ACCN15: Motivational Interviewing Techniques to Encourage Lifestyle Changes/Weight Loss

By Celez Suratos, MS, RD, ACCN15 Blogger

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a technique used to incite positive behavior change. It is directive and client/patient-centered. Healthcare providers (including registered nurses and dietitians) use MI to direct self-motivational statements from the patient. Hence, allowing patients to be in charge of setting and meeting their own goals. Dr. Kathryn I. Pollack from the Duke University School of Medicine facilitated an interactive workshop on MI at this year’s Advances and Controversies in Clinical Nutrition Conference (ACCN). The main focus was to inform healthcare providers of the “spirit” of MI, as well as putting MI techniques into practice through role-playing.

Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” But did you know that communication is approximately 90 percent body language? MI is more than a methodological counseling approach. It also causes a healthcare provider be more present and aware of how he/she is communicating to the patient. According to Dr. Pollack, the “spirit” of MI embodies four key principles to elaborate on such a concept; Partnership, Acceptance, Evocation, and Compassion.

A healthcare provider may have the tendency to dominate the conversation by supplying the patient with numerous facts about the status of his/her health, likely telling the patient what he/she “must” do in order to prevent the “worst-case scenario” from happening to them. However, in MI, a provider should focus on building a partnership-like relationship rather than one that is hierarchical. One can do this by initially asking permission before sharing information and giving advice. This allows patients a choice to discuss their health based on their own readiness to handle the information you want to give them. Alternatively, a provider can ask the patient what concerns he/she may have in order to allow the patient to set the agenda, giving the patient the power to discuss what he/she may already be thinking about improving.

Acceptance goes beyond the concept of non-judgment. This means the healthcare provider accepts the patient’s motivation, commitment, and choices in totality. This relates back to non-verbal communication. If you are feeling judgment, you are also likely exhibiting judgment, which then means your patient can see your judgment. Think about it – do you ever cross your arms or furrow your brow when you disagree with a statement? Letting go of judgment will not only improve your skills as a practitioner, but can be freeing as well.

A healthcare provider may be able to provide a patient with beneficial reasons to improve his/her health status. However, evocation is the idea that people are motivated by their own reasons. In MI, the provider facilitates a conversation that allows the patient to find his or her own motivation for adopting positive change. One way to help patients find their motivation is to prompt them with questions to discuss their readiness to change. Such questions may include asking patients to rank their readiness to change (i.e., on a scale of 1 to 7 –with 1 being least ready to change and 7 being most ready for change, for example), then asking why they chose that particular number on the scale, what it would take for them to rank their readiness for change even higher (if not already ranked as a priority), and when will they be ready to implement their plan. Evocation extracts information from the patient, such as reasons to change, identifies barriers to change, and eventually a self-actualized plan to get patients to reach their goal(s).

Dr. Pollack also mentioned ‘compassion’ as a novel principle to the spirit of MI, particularly in the provider-patient relationship. It comes from the idea that providers should use open-ended questions, reflective statements, and summarize the conversation when they interact with their patients. This demonstrates active listening, versus a series of agreeable head-nods or dismissive “uh huh” verbal responses. Compassion also calls on providers to give patients affirmation with each step they take to reach their goal(s), even during times of perceived setbacks.

Dr. Pollack summarized that only the patient can make change happen for him or herself. The patient is the one who needs to put in the work to see results. Motivational interviewing is not only a tool healthcare providers can use as a catalyst for positive change, but is also a specific skill that takes practice and time to perfect.

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