Background: One of the biggest challenges that primary care practitioners face is helping people change longstanding behaviours that pose significant health risks.
Objective: To explore current understanding regarding how and why people change, and the potential role of motivational interviewing in facilitating behaviour change in the general practice setting.
Discussion: Research into health related behaviour change highlights the importance of motivation, ambivalence and resistance. Motivational interviewing is a counselling method that involves enhancing a patient's motivation to change by means of four guiding principles, represented by the acronym RULE: Resist the righting reflex; Understand the patient's own motivations; Listen with empathy; and Empower the patient. Recent meta-analyses show that motivational interviewing is effective for decreasing alcohol and drug use in adults and adolescents and evidence is accumulating in others areas of health including smoking cessation, reducing sexual risk behaviours, improving adherence to treatment and medication and diabetes management.