Motivational Interviewing: Assumptions and Principles - A Broad Framework

Motivational Interviewing provides a foundation for assisting individuals with developing the rationale for beginning change in their lives. This resources provides basic information about the assumptions and principles of motivational interviewing.

Motivational Interviewing: The Basics 

Assumptions and Principles: A Broad Framework
(Adapted from Miller & Rollnick, Motivational Interviewing, 2nd Edition, 2002)

What is Motivational Interviewing?
Motivational Interviewing is a tool for helping people to change. It is an “empathic, person-centered counseling approach that prepares people for change by helping them resolve ambivalence, enhance intrinsic motivation, and build confidence to change.”
(Kraybill and Morrison, 2007)

Five Assumptions in Motivational Interviewing
(Winarski, 2003)

1) Motivation is a state (a temporary condition), not a trait (a personality characteristic)
2) Resistance is not a force to be overcome, but a cue that we need to change strategies
3) Ambivalence is good
4) Our client should be an ally, rather than an adversary
5) Recovery and change/growth are intrinsic to the human experience

Four Principles of Motivational Interviewing

1) Express Empathy

  • Create an environment in which clients can safely explore conflicts and face difficult realities
  • Understand that:
    • Acceptance promotes change, pressure hinders it
    • Reflective listening is fundamental
    • Ambivalence is normal

2) Develop Discrepancy

  • Help a client to see his or her behavior as conflicting with important personal goals
  • Use discrepancy to explore the importance of change
  • Understand that the goal is to have the client - not the counselor - present reasons for change
  • Elicit and reinforce change statements, including recognition of a problem, expression of concern, intention to change, and optimism for this change

3) Roll with Resistance

  • Avoid arguing for change
  • Do not directly oppose resistance
  • Understand that resistance is a signal to respond differently
  • Offer new perspectives without imposing them
  • Accept that the client is the primary resource in finding answers and solutions
  • Recognize that client resistance is significantly influenced by the counselor’s behavior

4) Support Self-Efficacy

  • Enhance a client’s confidence in his or her ability to succeed
  • Understand that the client is responsible for choosing and carrying out change – not the counselor
  • Help clients to develop self-efficacy as a key element for motivating change
  • Accept that the counselor’s own belief in a client’s ability to change can have a powerful effect

Change Talk: DARN-C
(Miller & Rollnick, 2004)
Eliciting change talk is a useful strategy for inviting clients to make their own arguments for change. Here is what change talk sounds like:

  • Desire: I want to change
  • Ability: I can change
  • Reasons: I should change because ___
  • Need: I have to change
  • Commitment: I am going to change

Where to go for more information
Kraybill, K. and Morrison, S. (Forthcoming). Assessing Health, Promoting Wellness: A Guide for Non- Medical Providers of Care for People Experiencing Homelessness. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Miller, W.R. (2004). Toward a Theory of Motivational Interviewing. PowerPoint presentation retrieved October 31, 2007, from

Miller, W.R. & Rollnick, S. (2002). Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People to Change Addictive Behavior. The Guilford Press: New York.

Motivational Interviewing: Resources for Clinicians, Researchers and Trainers:

Winarski, J., Silver, S., and Kraybill, K. (2003). Motivational Interviewing: Applications for PATH Service Providers. Call Transcript, Overview and Presentation Slides retrieved October 5, 2007, from

Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA