Plain Language Summary: Motivational Interviewing for People with Developmental Disabilities

Plain Language Summary: Motivational Interviewing for People with Developmental Disabilities 


Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a type of therapy that helps a client (person that a professional helps) increase their motivation and change their behavior. MI doesn’t always have to be used by therapists and can be used by anyone providing a service to someone (professional). People with developmental disabilities (DD) can be helped by MI to make positive changes in their lives and participate in treatments. In addition to helping someone increase their motivation, MI also helps people plan out how to achieve their goals. The way MI does this is through these 4 steps: engaging, focusing, evoking, and planning.




This is the first step of MI. Engaging means to create a trusting and respectful relationship with the client. They should feel comfortable and safe to share their thoughts and feelings. The professional should be genuine, interested in the client, and empathetic to them. They should also keep what the client tells them confidential, and not share the information with anyone else. This step is very important to do before moving on the next ones.




This is the second step of MI. Focusing means helping the client figure out what changes they need to make. It’s important that the professional respects what their client wants. Sometimes people with DD might feel like they don’t have control over their lives. This is because they might need a lot of help with daily tasks and with making decisions. This step of MI can help people with DD have more control over their lives and choices. Goals are always decided on together.




This is the third step of MI. Evoking means helping the client feel motivated to make the change they decided on in the Focusing step. The professional should not tell the client what to do, but help them become motivated on their own. This will help the client want to make the change, and they’ll be more likely to stick with their choice. To do this, the professional will ask the client lots of questions like, “What might be some good things about making this change?”




This is the final step of MI. Planning involves talking about when and how to actually make these changes and reach their goals. Clients will often naturally arrive at this step and professionals should not force someone into the planning stage. It’s important that the client is in control of the planning process. The professional is there to help affirm their choice and guide them if needed.


To learn more, read the MHDD Motivational Interviewing for People with Developmental Disabilities Fact Sheet.

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