As a health and fitness professional, it’s easy to feel like your clients’ health behaviors are your responsibility. While you can guide and encourage your clients, lasting behavior change ultimately has to come from within an individual.
To better support clients in creating their own personal goals, utilize motivational interviewing (MI).
Psychologists William R Miller and Stephen Rollnick developed MI as a client-centered counseling style to encourage healthy behavior change. First used in treating those with alcoholism, MI is characterized by its non-directive, collaborative and exploratory approach.
According to the self-determination theory of human motivation, individuals are compelled to engage in behaviors when they have high feelings of competency, autonomy and relatedness to others. MI supports this by putting clients in control of their own behavior change.
Whether you are helping clients adopt healthier eating habits, stress-reduction strategies or regular physical activity, use the following MI strategies to enhance client autonomy and success.
Let clients explore their underlying thoughts, feelings, fears and goals through open-ended questions. These questions require clients to answer with more than a “yes” or “no.” Here is an example of an open-ended question: “So, you’d like to lose 20 pounds in the next five months. What would this weight loss mean for you?”
Open-ended questions can also be used in the face of client ambivalence. For example, if a client says she’s always hated exercise, you might ask, “What experiences have led you to feel so negatively about exercise?” Rather than telling the client her feelings are wrong by expressing how wonderful you think exercise is, this question allows her to explore the reasons underlying her dislike of physical activity.
Approaching clients with an accepting and non-judgmental attitude creates a safe space for behavior change to occur. If clients fear being judged by their health coach, they are less likely to be honest about their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and more likely to commit to things just to please the coach. You can explicitly create a non-judgmental environment by stating something like, “There are no failures here, only learning opportunities. Nothing you do is inherently bad (even binging on a carton of ice cream) and will only teach us more about what factors might lead you to engage in an unhealthy behavior (such as overeating).
Reflect and Affirm
Let clients know that they are being heard by reflecting their thoughts and feelings back to