How Effective is Motivational Interviewing? Research & Analysis

How Effective is Motivational Interviewing? Research & Analysis


Motivational interviewing is an evidence-based counseling approach that health professionals use to help people find their internal motivation to make positive changes. Rather than telling people what goals they should have, motivational interviewing guides people to identify their own values, interests, and concerns. This allows people to choose changes that align with what matters most to them.

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing involves having compassionate conversations to empower people’s own motivation and commitment towards positive change. The counselor expresses empathy, avoids arguing, supports autonomy, and develops discrepancy to inspire change.

Key aspects of motivational interviewing include:

  • Establishing rapport and trust
  • Asking open-ended questions to explore ambivalence
  • Affirming strengths and efforts
  • Listening reflectively to understand perspectives
  • Summarizing discussions to highlight motivations
  • Eliciting change talk and commitment language

Effectiveness for Various Concerns

Studies show motivational interviewing can effectively address many health and lifestyle issues such as:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Unhealthy diet and eating behaviors
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Chronic disease management

It helps people clarify their goals and values, which strengthens their motivation to make sustainable improvements.

Supporting Research

Numerous studies underscore the efficacy of motivational interviewing across diverse situations. For example:

  • A 2020 meta-analysis found motivational interviewing helped reduce cardiovascular risk factors like excess body weight, blood glucose, and cholesterol.
  • A 2019 literature review showed motivational interviewing helped improve outcomes for diabetes self-management.
  • A 2018 meta-analysis demonstrated motivational interviewing improved diet and physical activity for people struggling with obesity.

Criticisms and Limitations

While motivational interviewing has a strong evidence base, some critique that:

  • It requires extensive counselor training to properly implement.
  • Session time is limited in many real-world settings.
  • Long-term impacts can diminish without follow-up support.

Additionally, some people respond better to more direct advice-giving rather than non-judgmental interviewing.


Overall, motivational interviewing shows great promise as an empathetic, person-centered approach to counsel people towards positive change. It aligns well with personal values and autonomy. By continuing to address limitations and build upon strengths, motivational interviewing can help many people improve their health and wellbeing.