Motivational Interviewing: Find out how to use it in teaching

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

In case you’re a coach, you could be conversant in situations the place a consumer’s inner-teen surfaced.

Perhaps it was when a consumer…

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

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

mentioned they wished to get higher sleep, however gave you 100 explanation why they couldn’t put their cellphone 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 advised you there’s a framework that may dissolve these sorts of teaching tensions?

One that may allow you to perceive:

  • Why shoppers’ actions generally contradict their intentions
  • Why folks usually insurgent in opposition to good recommendation 
  • Find out how to assist shoppers make clear the modifications they’re really prepared to make, and speak themselves into motion 
  • Find out how to collaborate higher with shoppers, getting them higher outcomes and making your job simpler and extra pleasant

This framework exists!

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

What’s Motivational Interviewing?

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

✅ Discover targets

✅ 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 perform sort of like tour guides for somebody exploring a brand new nation.

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

Like a private tour information, you’ve gotten experience, insider’s information, and concepts on the most effective issues to do, however you don’t have a programmed route that you simply’ll pressure shoppers to stay to.

You may share a few of your insights, however finally, your shoppers will resolve the place to go.

An excellent Motivational Interviewing coach may also be genuinely curious, respectful, and non-judgemental a few consumer’s preferences.

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

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

You usually 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 after they’re in overseas territory, shoppers find yourself feeling supported, but additionally free.

Motivational Interviewing: Advantages for the consumer

Motivational Interviewing works particularly properly when an individual is:

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

Uhh.. that’s most shoppers, isn’t it?


How Motivational Interviewing works

The principle goal of Motivational Interviewing is to resolve ambivalence, or “stuckness” in a consumer.

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 consumer isn’t progressing, many coaches will (naturally, understandably) attempt more durable—convincing, encouraging, even lecturing a consumer about all the nice, life-affirming causes to vary.


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

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

However many consumers 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 previous habits.

Take this widespread teaching situation:

A consumer involves you as a result of they wish 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 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 a very good instance for them and be a wholesome mum or dad.

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

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

In fact, you ask them what’s up.

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

Coach: Okay, I can perceive that. However your physician advised you it was essential to begin exercising, and keep on with a greater food regimen. She’s frightened about your blood sugar, proper?

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

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

Shopper: However that doesn’t really feel stress-free to me. What I’m saying is that I really want a while when nobody wants me to do something, and I can simply deal with myself. I by no means get to do this.

Coach: I get that. However you mentioned that long run, you wish to be wholesome in your children. And one of the best ways to do 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 consumer of the significance of their selections.

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

Paradoxically, this causes the consumer 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 a very good job serving to. (Which is what they had been employed to do… proper?)

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

You understand your consumer desires to undertake higher habits—they advised 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 consumer to vary? (With out making your self the enemy?)

Comply with these 5 steps and expertise the magic of Motivational Interviewing.

Motivational Interviewing abilities: 5 steps to raised consumer conversations

When a consumer is 100% prepared, ready, and prepared to take motion RIGHT NOW, you received’t want a lot assist.

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

Motivational Interviewing is most wanted—and efficient—while you sense friction in your consumer classes. Your consumer 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 a giant determination?

Get married? Purchase a home? Change careers?

Do you bear 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 previous (low-cost) condominium, or your unstimulating-but-regular-paycheck job?

It’s the identical means when shoppers ponder way of life modifications.

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

This inside battle between wanting to vary and wanting to remain the identical is known as ambivalence.

And it’s completely regular.

Most shoppers received’t know how one can identify this rigidity both, and so they actually received’t assume it’s regular. They’ll in all probability simply say: “I wish to do that factor. However I’m not doing it. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME??”

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

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

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

Often, being caught means sustaining the “previous” means. Which means: Your consumer isn’t getting any more healthy.

With the intention to assist a consumer transfer by way of these pure emotions of ambivalence, don’t push more durable.

As a substitute…

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

Change is never a single occasion: You’re a method, then you definately’re out of the blue “modified.”

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

The concept change is a multi-step course of with distinct phases is 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 consumer is in that course of might help you coach them higher—an individual may have completely different wants relying on which part they’re in. It’ll additionally allow you to keep away from getting forward of them and inadvertently scaring them away from change.

The transtheoretical mannequin of change: 6 levels

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 consumer a meal plan or a exercise program after your first session assumes they’re already within the motion stage. Which isn’t all the time true.

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

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

No matter your consumer’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 a very good cause for doing it.  

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

Open questions




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

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

Open Questions

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

Open questions offer you perception right into a consumer’s emotions, expertise, and expectations.


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

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

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


Affirming means accentuating a consumer’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; In case you’re actually listening and understanding your consumer’s facet of the story, you will see their optimistic elements, equivalent 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 onerous on this situation! I actually admire your persistence.
  • It feels like although issues didn’t end up as you deliberate, your intention was good.
  • I do know you’re disenchanted that you simply couldn’t apply your new behavior completely, however I see enormous progress from the place you began.

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


Purchasers don’t all the time talk completely: They attempt to describe an expertise and don’t all the time convey their full that means.

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

Reflections are a means of guessing at a consumer’s deeper that means.

They allow you to verify you’ve understood what the consumer is actually saying, and in addition provides you the chance to construct on what the consumer could be making an attempt to get at, by weaving in a few of your individual insights.

When completed correctly, reflecting might help a consumer really feel deeply cared for, understood, and in addition improve their very own understanding of themselves and their state of affairs.

Listed below are some examples of reflections:

Shopper: I really feel nervous.

Coach: You’re feeling uneasy, perhaps since you’ve by no means talked about this stuff earlier than.

Shopper: I really feel like I failed.

Coach: You’re feeling disenchanted that you simply slipped up this week, and this makes you marvel for those who can actually change in the long term.

Shopper: I’m so glad I went to the fitness center this week!

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

Consider it or not, it really doesn’t matter a lot for those who sometimes get a consumer’s that means improper. Simply take a guess, and your consumer will appropriate you for those who’re improper.

Test it out:

Shopper: This meal plan sort of freaks me out!

Coach: All these macros and energy may be overwhelming!

Shopper: 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 frightened concerning the message I’m sending them in the event that they see me weighing all my meals.

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

Getting it improper can really feel awkward, nevertheless it’s higher than staying quiet and assuming you perceive a consumer’s full that means after they say one thing.

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


Summarizing is simply stringing collectively reflections—and generally affirmations—based mostly on a number of issues a consumer has advised you.

Like reflections, summaries allow you to verify whether or not you’ve heard and interpreted a narrative accurately.

Additionally they give shoppers an opportunity to replicate on the whole lot they’ve advised you to this point, and presumably to see their story differently. Typically after we hear another person inform our story again to us, it provides us new insights.

Right here’s an instance:

“So, you got here right here at the moment since you’re frightened about your well being. You usually really feel sore and drained, and that worries you as a result of you’ve gotten younger children who want you to be wholesome for a very long time. You’ve had hassle sticking to vitamin applications up to now, 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’re.”

On the finish of your abstract, you may ask, “Did I miss something?” or “Do you wish to add the rest?”

Use summaries while you:

✅ Wrap up a sure subject

✅ Shift from one part of a consumer session to the following

✅ Attain the tip of a session

With the entire image freshly laid out, you and your consumer can higher provide you with essentially the most applicable subsequent steps.

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

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

Resistance may sound like this:

“However I make all my meals at house! I don’t perceive how my food regimen may very well be unhealthy!”


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

Resistance isn’t concerning the consumer being “tough.”

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

It’s usually the coach who creates resistance. If a consumer’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?”

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

This causes your consumer to dig of their heels, creating a sense of friction for those who proceed to push ahead.

A more practical technique to cope with 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 consumer’s resistance.

Right here’s what that may sound like:

Shopper: “I don’t see why my food regimen’s such a giant downside.”

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

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

Coach: “You’re probably not certain your physician is correct about this.”

Shopper: “Nicely, I’m certain she is aware of one thing. She’s a physician in any case. 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 unfavourable penalties of your food regimen.”

Shopper: “Nicely, I assume I get heartburn a good bit. And I don’t have the power I used to.”

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

Shopper: “Yeah. These issues bug me so much really. Sigh. I assume 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 consumer gently in the direction of change.

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

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

And your consumer may really really feel able to hear.

Motivational Interviewing Talent #5: Assist your consumer’s ongoing potential to vary

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

They may even be used to folks telling them their habits are “dangerous” and pushing them to vary.

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

This could negatively impression their long run progress.

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

Individuals are extra profitable when:

  • They discover their very own motivation to vary. 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, moderately than quit. Affirmations that spotlight a consumer’s efforts (moderately than simply outcomes) can strengthen their perception of their potential to be taught, develop, and adapt.
  • They’re self-compassionate. When a consumer works with a coach who accepts them as they’re, sees the most effective in them, and believes of their potential, it’s transformative. Purchasers who internalize this compassion and optimistic 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 how one can speak to shoppers in a collaborative, compassionate means: Efficient coach speak: What to say to shoppers and why it issues)

Don’t count on your teaching to vary all of sudden, although.

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

Even so, you could be feeling overwhelmed about the whole lot we simply lined.

Or perhaps you’re tremendous excited to place it into apply!

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

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

Motivational Interviewing is a sort 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 vary, enable your self to construct your Motivational Interviewing proficiency over time.

(If you wish to dig into it additional, plus be mentored by certainly one of our Tremendous Coaches, take a look at the Precision Vitamin 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 grasp of Motivational Interviewing, teaching will really feel completely 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 consumer classes, teaching will really feel simpler with much less stress to “produce outcomes,” and also you’ll really feel extra related to the folks you serve.

Motivational Interviewing is without doubt one of the simplest instruments you should 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. Making ready folks for change. third edn. New York: The Guilford Press, 2013.

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