Motivational Interviewing: The right way to use it in teaching

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

For those who’re a coach, you is perhaps acquainted with eventualities the place a shopper’s inner-teen surfaced.

Perhaps it was when a shopper…

… skilled even tougher regardless of you cautioning them to take time to get well.

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

stated 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 evening…”), what if we advised you there’s a framework that may dissolve these sorts of teaching tensions?

One that may make it easier to perceive:

  • Why shoppers’ actions typically contradict their intentions
  • Why folks usually insurgent in opposition to good recommendation 
  • The right way to assist shoppers make clear the modifications they’re really keen 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 model 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 operate 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 have got experience, insider’s information, and concepts on one of the best issues to do, however you don’t have a programmed route that you just’ll pressure shoppers to stay to.

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

A very good Motivational Interviewing coach may even be genuinely curious, respectful, and non-judgemental a couple of shopper’s preferences.

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

You respect your shopper’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 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 vary, and wanting to remain the identical (“I need to go to mattress earlier, however I don’t need to surrender my free time at evening.”)
  • Not very assured about their skill to vary (“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 means 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) attempt tougher—convincing, encouraging, even lecturing a shopper about all the great, life-affirming causes to vary.


“Serving to tougher” normally doesn’t work.

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

However many consumers don’t reply to plain encouragement, rationalizing, and problem-solving. The tougher you attempt to assist them, the tougher they push again, persevering with their previous habits.

Take this widespread teaching state of affairs:

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

You’ve taught them about parts, protein, greens—all of the diet 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 vitality to train; all I need 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 stick with a greater weight loss program. 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 would 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 stated that long run, you need to be wholesome in your youngsters. 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 shopper of the significance of their selections.

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 annoyed as a result of they don’t really feel like they’re doing a great 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 advised you in your first session collectively.

However additionally they appear pulled to keep up their present comforts.

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

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

Motivational Interviewing expertise: 5 steps to raised shopper conversations

When a shopper is 100% prepared, in a position, and keen 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—if you sense friction in your shopper classes. Your shopper is expressing uncertainty, not following by means of on their intentions, or straight up resisting what you provide.

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

Motivational Interviewing Talent #1: Acknowledge that ambivalence is regular

Ever make a giant choice?

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 nervousness over the lack of your single life, your previous (low cost) house, or your unstimulating-but-regular-paycheck job?

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

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

This inner battle between wanting to vary and wanting to remain the identical is named ambivalence.

And it’s completely regular.

Most shoppers received’t know the best way to title this stress both, and so they actually 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 standard a part of change that each coach and shopper ought to bake it into their expectations.

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

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

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

So as to assist a shopper transfer by means of these pure emotions of ambivalence, don’t push tougher.

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 immediately “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 that change is a multi-step course of with distinct phases is named 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.

Shoppers 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 completely different wants relying on which section they’re in. It’ll additionally make it easier 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 packages 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 getting ready for numerous levels of readiness, you’ll have the ability to 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 a great motive for doing it.  

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

Open questions




OARS represents a set of communication expertise 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

Typically, an open query is one which prompts a shopper to assume, 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 matter at any level within the session.

Good open questions additionally assist the shopper notice why change issues, and the way it is perhaps attainable.


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

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

Affirming needs to be real; For those who’re actually listening and understanding your shopper’s facet of the story, you will see their constructive elements, corresponding 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 challenge! I actually admire your persistence.
  • It feels like despite the fact that issues didn’t end up as you deliberate, your intention was good.
  • I do know you’re dissatisfied that you just couldn’t follow your new behavior completely, however I see enormous progress from the place you began.

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


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

Positive, you would 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 just simply don’t perceive.

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

They make it easier to affirm you’ve understood what the shopper is actually saying, and likewise offers you the chance to construct on what the shopper is perhaps making an attempt to get at, by weaving in a few of your individual insights.

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

Listed here are some examples of reflections:

Shopper: I really feel nervous.

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

Shopper: I really feel like I failed.

Coach: You are feeling dissatisfied that you just slipped up this week, and this makes you marvel when you can actually change in the long term.

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

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

Imagine it or not, it really doesn’t matter a lot when you sometimes get a shopper’s that means flawed. Simply take a guess, and your shopper will appropriate you when you’re flawed.

Test it out:

Shopper: This meal plan sort of freaks me out!

Coach: All these macros and energy might 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 shopper helps you perceive what they imply anyway.

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

(Notice: The above are all examples of advanced reflections. If all that deciphering sounds dangerous, then attempt a easy reflection, the place you simply repeat or barely rephrase what a shopper stated. 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 typically affirmations—based mostly on a number of issues a shopper has advised you.

Like reflections, summaries make it easier to affirm whether or not you’ve heard and interpreted a narrative appropriately.

Additionally they give shoppers an opportunity to replicate on every part they’ve advised 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 frightened about your well being. You usually really feel sore and drained, and that worries you as a result of you have got younger youngsters who want you to be wholesome for a very long time. You’ve had hassle sticking to diet packages 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 reveals me how resilient you’re.”

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

Use summaries if you:

✅ Wrap up a sure matter

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

✅ 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 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 weight loss program may very well be unhealthy!”


“I’m simply not a fitness center individual.”

Resistance isn’t concerning 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 usually 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 if you expertise resistance, you may ask your self:

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

Perhaps you—with completely good intentions—instructed the shopper change an excessive amount of too quick. They usually’re now feeling insecure, and overwhelmed.

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

A simpler strategy 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 means of your shopper’s resistance.

Right here’s what that may sound like:

Shopper: “I don’t see why my weight loss program’s such a giant downside.”

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

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

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

Shopper: “Properly, I’m certain 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 damaging penalties of your weight loss program.”

Shopper: “Properly, I assume I get heartburn a good bit. And I don’t have the vitality 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 rather a lot 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 shopper gently in direction of change.

Your shopper 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 shopper in the event that they’re okay with you sharing some issues about how diet may enhance their particular well being points.

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

Motivational Interviewing Talent #5: Assist your shopper’s ongoing skill to vary

Many consumers 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 stuffed with self-doubt, mistrustful of their very own instincts and knowledge.

This may 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.

Persons are extra profitable when:

  • They discover their very own motivation to vary. Persons are extra persuaded by what they themselves say than what another person tells them to do.
  • They see challenges as alternatives to get stronger, slightly than surrender. Affirmations that spotlight a shopper’s efforts (slightly than simply outcomes) can strengthen their perception of their skill to be taught, develop, and adapt.
  • They’re self-compassionate. When a shopper works with a coach who accepts them as they’re, sees one of the best in them, and believes of their potential, it’s transformative. Shoppers 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 the best way to discuss to shoppers in a collaborative, compassionate means: Efficient coach discuss: What to say to shoppers and why it issues)

Don’t anticipate your teaching to vary abruptly, although.

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

Even so, you is perhaps feeling overwhelmed about every part we simply coated.

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

(Or perhaps it’s each. Bear 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 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 house 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 Stage 2 Grasp Well being Teaching Certification. Motivational Interviewing rules are constructed into our teaching strategies—we name it “client-centered teaching.”)

If you get the hold 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 shopper classes, teaching will really feel simpler with much less strain to “produce outcomes,” and also you’ll really feel extra linked to the folks you serve.

Motivational Interviewing is among the simplest instruments you should utilize 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 folks for change. third edn. New York: The Guilford Press, 2013.

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