This is part of an occasional series of blogs on workplace learning.

There is a lot of interest in Motivational Interviewing (MI) in the housing and homeless-serving sector. It’s understandable because MI is well-aligned with person-centered and goal-oriented service approaches. Despite its name, MI is not really “interviewing”. It can be more accurately described as a “coaching conversation”. MI practitioners speak of the “spirit of MI” — an approach that is used to elicit change talk and commitment.

Change talk leads to a change plan and then a commitment to change. 

In order to make changes for the better and sustain them over time, we need motivation. The tricky part is that motivation isn’t constant — it’s as changeable as the weather. MI is a helpful tool when working with people who are reluctant to change or those who believe that change isn’t possible.

MI practitioners are change agents — they are not in the driver’s seat, but are there to support and encourage the person on their journey. MI is not about trying to change people.

How does MI help spark change?

Change talk means the person is taking ownership of their actions — they feel that change is possible and within their control. As helpers we may sometimes jump too quickly to planning without knowing what the person wants and what they are willing to do. 

Through collaborative conversations, you help people identify their own reasons for making change for the better. Your role in the conversation is to help clarify what they want (their goal) and what they need to do to make it happen (the plan).

What is the spirit of MI?

The spirit of MI involves both the process and the outcome.

The process goal 

  • To have the person express concerns about their own behaviour and give their own reasons for change.

The outcome goal

  • To have the person resolve ambivalence, increase motivation, and strengthen commitment to change.

The MI spirit means:

  • Collaboration/Partnership: Working for and with the person
  • Acceptance: Absolute worth of the client and what they bring
  • Evocation: Identifying motivation & resources already within the person
  • Compassion: Promoting the person’s welfare and prioritizing their needs

Without the spirit of MI, there is a risk of using the techniques for manipulation or coercion. There may be times when you find yourself working harder than the client. In other words, are you leading or are you supporting? The plan has to come from the person. 

It’s important to keep in mind that change is difficult for everyone — and especially the people you work with. Reluctance and resistance are natural reactions especially when hope has been in short supply. Before real change can happen, people need to believe that change is possible and that they are capable of sustaining change. 

Using the four processes of MI, you can establish a connection (Engaging), identify goals to target (Focusing), elicit change talk (Evoking) and get commitment to change (Planning). In this way, you demonstrate that you value the person — who they are — and not just who they could become.

Where can I learn more about MI?

If you are new to MI (or need a refresher) check out the collection of MI resources on the HLHub

Using MI in coaching conversations takes patience and practice. Begin with basic techniques. Set aside time to practice — reflection skills, in particular, can be difficult to master. Make sure you have people around you to help develop your skills — a supervisor or mentor who has experience with MI. Seek out connections with other MI practitioners to help you master your technique over time. 

The Homelessness Learning Hub has job-specific learning materials

The Homelessness Learning Hub has hundreds of resources to support your professional development, including online training on the topics you care most about. Our online trainings are free and self-paced which helps you fit them into your busy schedule to meet your learning goals. 

What training topics do you want to see included? Let us know! Get in touch through email or connect with us on Twitter @HLHub_

MI Collection of Resources

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a person-centered and goal-oriented approach to help people make change in their lives. These resources will support you to learn about change conversations using motivational interviewing.