Online Program

Mechanisms of Change in a Motivational Interviewing Intervention for Criminal Offenders

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mayra Rodriguez, PhD, MPH, Department of Behavioral and Community Health, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, TX
Scott T. Walters, PhD, School of Public Health, Department of Health Behaviors and Health Systems, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, TX
Faye S. Taxman, PhD, Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Although alcohol and drug treatment are common mandates in the U.S. criminal justice system, only a minority of clients actually initiate treatment.  Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a widely used counseling strategy for increasing treatment initiation, but its mechanisms of action have not been widely examined in a criminal justice setting.


Research in other areas has suggested a causal language chain in MI from counselor speech to client speech, to client outcome.  We used the Motivational Interviewing Skills Code (MISC 2.5) to quantitatively analyze counselor and client language during a clinical trial of MI in a probation setting. Conditional process analysis and multiple linear regression analysis determined the association between counselor and client language and the association between client language and client behavior at two months.


Consistent with MI theory, we found that counselor MI-consistent language was significantly more likely to be followed by client change talk (β =0.81, p = 0.02), and counselor MI-inconsistent language was significantly more likely to be followed by client sustain talk (β = 0.81, p = 0.02). The overall model fit was R2 = 0.273, F (2, 37) = 6.941, p = 0.003.  Further, we found that client preparatory sustain talk (Desire-, Ability-, Reason-, and Need-) (β = 1.77, p = 0.01) was positively associated with increased days of substance use at a 2-month follow-up. The overall model fit was F (3, 36) = 4.67, p = 0.007. 


This is the first study to examine mechanisms of change during an MI intervention for criminal justice clients.  Our results are consistent with past studies examining MI among non-criminal justice clients, suggesting that client language is a reliable mechanism of change in MI interventions.

Learning Areas:

Chronic disease management and prevention
Other professions or practice related to public health
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Analyze client behavior language in a motivational interviewing session Identified types of client language that were associated with behavior outcomes

Keyword(s): Behavioral Research, Alcohol Use

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have doctoral level experience in working with this data. My interest is in process research to examine and evaluate how motivational interviewing exerts its effects.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.