Motivational Interviewing in social work is a counseling style that has gained serious momentum in the field within the past 15 years. It is a goal-oriented and client-centered approach that allows clients to use change talk to change behavior and reach positive goals.

Changing a behavior is a difficult process but, according to Motivational Interviewing, there are ten specific strategies that can help elicit change talk to make therapy an effective process.

10 Strategies for Eliciting Change Talk

  1. Ask Evocative Questions: Ask open questions, the answer to which is change talk
  1. Explore Decisional Balance: Ask first for the good things about status quo, then ask for the not-so-good-things
  1. Ask for Elaboration: When a change talk theme emerges, ask for more details. In what ways? Tell me more. What does that look like?
  1. Ask for Examples: When a change talk theme emerges, ask for specific examples. When was the last time that happened? Give me an example. What else?
  1. Look Back: Ask about a time before the current concern emerged. How were things better? How were things different?
  1. Look Forward: Ask what may happen if things continue as they are (status quo). Try the miracle questions: If you were 100% successful in making the changes you want, what would be different? How would you like your life to be five years from now?
  1. Query Extremes: What are the worst things that might happen if you don’t make this change? What are the best things that might happen if you do make this change?
  1. Use Change Rulers: Ask, “On a scale from zero to ten, how important is it to you to [target change] – where zero is not at all important, and ten is extremely important? Follow up: And why are you at “x” and not “x” [lower number than stated]? Instead of “how important” (need), you could also ask how much you want (desire), or how confident you are that you could (ability), or how committed are you to (commitment). Asking “how ready are you?” tends to be confusing because it combines competing components of desire, ability, reasons and need.
  1. Explore Goals and Values: Ask what the person’s guiding values are. What do they want in life? Using a values card sort can be helpful here. If there is a “problem” behavior, ask how that behavior fits in with the person’s goals or values. Does it help realize a goal or value, interfere with it, or is it irrelevant?
  1. Come Alongside: Explicitly side with the negative (status quo) side of ambivalence. Perhaps “x” is so important to you that you won’t give it up, no matter what the cost.

These strategies can be very useful in conjunction with whichever theoretical framework(s) you practice from. Helping promote change in your client’s life can be difficult but utilizing these techniques is associated with successful outcomes.

Evoking change talk in your client puts the power in their hands as opposed to the social worker lecturing or educating. The client finds their voice and intrinsically comes to the realization of what needs to be changed, why and how to do so.



Sobell, & Sobell. (2008). Motivational Interviewing Strategies and Techniques: Rationales and Examples. 1-9.

10 Strategies for Evoking Change Talk for Social Workers
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10 Strategies for Evoking Change Talk for Social Workers
Changing a behavior is a difficult process. As a social worker, you can elicit change talk to make therapy effective.
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