The Spirit of Motivational Interviewing

Much of this content can be attributed to Miller & Rollnick, 2013.

The "Spirit" of Motivational Interviewing (MI) is more than the use of a set of technical interventions. It is characterized by a particular "way of being."  This way of being is described as the "Spirit of MI."  The "Spirit of MI" is the foundation of every MI conversation that takes place.  It communicates compassion, acceptance, partnership, and respect.

The spirit of MI is based on four key elements:

  1. Collaboration between the practitioner and the client;
  2. Evoking or drawing out the client‘s ideas about change;
  3. Emphasizing the autonomy of the client.
  4. Practicing compassion in the process.

Collaboration (vs. Confrontation)

Collaboration is a partnership between the practitioner and the client, grounded in the point of view and experiences of the client.

This contrasts with some other approaches to counseling/treatment, which are based on the practitioner assuming an “expert” role, at times confronting the client and imposing their perspective on the client’s unhealthy behavior and the appropriate course of treatment and outcome.

Collaboration builds rapport and facilitates trust in the helping relationship, which can be challenging in a more hierarchical relationship. This does not mean that the practitioner automatically agrees with the client about the nature of the problem or the changes that may be most appropriate. Although they may see things differently, the therapeutic process is focused on mutual understanding, not the practitioner being right. Motivational interviewing is done "with and for" someone, not "on or to" them.

Evocation (Drawing Out, Rather Than Imposing Ideas)

The MI approach is one of the practitioner’s drawing out the individual's own thoughts and ideas, rather than imposing their opinions as motivation and commitment to change is most powerful and durable when it comes from the client.

No matter what reasons the practitioner might offer to convince the client of the need to change their behavior or how much they might want the person to do so, lasting change is more likely to occur when the client discovers their own reasons and determination to change. The practitioner's job is to "draw out" the person's own motivations and skills for change, not to tell them what to do or why they should do it.

Autonomy (vs. Authority)

Unlike some other treatment models that emphasize the clinician as an authority figure, Motivational Interviewing recognizes that the true power for change rests within the client. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to follow through with making changes happen. This is empowering to the individual, but also gives them responsibility for their actions.

Practitioners reinforce that there is no single "right way" to change and that there are multiple ways that change can occur. In addition to deciding whether they will make a change, clients are encouraged to take the lead in developing a “menu of options’ as to how to achieve the desired change.


Compassion is the ability to actively promote the other’s welfare and give priority to the other’s needs.  It is a deliberate commitment to pursue the welfare and best interest of others.  It is a commitment to seek to understand others' experiences, values, and motivations without engaging in explicit or implicit judgment.  Lastly, compassion is an understanding that everyone strives towards a fulfilling life and at times encounters barriers which can evoke feelings of sadness, pain, and shame; as such, compassion is acceptance of one's path and choices, and respect for the difficult emotions that a person can experience along the way.

An "Easy" Language Primer for the above concepts:

  • Collaboration (Partnership): “We are going to work together”
  • Autonomy (Acceptance):  “I value you and am delighted to talk with you”
  • Evocation: “I am going to create a space for you to share yourself and your story with me”
  • Compassion: “I want to understand and respect you and your experience”

Once you feel comfortable with the "Spirit of MI" and ready to move on, use the link below to learn about the core communication skills of OARS.