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Barbara Jordan
Feb 16, 2012

Recognizing “Change Talk” in Your Clients

I love Motivational Interviewing (MI). What once seemed a passing fad has stood the passage of time. MI is like Rogerian client-centered counseling meets Adlerian Reality therapy. The goal of MI is to express unconditional positive regard and empathy so that we can understand why clients want to address their problem(s) . It involves capitalizing on and strengthening their motivation for change. In order to do enhance their motivation, we must identify those moments when a client is ready for change as indicated by self-motivational statements or "change talk". Once we hear these statements from the client, we must then reduce their resistance and develop discrepancies between the client's goals, values, self-image, and current behavior. Below is a chart that contrasts Counter-motivational statements with Change Talk. Fill in the blank with any behavioral change your client is considering.

Counter-motivational Statements
“I don’t have a problem with _________.”
“When I _______, I’m more productive/relaxed/creative.”
“I can ___________ without any problems.”
“I’m not the one with the problem.”
“There’s no way I’m going to stop __________.”
“I’m not going to ___________.”
“I’ve tried to ___________ (desired change), and I just can’t do it.”
“I have so much else going on right now that I can’t _____.”
“We’re so under-staffed right now that I can’t _____.”

Change Talk
“I guess this has been affecting me more than I realized.”
"Sometimes, when I ____________, I just can’t think, concentrate, or work efficiently.”
“I guess I wonder if I’ve been _________.” (negative consequences of undesired behavior such as “getting others angry”)
“I feel terrible about how my _______ has hurt __________ (my fam/co-workers/employer).”
“I don’t know what to do, but something has to change.”
“I think I could ______________ if I decided to.”
“If I really put my mind to something, I can do it.”

So how do we evoke "Change Talk" in our clients? Here are a few ideas:
1.Ask Open-Ended Questions
Ask questions to which the answer is change talk. For example, "Are you ready to ____?" Are you willing to stop _____?" or "It sounds like you're ready to _____. Do you think you can?"
2.Do Decisional Balance
First ask for the good things about each option, then ask for the not-so-good things; help the person weigh the pro’s and cons. For example, "What are the good things about staying in your relationship? And, the benefits of leaving?" Then ask, "Now, what are the drawbacks of each?"
3.Ask For Elaboration
When change talk emerges, ask for more detail. For example, “In what ways have you thought of changing…?” or, "How has your ______ (undesirable behavior) hurt your family?"
4.Ask For Examples
When change talk emerges, ask for specific examples. For instance, “When was the last time that happened? Give me an example. What else?”
5.Look Back
Ask about a time before the current problem emerged. How were things better, different?
6.Look Forward
Ask what may happen if things continue as they are (status quo). Use the “Miracle Question”: “If you had a magic wand and with a wave of that wand, everything was exactly the way you wanted it, you were successful in making the change, what would be different? How would you like your work/life to be?”
7.Explore Goals & Values

Ask what the person’s values are. What does s/he want in life? How does the problem behavior fit in with that person’s goals or values? Does it help realize a goal or value, or does it interfere with it? Is there consistency or does the behavior conflict with the person's values or goals?
Motivation interviewing is a great way of creating an accepting and non-judgmental therapeutic alliance and developing discrepancies between the client's current situation and her ideal future. It helps you get to the point where the client begins to express change goals and likely methods to achieve them.

I hope this has been helpful. If you're interested in learning more about Motivational Interviewing, check out my learning institute at the upcoming ACA conference in San Francisco. I hope to see you there!

Barbara Jordan is a counselor, counselor educator, author, trainer, and leadership coach. For more information go to

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1 Comment

  1. 1 Marie 18 Oct
    very helpful topic
    thanks somuch


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