Motivational Interviewing: Tips on how to use it in teaching

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

When you’re a coach, you could be accustomed to situations the place a consumer’s inner-teen surfaced.

Perhaps it was when a consumer…

… educated even tougher regardless of you cautioning them to take time to get better.

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

One that may show you how to perceive:

  • Why purchasers’ actions generally contradict their intentions
  • Why folks usually insurgent in opposition to good recommendation 
  • Tips on how to assist purchasers make clear the adjustments they’re really prepared to make, and speak themselves into motion 
  • Tips on how to collaborate higher with purchasers, 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 might be mind-blowing.

What’s Motivational Interviewing?

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

✅ Discover targets

✅ Strengthen their very own motivation and dedication

✅ Undertake new habits

✅ Give up unproductive habits

✅ Efficiently change for the higher

Motivational Interviewing: Advantages for the coach

Coaches who use Motivational Interviewing operate form 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’ve gotten experience, insider’s information, and concepts on the very best issues to do, however you don’t have a programmed route that you just’ll pressure purchasers to stay to.

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

A great Motivational Interviewing coach may even be genuinely curious, respectful, and non-judgemental a few consumer’s preferences.

(“Oh, you’d somewhat 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 companion.

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

In consequence, even after they’re in overseas territory, purchasers find yourself feeling supported, but additionally free.

Motivational Interviewing: Advantages for the consumer

Motivational Interviewing works particularly nicely 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 wish to hand over my free time at evening.”)
  • Not very assured about their capacity to alter (“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 strain?”)

Uhh.. that’s most purchasers, isn’t it?


How Motivational Interviewing works

The principle objective 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 purchasers change and enhance.

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


“Serving to tougher” often doesn’t work.

Certain, a number of unicorn purchasers simply want extra prodding to make progress.

However many purchasers 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 outdated habits.

Take this frequent 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 many snacking.

Their garments not match, and their physician has warned them that they’re at excessive danger of growing 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.

After all, you ask them what’s up.

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

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

Consumer: 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, nicely perhaps you would simply put a stationary bike in entrance of the TV and have seltzer as an alternative of beer?

Consumer: However that doesn’t really feel enjoyable 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 try this.

Coach: I get that. However you mentioned that long run, you wish to be wholesome on your children. And the easiest way 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 consumer of the significance of their decisions.

The coach has a honest want to right 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 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 realize your consumer desires to undertake higher habits—they advised you in your first session collectively.

However in addition they appear pulled to keep up their present comforts.

So how do you get this consumer to alter? (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 one hundred pc 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—whenever you sense friction in your consumer periods. Your consumer is expressing uncertainty, not following by way of on their intentions, or straight up resisting what you provide.

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

Motivational Interviewing Talent #1: Acknowledge that ambivalence is regular

Ever make an enormous choice?

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 outdated (low cost) residence, or your unstimulating-but-regular-paycheck job?

It’s the identical means when purchasers ponder way of life adjustments.

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

This inside battle between wanting to alter and wanting to remain the identical is named ambivalence.

And it’s completely regular.

Most purchasers received’t know how you can title this pressure both, they usually definitely 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 traditional 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 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 “outdated” means. Which means: Your consumer isn’t getting any more healthy.

As a way to assist a consumer transfer by way of these pure emotions of ambivalence, don’t push tougher.

As an alternative…

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

Change isn’t a single occasion: You’re a method, then you definitely’re instantly “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 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 consumer is in that course of may help you coach them higher—an individual could have completely different wants relying on which section they’re in. It’ll additionally show you how to 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 packages and coaches assume purchasers 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 at all times true.

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

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 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 consumer 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 consumer to assume, and yields greater than a “sure” or “no” reply.

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


  • What brings you in at present?
  • 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 matter at any level within the session.

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


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

Your affirmations may help purchasers see themselves otherwise: Maybe as somebody who’s clever and worthy of respect—and most significantly, somebody who’s able to change.

Affirming must be real; When you’re really listening and understanding your consumer’s facet of the story, you will see their constructive points, 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 arduous on this subject! 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 dissatisfied that you just couldn’t observe your new behavior completely, however I see big progress from the place you began.

Affirmations can be utilized to construct momentum when a consumer is making progress, however they’re equally necessary when a consumer 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 which means.

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

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

They show you how to verify you’ve understood what the consumer is actually saying, and likewise 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 executed correctly, reflecting may help a consumer really feel deeply cared for, understood, and likewise improve their very own understanding of themselves and their state of affairs.

Listed below are some examples of reflections:

Consumer: I really feel nervous.

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

Consumer: I really feel like I failed.

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

Consumer: 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 have to be feeling so pleased with your self! You’re getting a style for what’s potential!

Imagine it or not, it really doesn’t matter a lot should you sometimes get a consumer’s which means improper. Simply take a guess, and your consumer will right you should you’re improper.

Test it out:

Consumer: This meal plan form 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 apprehensive in regards to 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, but it surely’s higher than staying quiet and assuming you perceive a consumer’s full which means after they say one thing.

(Notice: 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 may help a consumer really feel such as you’re listening, and affords 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 show you how to verify whether or not you’ve heard and interpreted a narrative accurately.

In addition they give purchasers an opportunity to replicate on all the things they’ve advised you to date, and probably to see their story differently. Typically once 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 present since you’re apprehensive 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 packages 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 reveals me how resilient you’re.”

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

Use summaries whenever you:

✅ Wrap up a sure matter

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

✅ 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 direction of sustaining their outdated habits.

Resistance may sound like this:

“However I make all my meals at house! I don’t perceive how my food plan could possibly be unhealthy!”


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

Resistance isn’t in regards to 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 whenever you expertise resistance, you may ask your self:

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

Perhaps you—with completely good intentions—advised 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 should you proceed to push ahead.

A simpler solution 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 consumer’s resistance.

Right here’s what which may sound like:

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

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

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

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

Consumer: “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 destructive penalties of your food plan.”

Consumer: “Properly, 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.”

Consumer: “Yeah. These issues bug me lots 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 direction of change.

Your consumer initially felt defensive and a bit of 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 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: Help your consumer’s ongoing capacity 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 folks telling them their habits are “dangerous” and pushing them to alter.

In different phrases, many purchasers 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 purchasers—what does assist folks 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, somewhat than hand over. Affirmations that spotlight a consumer’s efforts (somewhat than simply outcomes) can strengthen their perception of their capacity 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 very 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 purchasers.

(Learn extra about how you can speak to purchasers in a collaborative, compassionate means: Efficient coach speak: What to say to purchasers and why it issues)

Don’t count on your teaching to alter 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 all the things we simply coated.

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

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

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

Motivational Interviewing is a form of language. And similar 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 purchasers time and house to alter, enable your self to construct your Motivational Interviewing proficiency over time.

(If you wish to dig into it additional, plus be mentored by considered one of our Tremendous Coaches, try the Precision Diet Stage 2 Grasp Well being Teaching Certification. Motivational Interviewing ideas are constructed into our teaching strategies—we name it “client-centered teaching.”)

While you get the hold of Motivational Interviewing, teaching will really feel completely different.

Your purchasers 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 periods, 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 without doubt one of the simplest instruments you need to use to assist your purchasers change for the higher.

And it’ll change you too.


Click on right here to view the data 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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