How To Help Someone Change

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Why does change sometimes seem so difficult? Making dietary changes or deciding to work out a few times a week are some practical positive changes people can decide to make. But diets are often difficult things to maintain and it is a lot easier to not workout than it is to workout.

Not Changing Can Be Deadly.

Sometimes, maintaining the status quo can be deadly. Cognitive dissonance is when people do things with full knowledge that the action is bad for them. A commonly used example of cognitive dissonance is smoking cigarettes.

Resisting Change.

People are often resistant to change because they want their beliefs and their behaviors to remain in harmony. Smokers often understand that smoking is bad for them, but are unwilling to give it up because that requires a change. They need new information that outweighs their theories or beliefs about smoking.

How To Elicit Change.

Motivational Interviewing is an effective and simple tool that can be used to elicit change. It is largely implemented for substance use treatment but can be tailored for use in many other behavioral arenas where there is resistance to change a negative or harmful behavior.

Ambivalence and Alliance.

Often times, people do not see a behavior or habit as problematic and will claim they have it under control. This differs from resistance or denial. It is important to lead someone to come to the conclusion that change is necessary without forcing them to change. Remember, they are not resistant to change, they are ambivalent about it.

Motivational Interviewing.

Motivational interviewing, according to the Center for Substance Abuse and Treatment (1999), is a process in which a therapist or counselor acts in alliance with the client and becomes a helper in the change process. The helper accepts the client as they are. Supporting self-efficacy is crucial in helping people make changes. Once an individual feels empowered and responsible enough to make a change in his or her life, he or she will not only be more likely to make a change, the change will be much more effective because it was his or her own choice.

Five Principles Of MI.


Understand where the person is coming from. Be non-judgmental and collaborate to find a solution. Respect unwillingness to change while gently persuading that change is possible should the person recognize the need for a change.


Help the person resistant to change understand the discrepancy between where they are and where they want to be. If someone wants to live a long and happy life but continues to exhibit behaviors that might prevent that from happening, there is a discrepancy. It is effective to ask open-ended questions to develop the recognition of discrepancy.

Avoid Argument.

Deciding who is right and who is wrong is not the point of motivational interviewing, and attempting to do so will often only increase resistance to change.

Roll With The Punches.

Change is sometimes difficult, but it is important to roll with any resistance. Using active and reflective listening is an effective way to understand the perspective of the person resistant to change. Resistance to change exists for a reason. Finding out why that resistance exists is more effective than trying to break through that resistance.

Support Independence.

It is crucial to make the person resistant to change feel as if they are capable of changing. Empowering the person and giving them the responsibility of changing allows them to feel like an individual human rather than a project.

Change Is Not Easy.

While it is important to correct harmful or hurtful behaviors, it is also important to recognize that change is not often easy. Trying to force someone to change is less effective than allowing room for change. Allowing room to work through the problems (rather than just giving the answers) is crucial in allowing for the development of strategies to solve problems the next time a change needs to be made.


Above all, feeling responsible for and empowered to make change will more often elicit change. People that know they need to change will find more room to receive feedback and will be more likely to reciprocate feedback if they feel they have an ally rather than a enemy.


Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 1999. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 35.) Chapter 3—Motivational Interviewing as a Counseling Style.Available from: