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MI Groups

Motivational Interviewing in Groups book

One of my favourite ways of using MI is with groups. Ten years ago, at a MINT forum in Krakow, Poland, I did my first MI groups training with Chris Wagner and Karen Ingersoll. I was hooked. And, I often say that my MI skill level soared once I started using MI in groups. I love it to this day!

I also find MI groups hard to describe. It is hard to describe the deepness of the group dynamics that occur in the room and the power felt by the individuals in the group and the group itself. I have trained others in MI groups on numerous occasions and also taken the training from Chris and Karen at least 4 times but I still find it hard to put my experience into words. It’s almost like you have to experience an MI group first to be able to really, truly understand what it is and how powerful working with motivation in a group setting can be.

But, I will give it a try 😊.

What is group MI?

Motivational Interviewin in Groups
Chris Wagner & Karen Ingersoll

Chris Wagner and Karen Ingersoll describe MI groups as “group conversations that enhance motivation for change through mutual exploration and support” (MINT Forum Copenhagen 2023).

Group MI is applying and using MI with the whole group. And that includes all the regular old MI- stuff like the spirit, reflective listening, exploring change talk, increasing self-confidence, and encouraging decision-making.

Group members, including the group leaders work together to:

  • Ignite group change.

  • Prioritize group development and cohesion.

  • Facilitate a hopeful attitude about change.

  • Promote autonomy choice in a creative way.

  • Highlight positive emotions and experiences.

  • Attend to struggles, but not eliciting grievances.

As a MI group leader, you model MI.

  • Invite group members but don’t pressure them.

  • Provide non-judgemental feedback.

  • Maintain warmth & eye-contact.

  • Be comfortable with negative emotions.

  • Be open and genuine – own your mistakes.

  • Accept negative feedback with grace.

  • Be willing to laugh at yourself.

Your role is to:

  • Create a group experience – a sense of group identity (“we”).

  • Bridge across differences by focusing on common elements.

  • Promote internal “change talk”.

  • Foster positive group energy for change.

There are three important elements to MI Groups.

MI Group Element 1: Connection

Connection means creating a positive group climate or atmosphere. This group cohesion is a sense of “being in it together”, or a “we” feeling. Deep group cohesion is associated with reduced symptoms among members. It also facilitates internal reconnections to values, beliefs, and identity.

We can encourage this by linking members through similarities in experiences, beliefs, motivations, and feelings.

Chris Wagner and Karen Ingersoll coined this as a sort of “group bubble” and helps members to:

  • Care more about each other.

  • Try harder to understand oneself and others – show empathy.

  • Feel like it is worth participating in the group.

MI Group Element 2: Direction

What lightpost are you headed towards?

Direction is a very exciting element of MI Groups and not to be confused with finding and focusing on solutions.

Direction means focusing on the future and on the direction of change. I usually describe this element as always having your body pointed towards the road to change. You don’t always have to be walking along the path, but your vision is always towards the horizon of change. Direction also means imagining and envisioning new possibilities, being hopeful and embracing optimism.

Chris Wagner and Karen Ingersoll refer to this as moving towards a light post.

MI Group Element 3: Momentum

Momentum means moving together as a group towards change for better futures. The group is moving forward through skill practice and change plans. Group members go from optimism about reaching their goal, to hoping, to feeling confident in their future and themselves.

Together, the group celebrates their steps in the direction of change. They start to give credit to one another and express their support to one another.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It really, really is!

Have a wonderful day!


Halloween Group Therapy - Source unknown
Halloween Group Therapy - Source unknown

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