36 Motivational Interviewing Quotes to Inspire Your Clients

Motivational Interviewing QuotesMotivational interviewing is a collaborative therapeutic approach designed to guide clients toward behavioral change.

This article presents quotes related to motivational interviewing that will inspire practitioners and clients alike.

The quotes are categorized based on the fundamental tenets of motivational interviewing listed below.

Several relevant articles and other tools from PositivePsychology.com are also described. This collection of resources should inspire interested readers, while also providing an abundance of information about the processes and goals that are central to the motivational interviewing approach.

Before you continue, you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a counseling technique in which the clinician asks open questions in a directive (i.e., goal-directed) manner. While it shares qualities similar to Carl Rogers’s client-centered therapy, its directive nature differentiates it from Rogerian psychotherapy (Moyers & Rollnick, 2002).

Developed by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick, MI is a collaborative and respectful technique that supports a client’s autonomy. Moyers and Rollnick (2002) have described the four underlying principles of MI as:

  1. Expressions of empathy, facilitated by the use of reflective listening
  2. Development of discrepancies between the client’s values and behaviors
  3. Rolling with client resistance with reflection versus confrontation
  4. Supporting the client’s self-efficacy regarding the confidence to make behavioral changes

These principles guide the quotes included, along with several additional constructs of significance to MI.

MI Definition & General Approach

Collaborative Conversation Style


Motivational interviewing is a collaborative conversation style for strengthening a person’s own motivation and commitment to change.

William Miller & Stephen Rollnick, 2013

Conveying Hope


Therapists using motivational interviewing will be asking open questions about the client’s values and goals and how they are discrepant with current behavior, responding with reflections to convey a sense of understanding, avoiding arguments when encountering resistance, and conveying hope that change is possible.

Theresa Moyers & Stephen Rollnick, 2002

Counseling Micro-Skills


Along with reflective listening, three other counseling micro-skills are particularly emphasized in MI, using the mnemonic acronym OARS: asking open questions (O), affirming (A), reflecting (R), and summarizing (S).

William Miller & Theresa Moyers, 2006

Constant Internal Monitoring


Using motivational interviewing in the proper spirit requires almost constant internal monitoring by the therapist. Certain emotions, such as an urge to persuade, confront, or warn the client are a sign to stop and choose another direction for our therapeutic efforts.

Theresa Moyers & Stephen Rollnick, 2002

As these quotes convey, MI is an egalitarian and collaborative process in which the clinician asks open questions that are followed by summarizing and reflecting. For example “So, are you saying you are unhappy with your current job?”

The therapist must always remain cognizant of their emotions and be ready to alter the therapeutic direction as needed. Ultimately, the MI clinician helps clients identify where their goals and behaviors diverge, as well as to motivate them toward making meaningful behavioral changes.

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Empathy & Compassion

True Empathy


True empathy is always free of any evaluative or diagnostic quality. This comes across to the recipient with some surprise. “If I am not being judged, perhaps I am not so evil or abnormal as I have thought.”

Carl Rogers

Behavior Change


Motivational interviewing is centered on the position that behavior change is only possible when the client feels personally accepted and valued.

David Markland et al., 2005

Being Compassionate


To be compassionate is to actively promote the other’s welfare, to give priority to the other’s needs.

William Miller & Stephen Rollnick, 2013

Express Empathy


Affirming clients’ strengths, characteristics, and capabilities demonstrates that we recognize them and may help clients become more open to discussing areas of concern. This is related to the MI principle of express empathy and to the spirit aspect of collaboration.

Melinda Hohman, 2012

Consistent with Rogers’s client-centered therapeutic approach, these quotes reveal MI’s focus on expressing empathy and acceptance. MI clinicians show compassion in such a way that the client feels valued and their strengths recognized.

Understanding & Listening

Mind of a Man


If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Fearing Change


If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding. And we all fear change. So as I say, it is not an easy thing to permit oneself to understand an individual.

Carl Rogers, 1961

Technical Proficiency


Asking, listening, and informing are the communication equivalent of technical proficiency in music; the more proficient, the wider the range of application, skillfulness, and enjoyment.

Stephen Rollnick, William Miller, & Christopher Butler, 2007

As these quotes suggest, the ability to listen to and understand a client is instrumental to the success of the MI counseling process.

Not only do effective listening and informing help the client feel heard, but they also enhance the clinician’s therapeutic skills and ability to reach a more diverse range of clients.

Relationship Style

Personal Growth


In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?

Carl Rogers, 1961

Undisputed Experts


People are the undisputed experts on themselves. No one has been with them longer, or knows them better than they do themselves. In MI, the helper is a companion who typically does less than half of the talking.

William Miller & Stephen Rollnick, 2013

Therapeutic Relationship


Client openness versus defensiveness, change talk versus sustain talk, is very much a product of the therapeutic relationship. “Resistance” and motivation occur in an interpersonal context.

William Miller & Stephen Rollnick, 2013

Engaging Process


Engaging is the process of establishing a mutually trusting and respectful helping relationship.

William Miller & Stephen Rollnick, 2013

The nature of the client–therapist relationship and engagement are central to the MI process. Importantly, MI is not based on a deficit or problem-focused model. Rather, as the above quotes convey, the MI relationship aims at identifying and enhancing client strengths.

The MI interviewer does not approach the therapeutic relationship as an expert on the client, but instead, recognizes that it is the client who holds insight into their feelings, motivations, and behaviors. Additionally, the clinician works through client resistance in the context of a relationship based on mutual trust.


Optimism and Pessimism


When I look at the world I’m pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic.

Carl Rogers, 1961

Client's Strengths


As MI practitioners, we work to evoke [clients’] thoughts and ideas regarding the problem and solutions. We affirm clients’ strengths and provide hope for change, all the while supporting their autonomy to make these changes.

Melinda Hohman, 2012



Offer hope. Explain what you do and how it may help. Present a positive and honest picture of changes that others have made and of the efficacy of the services you can offer.

William Miller & Stephen Rollnick, 2013

When it comes to their clients, MI therapists are eternal optimists. As noted above, promoting change requires that a client perceives a clinician as believing in their strengths and ability to change in positive directions.

In this way, MI supports both the client’s autonomy and their confidence in the therapist’s ability to help.

Self-efficacy, Empowerment, & Affirmations

Client’s Responsibility


A key assumption underlying motivational interviewing, then, is that it is not the counselor’s function to directly persuade or coerce the client to change. Rather it is the client’s responsibility to decide for themselves whether or not to change and how best to go about it.

David Markland et al., 2005

Goal of Affirmations


[The goal of affirmations is] to let the client know that we see what they already see in themselves… We first comment on clients’ own past accomplishments.

Melinda Hohman, 2012

As the above quotes convey, MI is an approach that promotes the client’s own ability to affect change. In this way, the client makes their own decisions about what needs to be changed and how to go about it.

The therapist enhances the client’s success in this regard with the use of client affirmations. By supporting client empowerment, the client develops the self-efficacy to independently master current and future issues.


3 Motivational interviewing core skills in action – SBIRT IPE


Ability, Motivation and Attitude


Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.

Lou Holtz

Patients’ Own Motivation


MI works by activating patients’ own motivation for change and adherence to treatment.

Stephen Rollnick, William Miller, & Christopher Butler, 2007

Unmotivated Patient


When a patient seems unmotivated to change or to take the sound advice of practitioners, it is often assumed that there is something the matter with the patient and that there is not much one can do about it. These assumptions are usually false. No person is completely unmotivated.

Stephen Rollnick, William Miller, & Christopher Butler, 2007

Motivation is obviously a key aspect of MI, as even the most able person will not make positive life changes without motivation.

The MI conversation is designed to enhance the client’s motivation to change and to comply with treatment. Importantly, as noted by Rollnick et al. (2007), there is some level of self-motivation within every client.

Ambivalence, Resistance, & Behavior Change

Thinking and Action


Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



Ambivalence is simultaneously wanting and not wanting something, or wanting both of two incompatible things. It has been human nature since the dawn of time.

William Miller & Stephen Rollnick, 2013

Client Ambivalence


Client ambivalence or resistance can serve as a signal to switch back into an MI style until the obstacle is resolved and counseling can move forward again. Thus, effective practice may be facilitated by flexible shifting between clinical styles.

William Miller & Theresa Moyers, 2006

Therapist Encountering Resistance


A therapist encountering resistance from a client is in much the same position as a person in a canoe swept along on white water. Just as the canoeist probably would not choose to turn around to paddle upstream against the current, so the motivational interviewer will not argue with clients, but will respond using that energy to steer the interaction.

Theresa Moyers & Stephen Rollnick, 2002

Rolling with resistance


[In MI] we roll with resistance that arises when clients have felt their autonomy or self-worth threatened and either reflect their concerns or change our strategies.

Melinda Hohman, 2012



Arguments both for and against change already reside within the ambivalent person.

William Miller & Stephen Rollnick, 2013

Behavior Change Goals


MI is directed toward particular behavior change goals. A key process is to help clients resolve ambivalence by evoking their own intrinsic motivations for change.

William Miller & Theresa Moyers, 2006

A Person


A person is a fluid process, not a fixed and static entity; a flowing river of change, not a block of solid material; a continually changing constellation of potentialities, not a fixed quantity of traits.

Carl Rogers, 1961

MI Done Successfully


When MI is done successfully, an initially ambivalent client advances in motivational readiness, develops a change plan, and commits to it.

William Miller & Theresa Moyers, 2006

As Miller and Rollnick (2013) note, ambivalence occurs when a client desires two inconsistent goals at the same time. When this occurs, the MI clinician ‘rolls with resistance,’ meaning they do not fight against it.

Rather, as beautifully articulated by Moyers and Rollnick (2002), resistance is like a canoe trip, with the motivational interviewer similarly using the current, or resistance, to navigate the interview process.

These quotes also convey the fluid nature of individuals and the need for MI clinicians to be flexible to adjust their approach based on client needs, ambivalence, and motivation. For MI to be successful, it is the client – not the therapist – who expresses both the need for change and the motivation to make it happen.

Empirical Support

Historical Grounding


MI also shares with behavior therapy a historical grounding in testable theory and a commitment to empirically supported intervention approaches.

William Miller & Theresa Moyers, 2006

Client-Centered Counseling


MI is an evidence-based and theory-grounded method of psychotherapy that overlaps significantly with client-centered counseling.

William Miller & Theresa Moyers, 2006

Motivational Interviewing


Motivational interviewing has been shown to promote behavior change in various healthcare settings and can improve the doctor–patient relationship and the efficiency of the consultation.

Stephen Rollnick et al., 2010

As the final quotes express, MI is an evidence-based therapeutic approach. While continued empirical research is needed, emerging evidence suggests that MI is an effective approach for producing desirable behavior changes (e.g., Cummings, Cooper, & Cassie, 2008; Hettema, Steele, & Miller, 2005; Martins & McNeil, 2009; Rollnick et al., 2010).

Based on these and other studies, MI represents a promising counseling approach, particularly for the modification of health-related behaviors.

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PositivePsychology.com’s MI Resources

Additional informative tools for MI are available on PositivePsychology.com. Here are a few examples:

Your Ultimate Motivational Interviewing Toolkit

The Ultimate Motivational Interviewing Toolkit is a comprehensive article describing many facets of MI, including the use of open questions, affirmations, reflective listening, and summary reflections (OARS).

The article contains 10 strategies for eliciting change talk, such as asking evocative questions, identifying extremes, and exploring goals and values. This is followed by 17 MI affirmations (e.g., “You’re a strong person, a real survivor;” “You pulled it off;” and “It took a lot of courage to come in today.”).

Lastly, several additional resources are included such as insight into the relationship between MI and cognitive-behavioral training, and a list of helpful exercises.

Motivational Interviewing Principles: 4 Steps to Elicit Change

Motivational Interviewing Principles is an article that goes into detail regarding the four principles of MI, which include expressing empathy, developing discrepancy, rolling with resistance, and supporting self-efficacy and optimism. It also presents various valuable MI resources.

The steps of MI are further explained in the article 4 Motivational Interviewing Steps That Foster Change.

Along with blog articles, PositivePsychology.com also provides several useful assessments and exercises aimed at helping individuals determine their readiness to change, understand the benefits of goal accomplishment, and develop a plan to strengthen particular areas of their lives.

Here are three such tools:

17 Motivation & Goal-Achievement Exercises

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, this collection contains 17 validated motivation & goals-achievement tools for practitioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques.

A Take-Home Message

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.

Marcus Aurelius

MI is a collaborative and empathetic counseling method that rolls with resistance in a way that promotes behavior change and autonomy. While we often see ambivalence and resistance in a negative light, the MI counselor expects resistance and does not view it as a sign of a difficult client. Rather, resistance is seen as a product of the counselor–client relationship.

As MI is a fluid process, the clinician alters their therapeutic approach based on where MI leads the client. In this way, MI is like a dance, with each partner moving in response to the other.

Through this synergistic process of discovery, the client and therapist work together to reveal client strengths, fears, and motivation. In doing so, the client is guided toward reaching their goals and ultimately experiencing a greater sense of empowerment and self-efficacy.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.


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  • Cummings, S., Cooper, R., & Cassie, K. (2008). Motivational interviewing to affect behavioral change in older adults. Research on Social Work Practice, 19, 195–204.
  • Hettema, J., Steele, J., & Miller, W. (2005). Motivational interviewing. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 91–111.
  • Hohman, M. (2012). Motivational interviewing in social work practice. Guilford Press.
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