A type of counseling called motivational interviewing may help people change behaviors such as addictions, the March issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter reports.
As the name implies, during motivational interviewing, the mental health professional asks questions and acts as a partner in dialogue rather than giving advice or instruction. The counselor tries to make the clients feel comfortable examining all aspects of the behavior, including their own mixed feelings about change. The Harvard Mental Health Letter says that this method is often best suited for people who do not yet see they have a problem or who have not yet decided to do something about it.
How effective is it? An analysis of controlled studies found that, when used in connection with other therapies, motivational interviewing is as effective as most treatments for alcohol and drug problems, and often quicker and less expensive. Motivational interviewing has also been found helpful in treating bulimia, persuading schizophrenic patients to continue taking antipsychotic drugs, and encouraging people with diabetes and hypertension to change their diet and exercise habits. However, in one study, it failed to help people quit smoking, and in another, it did not prevent unprotected sex and intravenous drug use in people at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Motivational interviewing has not been tested by itself. But according to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, its uses are not necessarily restricted to formal counseling, and it can be incorporated into a wide range of programs for brief treatment and prevention of psychiatric disorders and other health problems.