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Motivational Interviewing: An Investigation into the Effectiveness of a Mental Health Intervention for Children and Young People

11 January 2021

Author: Imogen Cuckson (University College London)

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a client-centred counselling approach. It aims to elicit change by helping individuals overcome the common problem of ambivalence about change.

Over the years, MI has been developed to address a range of behaviours with adults as well as children and young people (CYP).

A systematic review was carried out to explore how MI has been used with CYP who have mental health needs.

The findings indicated that MI is somewhat effective in producing positive change in CYP with mental health needs. More specifically, it was most effective for outcomes related to treatment engagement, mental health symptoms and suicide risk behaviours.

However, the effects were variable, the studies reviewed typically focused on the use of MI with a population aged 12 years or older and not all of the included studies had high methodological rigour.

To extend the literature regarding the use of MI with young people who have mental health needs, the empirical study used a mixed methods approach with eight young people who engaged in non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) behaviours.

The impact of a MI-based intervention on participants’ self-reported feelings of readiness to change, anxiety, depression, optimism, self-efficacy and adaptability was explored through a quantitative approach.

Additionally a qualitative element sought to gather the perspective of the participants in relation to changes in NSSI behaviours, attitude, relationship with others and general experiences of participating in the intervention.

It was found that there were significant differences for some participants’ reported feelings. Likewise, a degree of change was stated as occurring from the perspective of the participants.

The current findings are discussed in the context of extant literature, strengths and limitations are explored and the direction for possible future research is outlined.


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