Previous research has suggested that motivational interviewing (MI) may affect client language, which in turn predicts client drinking outcome. In this study, we examined the relationship between counselor language and client language, personalized feedback and client language, and client language and client drinking outcome, in a sample of heavy-drinking college students. MI was delivered in a single session with or without a personalized feedback report (MI with feedback [MIF]; MI only). Sessions were coded using the Motivational Interviewing Skill Code 2.1. A composite drinking outcome score was used, consisting of drinks per week, peak blood alcohol concentration, and protective drinking strategies. We found three main results. First, in the MIF group, MI consistent counselor language was positively associated with client change talk. Second, after receiving feedback, MIF clients showed lower levels of sustain talk, relative to MI only clients. Finally, in the MIF group, clients with greater change talk showed improved drinking outcomes at 3 months, while clients with greater sustain talk showed poorer drinking outcomes. These results highlight the relationship between counselor MI skill and client change talk, and suggest an important role for feedback in the change process.
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