Leading with the Relationship: The Role of the Therapeutic Relationship in Motivational Interviewing

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Capstone Project

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

Jennifer A. Erickson Cornish

Second Advisor

Peter Buirski

Third Advisor

David Zierk


Behavior/CBT, Case study, Motivational Interviewing Relationship


Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a brief evidence-based treatment that is most commonly used to treat addictive behaviors and to encourage diet and lifestyle changes and treatment adherence in health care settings. In recent years MI's use has been expanded to multiple other client populations in clinical psychology, as well as to other sectors, such as in education, and international non-profit work (Hettema at al., 2005). MI was inspired by research that demonstrated a high correlation between therapist application of the client-centered skill of accurate empathy and a reduction in drinking behaviors (Miller et al., 1980). MI contains both relational and technical components that are intended to operate synergistically. Despite a large body of research on MI treatment outcomes, variation in effectiveness has been found among studies, and the active ingredients of MI, particularly the relational aspects, are not well understood. As a result, the use of MI in many treatment settings is limited to the technical components of MI without a theory-based integration of the therapeutic relationship. This paper focuses on the contribution of the relational component to the effectiveness of MI, and explores the synergistic relationship between the technical and relational components of MI. A literature review of MI and the trans-theoretical literature on the therapeutic relationship is followed by two case illustrations. The paper concludes with recommendations for the field.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. Permanently suppressed.


33 pages

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