One of the main approaches being used by the counseling staff at the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center is Motivational Interviewing. This is a collaborative conversation style approach for strengthening a person’s own motivation and commitment to change. This approach is strengths-based and is based on principles of partnership, acceptance, compassion and evocation. There are three different ways that staff at the Women’s Center are involved with Motivational Interviewing:  counseling, training and coaching members of the U.Va. community, and professional presentations.


Why is this an approach we want to use as part of counseling students? First, it matches the value of student autonomy that is part of the U.Va. culture. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is based on the assumption that change occurs when there is self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation. In other words, someone will not change because they are simply told to do so. Change occurs in a relationship where there is trust, empathy and a dialogue about what the person’s goals are for their own change process. The student is the one in charge of the change process and has many choices as to how they want to engage in this process.

It can also be used as a brief model so that it fits with students’ busy life styles. This evidence-based approach has been researched specifically with the age group of most students, so when used by professionals trained in the model, a motivational interviewing approach gets results. This is important to students so that they are not spending time with a counselor and feeling as though they are not making progress. The research suggests that this approach is helpful in getting the person engaged and in reducing their resistance to change.

The U.Va. Community

“Learning from Charlotte and Margaret and the rest of the Women’s Center staff over the past two plus years, I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and skills in how to most effectively work with the student-athletes in helping them achieve changes that they believe in and desire. The monthly Motivational Interviewing meetings have allowed me to make connections with staff and faculty all across Grounds, and have supported me in approaching the student-athletes with the utmost compassion and care. I am so grateful for the staff at the Women’s Center. They truly have the biggest hearts on Grounds!”
Kelly Rossi, Assistant Director of Sports Nutrition.

In addition to using this approach in the counseling program at the Women’s Center, I have been providing training in Motivational Interviewing for U.Va. faculty, staff and students as well as for professionals in the Charlottesville area. I am part of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT) and have been providing MI training for fifteen years. Trainings are offered at U.Va. before the beginning of the fall and spring semesters and are open to anyone who is interested in using MI with students to help them with academic issues, eating concerns, substance abuse issues, etc. Once a staff or faculty member has completed the training, they can participate in the Motivational Interviewing Learning Community that meets monthly at the Women’s Center. The purpose of this group is to continue to improve knowledge and skills as they apply this approach to their work with students.

“I am learning with students how to adapt, seek out resources, and to affirm their own sense of self – their own integrity, existing supports, humanity, and personal strengths in moments of crisis and recovery. The learning community and MI training has helped me meet and work with staff across grounds and has renewed my energy towards helping others live their full potential. I see this as a mutually reciprocal experience and I look forward to our learning meetings each month.”
Karen Painter, LPC, Clinical Case Manager, CAPS

Along with other areas on Grounds, Motivational Interviewing is being used at Counseling and Psychological Services in student health. Karen Painter and Jeff Jennings are offering a group for students who want to discuss choices about using substances.


Members of the counseling program and I have presented on using Motivational Interviewing with college students at state conferences for counselors. Margaret Edwards, trauma counselor, presented on Using Motivational Interviewing to Engage Students who have experienced Sexual Assault and has also published an article on this in Counseling Today in 2013. Hannah Trible, graduate student intern, presented last year on Motivational Interviewing and Emerging Young Adults. Cathy Erickson, trauma counselor, will be presenting this year on Stress and Anxiety in College Students and how to use MI to address this. All of these presentations were developed for the annual conference of the Virginia Counselors Association. We consistently hear from counselors from around the state that they appreciate our efforts to share our expertise in counseling college students.


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