However your physician instructed you it was necessary to begin exercising, and stick with a greater eating regimen. She’s anxious about your blood sugar, proper?

Consumer: Yeah, I do know. I simply really feel like work is so loopy proper now, and I actually need time to decompress after work. It’s all I’ve earlier than the children get residence, after which the home is nuts till they go to mattress.

Coach: Hmm, properly possibly you can simply put a stationary bike in entrance of the TV and have seltzer as a substitute of beer?

Consumer: However that doesn’t really feel enjoyable to me. What I’m saying is that I actually need a while when nobody wants me to do something, and I can simply deal with myself. I by no means get to try this.

Coach: I get that. However you mentioned that long run, you need to be wholesome on your children. And one of the simplest ways to try this is to take higher care of your self now.

Are you able to see the place that is going?

The coach is making an attempt to assist by suggesting options, and reminding the shopper of the significance of their decisions.

The coach has a honest need to appropriate course once they see the shopper getting off observe. (In Motivational Interviewing, that is referred to as “the righting reflex.”)

Paradoxically, this causes the shopper to take the opposing place, to defend themself. 

Sadly, the coach finally ends up feeling pissed off as a result of they don’t really feel like they’re doing job serving to. (Which is what they have been employed to do… proper?)

In the meantime, the shopper feels misunderstood, and additional invested in justifying their present habits.

You understand your shopper needs to undertake higher habits—they instructed you in your first session collectively.

However in addition they appear pulled to take care of their present comforts.

So how do you get this shopper to alter? (With out making your self the enemy?)

Observe these 5 steps and expertise the magic of Motivational Interviewing.

Motivational Interviewing abilities: 5 steps to higher shopper conversations

When a shopper is one hundred pc prepared, in a position, and prepared to take motion RIGHT NOW, you received’t want a lot assist.

(Heck, you may by no means meet a shopper like that. Why would they rent a coach?)

Motivational Interviewing is most wanted—and efficient—while you sense friction in your shopper periods. Your shopper is expressing uncertainty, not following by way of on their intentions, or straight up resisting what you supply.

When that occurs (and it’ll), comply with these steps.

Motivational Interviewing Talent #1: Acknowledge that ambivalence is regular

Ever make an enormous determination?

Get married? Purchase a home? Change careers?

Do you keep in mind how a part of you felt excited for the change, however one other a part of you felt grief or anxiousness over the lack of your single life, your outdated (low cost) house, or your unstimulating-but-regular-paycheck job?

It’s the identical means when shoppers ponder life-style adjustments.

A part of them needs to be the kind of one that eats salads day by day, and the opposite half nonetheless needs to have a carefree angle in the direction of meals, and sure, add fries to that.

This inner battle between wanting to alter and wanting to remain the identical known as ambivalence.

And it’s completely regular.

Most shoppers received’t know easy methods to title this pressure both, and so they definitely received’t assume it’s regular. They’ll in all probability simply say: “I need to do that factor. However I’m not doing it. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME??”

Ambivalence is such a traditional a part of change that each coach and shopper ought to bake it into their expectations.

(To carry consciousness to—and generally even resolve—ambivalence, this train might be magic: 4 Loopy Questions Worksheet)

Nonetheless, ambivalence can be a spot the place individuals can get caught.

Normally, being caught means sustaining the “outdated” means. Which means: Your shopper isn’t getting any more healthy.

In an effort to assist a shopper transfer by way of these pure emotions of ambivalence, don’t push more durable.

As an alternative…

Motivational Interviewing Talent #2: Assess your shopper’s readiness for change

Change is never a single occasion: You’re a technique, then you definitely’re abruptly “modified.”

Change is a course of with a number of phases. And through a few of these phases, it received’t “look” like something’s taking place.

The concept that change is a multi-step course of with distinct phases known as the Transtheoretical Mannequin of Change.

Image of transtheoretical model of change shows 6 stages of change, arranged in a cycle. Although people may enter or exit at any phase, typically people enter in the precontemplation phase, then move to contemplation, then preparation, then action, then potentially relapse, then ideally enter a maintenance phase.

Purchasers can enter or exit at any stage of the above mannequin.

Nonetheless, assessing the place your shopper is in that course of might help you coach them higher—an individual may have totally different wants relying on which section they’re in. It’ll additionally assist you keep away from getting forward of them and inadvertently scaring them away from change.

The transtheoretical mannequin of change: 6 phases

Table describes the transtheoretical model of change, which has 6 stages of change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, then potentially relapse.

Most applications and coaches assume shoppers are within the “motion” stage already.

For instance, giving a shopper a meal plan or a exercise program after your first session assumes they’re already within the motion stage. Which isn’t at all times true.

By understanding and making ready for varied phases of readiness, you’ll be capable of join with—and assist—far more shoppers.

Motivational Interviewing Talent #3: Perceive your shopper’s motivations

No matter your shopper’s doing that’s holding them again from higher well being—staying up late, getting too wound up at work, or stress-eating costly cheese—they’ve purpose for doing it.  

To dig into that purpose, Motivational Interviewing coaches use OARS:

Open questions




OARS represents a set of communication abilities that construct understanding and belief between the shopper and the coach.

Let’s go into how (and when) to make use of these now.

Open Questions

Usually, an open query is one which prompts a shopper to suppose, and yields greater than a “sure” or “no” reply.

Open questions provide you with perception right into a shopper’s emotions, expertise, and expectations.


  • What brings you in immediately?
  • How are your present habits affecting you proper now?
  • What do you hope for your self sooner or later?

Open questions are an effective way to begin off a session, or to discover a sure subject at any level within the session.

Good open questions additionally assist the shopper understand why change issues, and the way it could be potential.


Affirming means accentuating a shopper’s strengths, efforts, and previous successes as a technique to construct hope and optimism.

Your affirmations might help shoppers see themselves in another way: Maybe as somebody who’s clever and worthy of respect—and most significantly, somebody who’s able to change.

Affirming ought to be real; Should you’re really listening and understanding your shopper’s aspect of the story, you will see their constructive elements, akin to their resilience or their creativity, and it’ll really feel pure to name it out.

Affirmations sound like this:

  • Wow, you’ve labored actually exhausting on this difficulty! I actually admire your persistence.
  • It feels like despite the fact that issues didn’t prove as you deliberate, your intention was good.
  • I do know you’re dissatisfied that you simply couldn’t follow your new behavior completely, however I see big progress from the place you began.

Affirmations can be utilized to construct momentum when a shopper is making progress, however they’re equally necessary when a shopper is feeling defeated and will use some assist reframing themselves or their actions.


Purchasers don’t at all times talk completely: They attempt to describe an expertise and don’t at all times convey their full which means.

Positive, you can press them to be extra clear or elaborate additional, however that may make some shoppers simply really feel like they’re doing a nasty job of speaking, or that you simply simply don’t perceive.

Reflections are a means of guessing at a shopper’s deeper which means.

They assist you affirm you’ve understood what the shopper is actually saying, and likewise offers you the chance to construct on what the shopper could be making an attempt to get at, by weaving in a few of your personal insights.

When performed correctly, reflecting might help a shopper really feel deeply cared for, understood, and likewise improve their very own understanding of themselves and their scenario.

Listed below are some examples of reflections:

Consumer: I really feel nervous.

Coach: You’re feeling uneasy, possibly since you’ve by no means talked about these items earlier than.

Consumer: I really feel like I failed.

Coach: You’re feeling dissatisfied that you simply slipped up this week, and this makes you surprise if you happen to can actually change in the long term.

Consumer: I’m so blissful I went to the fitness center this week!

Coach: You’re blissful you went to the fitness center and also you have to be feeling so pleased with your self! You’re getting a style for what’s potential!

Consider it or not, it truly doesn’t matter a lot if you happen to often get a shopper’s which means unsuitable. Simply take a guess, and your shopper will appropriate you if you happen to’re unsuitable.

Test it out:

Consumer: This meal plan type of freaks me out!

Coach: All these macros and energy might be overwhelming!

Consumer: Oh, that’s not it in any respect. I’m fairly comfy with macros. It’s simply that I’ve two daughters, and I’m anxious in regards to the message I’m sending them in the event that they see me weighing all my meals.

In correcting you, your shopper helps you perceive what they imply anyway.

Getting it unsuitable can really feel awkward, but it surely’s higher than staying quiet and assuming you perceive a shopper’s full which means once they say one thing.

(Word: The above are all examples of complicated reflections. If all that deciphering sounds dangerous, then strive a easy reflection, the place you simply repeat or barely rephrase what a shopper mentioned. Though fundamental, even this technique might help a shopper really feel such as you’re listening, and affords them an opportunity to elaborate.)


Summarizing is simply stringing collectively reflections—and generally affirmations—primarily based on a number of issues a shopper has instructed you.

Like reflections, summaries assist you affirm whether or not you’ve heard and interpreted a narrative appropriately.

In addition they give shoppers an opportunity to replicate on every little thing they’ve instructed you to this point, and probably to see their story differently. Typically after we hear another person inform our story again to us, it offers us new insights.

Right here’s an instance:

“So, you got here right here immediately since you’re anxious about your well being. You typically really feel sore and drained, and that worries you as a result of you could have younger children who want you to be wholesome for a very long time. You’ve had hassle sticking to vitamin applications previously, so that you don’t really feel tremendous assured that you are able to do it now. Nonetheless, you’ve additionally continued to care about your well being, and attempt to discover options, which exhibits me how resilient you might be.”

On the finish of your abstract, you’ll be able to ask, “Did I miss something?” or “Do you need to add anything?”

Use summaries while you:

✅ Wrap up a sure subject

✅ Shift from one section of a shopper session to the subsequent

✅ Attain the top of a session

With the entire image freshly laid out, you and your shopper can higher provide you with probably the most acceptable subsequent steps.

Motivational Interviewing Talent #4: Roll with any resistance that comes up

Resistance occurs when the shopper seems to maneuver away from change, and in the direction of sustaining their outdated habits.

Resistance may sound like this:

“However I make all my meals at residence! I don’t perceive how my eating regimen could possibly be unhealthy!”


“I’m simply not a fitness center particular person.”

Resistance isn’t in regards to the shopper being “tough.”

Resistance occurs when the shopper feels some (regular) ambivalence about change, and the coach has moved too far forward within the change course of.

It’s typically the coach who creates resistance. If a shopper’s pushing again, it means you’ve given them one thing to push in opposition to.

[Swallows jagged pill]

So while you expertise resistance, you may ask your self:

“What did I say to generate push-back?”

Possibly you—with completely good intentions—instructed the shopper change an excessive amount of too quick. And so they’re now feeling insecure, and overwhelmed.

This causes your shopper to dig of their heels, creating a sense of friction if you happen to proceed to push ahead.

A more practical technique to take care of resistance is to step again, remind your self that ambivalence and resistance are regular, after which use reflections to assist perceive and transfer by way of your shopper’s resistance.

Right here’s what that may sound like:

Consumer: “I don’t see why my eating regimen’s such an enormous drawback.”

Coach: “You’re feeling such as you’re probably not seeing the good thing about altering your consuming habits.”

Consumer: “No. I imply, my physician appears to suppose there’s an issue, however I don’t.”

Coach: “You’re probably not positive your physician is true about this.”

Consumer: “Effectively, I’m positive she is aware of one thing. She’s a physician in spite of everything. I simply don’t really feel like I’m sick or something.”

Coach: “Your physician may know what they’re speaking about, you simply don’t really feel you’ve skilled any adverse penalties of your eating regimen.”

Consumer: “Effectively, I suppose I get heartburn a good bit. And I don’t have the vitality I used to.”

Coach: “Your heartburn’s bothering you, and it could be nice to really feel extra energetic once more.”

Consumer: “Yeah. These issues bug me rather a lot truly. Sigh. I suppose I do know if I eat higher, I’ll in all probability really feel higher.”

With out making an attempt to persuade them of your place, you’ve simply walked the shopper gently in the direction of change.

Your shopper initially felt defensive and a bit oppositional, however with some good reflections, they felt understood and free to discover their choices.

Now, you’re in a significantly better place to ask the shopper in the event that they’re okay with you sharing some issues about how vitamin may enhance their particular well being points.

And your shopper may truly really feel able to pay attention.

Motivational Interviewing Talent #5: Help your shopper’s ongoing potential to alter

Many consumers who come to you’ll have tried to alter on their very own—and even with the assistance of one other practitioner—with out success.

They could even be used to individuals telling them their habits are “dangerous” and pushing them to alter.

In different phrases, many purchasers will come to you stuffed with self-doubt, mistrustful of their very own instincts and knowledge.

This may negatively affect their long run progress.

Right here’s what we all know—from teaching over 100,000 shoppers—what does assist individuals make significant and sustainable progress.

Individuals are extra profitable when:

  • They discover their very own motivation to alter. Individuals are extra persuaded by what they themselves say than what another person tells them to do.
  • They see challenges as alternatives to get stronger, reasonably than quit. Affirmations that spotlight a shopper’s efforts (reasonably than simply outcomes) can strengthen their perception of their potential to be taught, develop, and adapt.
  • They’re self-compassionate. When a shopper works with a coach who accepts them as they’re, sees the very best in them, and believes of their potential, it’s transformative. Purchasers who internalize this compassion and constructive regard usually tend to undertake more healthy habits, and have higher psychological well being outcomes.

By adopting the spirit of Motivational Interviewing in your teaching, you’ll naturally promote all of those outcomes in your shoppers.

(Learn extra about easy methods to discuss to shoppers in a collaborative, compassionate means: Efficient coach discuss: What to say to shoppers and why it issues)

Don’t count on your teaching to alter , although.

This was just a bit pattern of what Motivational Interviewing has to supply.

Even so, you could be feeling overwhelmed about every little thing we simply lined.

Or possibly you’re tremendous excited to place it into follow!

(Or possibly it’s each. Keep in mind: Ambivalence is regular.)

Both means, know that Motivational Interviewing takes constant follow on the a part of the practitioner to actually “get.”

Motivational Interviewing is a type of language. And identical to studying a brand new language, Motivational Interviewing takes time to grasp—and may really feel REALLY awkward at first.

Similar to you give your shoppers time and area to alter, permit your self to construct your Motivational Interviewing proficiency over time.

(If you wish to dig into it additional, plus be mentored by one among our Tremendous Coaches, take a look at the Precision Diet Degree 2 Grasp Well being Teaching Certification. Motivational Interviewing rules are constructed into our teaching strategies—we name it “client-centered teaching.”)

Once you get the cling of Motivational Interviewing, teaching will really feel totally different.

Your shoppers will get higher outcomes as a result of they really feel extra autonomous, revered, and appropriately supported. And that’s very rewarding to witness.

However you’ll additionally really feel higher: You’ll expertise much less frustration and battle in shopper periods, teaching will really feel simpler with much less strain to “produce outcomes,” and also you’ll really feel extra linked to the individuals you serve.

Motivational Interviewing is without doubt one of the simplest instruments you need to use to assist your shoppers change for the higher.

And it’ll change you too.


Click on right here to view the knowledge sources referenced on this article.

Miller WR, Rollnick S. Motivational Interviewing. Getting ready individuals for change. third edn. New York: The Guilford Press, 2013.

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