Training Incoming Social Work Students in Motivational Interviewing Skills

An Experiential Lab Model for Advancing Social Work Education


  • Allen Zweben Columbia University
  • Mary Piepmeier Columbia University
  • Kathyrne Leak Columbia University



Motivational interviewing, experiential learning, field education, MI skillset, empirically-supported training


Field practicum settings often do not have adequate resources, staff, and time to meet the extensive basic training and learning needs of master’s level social work students beginning their first year of field placement. An innovative, empirically-supported motivational interviewing (MI) skills lab was created to provide students with supplemental skills training in preparation for field placement entry. The lab practice of MI strategies allows students to gain familiarity with effective methods for forming helping relationships, developing intervention goals, and understanding and resolving ambivalence about behavioral change. This paper describes the rationale for the experiential learning approach, addresses challenges encountered by students in learning MI skills, and demonstrates its potential effectiveness in addressing the learning needs of incoming social work students. We recommend that the MI lab be considered as a model for helping to prepare new students for agency practice.


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