Eliciting Change Talk

By Mary-Catherine McClain

Here are specific examples demonstrating the applicability of motivational interviewing within a career counseling context.


Eliciting Change Talk


Clients can be asked to describe the advantages of change as well as the disadvantages of not changing. For example, “How would you like for things to be different?” or “Could you list several reasons for making this change now?” Alternatively, a client may be asked to discuss concerns or worries about the situation. The following section utilizes OARS to illustrate specific examples.

  • A client searching for employment may be asked Open-ended questions:

    • “What are your thoughts about going to work—both in terms of benefits and limitations?”

    • “What concerns or worries do you have about job searching?”

  • A counselor may provide Affirmation and support by:

    • Modeling how to attain contact information for an appointment for an informational interview.

    • Suggesting that the employment choice matches well with specific skills or interests.

  • It is equally important to utilize Reflective listening during the counseling process:

    • Options include reflecting goals.

    • “I hear you saying that you are creative and artistic…”

  • Summarizing concludes the counseling sessions:

    • Inquiring about what steps need to be taken between sessions to accomplish goals.

    • An Individual Learning Plan (ILP) is helpful in forming steps clients can take and for summarizing sessionsi.


Counselors may also select from some additional strategies from Miller and Rollnick (2002):

  • Importance/Confidence Ruler: Ask the client to rate the importance of a career concern on a scale of 0 to 10. Then inquire about confidence in completing a task on a scale of 0 to 10. Ask about discrepancies between these ratings.

    • “How important is it for you to obtain a job as a journalist? How confident are you of achieving this goal?”


  • Decisional Balance: Explore the client’s thoughts regarding the pros and cons of specific career options.

    • “What are the advantages or disadvantages of selecting psychology as a major?”

  • Elaborating: Seek clarification or examples regarding specific career concerns.

    • “Last session you indicated you didn’t care if you didn’t get accepted into the nursing program. What would it take for you to care?”

  • Looking Forward: Explore what the client envisions for future career decisions or concerns; query what might happen if no changes are made.

    • “If you didn’t select a major for graduation, how would you expect your life to turn out?”

  • Looking Back: Encourage clients to remember a time when current career concerns didn’t exist and what it was like.

    • “Describe a time when you didn’t feel pressured to create a perfect resume; what it was like?”


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Mary-Catherine McClain, Ed.S, M.S., is a career advisor in the Career Center at Florida State University and a current doctoral student in the combined Counseling Psychology and School Psychology program. The author gratefully acknowledges the helpful contributions of Dr. Sampson, Dr. Carr and Dr. Lenz to this work. She may be reached at the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems, College of Education, Florida State University, 3210 Stone Building, Tallahassee, FL 32306. Phone: 864-934-2322; Email: mcmmcclain@gmail.com; Fax: 850-644-3273.

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