Motivational Interviewing

With an understanding of basic theoretical tenets and models that affect cognitions and behaviors, it is important to consider how school psychologists can influence behavior change. In particular, school psychologists focus on positively impacting children, teachers, and families through indirect and direct service, grounded in theory and evidence-based practices. As we will discuss throughout this chapter, one’s willingness and intention to engage in the process of behavior change is instrumental to actual behavior change. Additionally, there are a number of key facets (e.g., attitudes/beliefs, social norms, perceived behavioral control) that drive intention to change behavior. Unfortunately, when working within the contexts of schools or across home-school settings, there are numerous constraints that may impact students’, parents’, and teachers’ intentions to act on a behavior. For instance, despite the numerous benefits espoused for students when families are engaged in their education (Sheridan, Smith, Kim, Beretvas, & Park, 2019; Smith, Sheridan, Kim, Park, & Beretvas, 2020), many factors are associated with decreased family engagement, such as lower socioeconomic status, ethnic minority status, and increased disruptive student behavior (Smith, Reinke, Herman, & Huang, 2019). Further, successful family engagement requires schools and families to recognize supporting child development as a shared responsibility; however, differing perspectives on roles and expectations often hinder collaboration (Sheridan, Holmes, Smith, & Moen, 2016).

Thus, school psychologists consider and address these constraints so that school personnel can adopt and implement evidence-based practices. One way to address these constraints is by using approaches that motivate children, teachers, and families to change behavior. Motivational interviewing (MI) is a counseling approach that uses techniques to elicit motivation to change another’s behavior. MI is a conversational style intended to help people resolve normative ambivalence about changing behavior in favor of change. The conversational approach positions the listener or consultant in a way that encourages the person to express their desires, reasons, and needs for changing. In this way, MI contrasts with a directive consultation approach in which the consultant might provide these reasons and rationale for why the consultée should change rather than elicit change talk from the consultée through conversation which may lead to selfdriven behavior change. In other words, directive consultation typically involves the consultant spending more time telling and leading the consultée whereas in MI the consultant spends more time evoking language from the consultée. Two big ideas of MI include the concept of MI Spirit and Change Talk. MI Spirit refers to the idea that change will only occur in the context of a positive relationship in which the consultant emphasizes collaboration and partnership, autonomy (e.g., the consultée decides what they want to do), evocation (i.e., drawing out the consultées reasons for wanting to change), and compassion. MI Spirit sets the stage for advanced MI strategies that foster change. Without MI strategies, MI Spirit would be unlikely to influence the consultée. Change talk refers to client utterances during the MI conversation in the direction of change. Such utterances include statements about dissatisfaction with the status quo, advantages of changing, goal setting, optimism about being able to change, and intention or commitment to change.

In their most recent book, Miller and Rollnick (2013) described four phases of MI: engaging, focusing, evoking, and planning. The engaging phase emphasizes rapport building and relies on strategies including asking open-ended questions and using affirmations, reflections, and summaries to demonstrate empathy. Focusing occurs when the discussion shifts to a particular area of interest that the consultée may desire to change. Evoking is what distinguishes MI from other non-directive approaches to helping. In MI, the consultant invests considerable attention and effort in eliciting change talk from the consultée. Strategies for eliciting change talk include asking evocative questions (e.g., What are some reasons you are thinking about making this change?) and providing explicit feedback. Finally, the planning phase occurs when the consultant has identified an area they are interested in changing and requests assistance in developing a plan to assist with the change process.

In sum, in an MI framework, consultées are most likely to change their behavior in the context of a supportive relationship characterized by trust, partnership, autonomy support, and compassion. Further, in such a relationship, consultées are most likely to resolve their ambivalence about changing when they express their own reasons for wanting to change and intention and commitment to do so. Consultants help facilitate this resolution by asking evocative questions, emphasizing autonomy and choice, promoting self-efficacy, and helping the consultée set goals and monitor progress in alignment with their expressed intent to change.

Next, we discuss two behavior change theories particularly relevant to the field of school psychology, while also linking each to MI.

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