Mental health professionals


Motivational Interviewing (MI) is one of many different psychological perspectives to help one stay motivated with running. As with many other aspects of life, one can hit a wall with running, rather it be while you are, staying active, or just getting started in running. Different professionals use different psychological perspectives to help individuals with running motivations, and many different perspectives will help with motivation, but MI is one of the most well known and used to help encourage change in individual lives.

One aspect of MI is the OARS of motivation to change. Mental health professionals use change in many different ways. In Substance abuse it is used to help individuals quit using their substance of choice and continue to stay sober and live a more productive life. When talking about eating disorders, professionals re-frame the individuals thoughts from “I need to look a certain way or I wont be happy” or “I am worthless so I will starve myself or continue to eat until that emotion goes away” to “I am happy with the way I look” or “Misusing food as a coping skill will not help in my current situation.” In the current, change is used as a way to describe one’s thought process from “I cannot” to “I can” start, continue, or finish this run.

The first component of OARS is Open-ended questions. Typically, a mental health professional will ask their client open-ended questions to assess the current situation that is blocking the runner’s motivation. One can do this on their own too. All an individual needs to do is ask themselves questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no answer. For example, “Why do I run?” “What is preventing me from starting/continuing/finishing this run?” “When will I follow through with this run, if not now?” “How will I feel after the run?” “Whom am I running this run for?” These are all common questions that a professional will ask an individual during the first session to help assess the mental wall the client is experiencing. (Notice open-ended questions start with a question word.)

The next component of the OARS of change is Affirmation. Once an individual has answered the open-ended questions, the mental health professional will provide affirmation, empathy, and understanding to the client’s answers. Now that an individual has asked themselves the hard questions and answered them, they now need to believe in the answers and affirm that they will run for that reason. For example, “Why do I run?” could get an answer like, “I am running to get my marathon time down to a sub-three.” Now that an individual has that answer, they will continue to tell themselves that is an achievable goal and continue to do that while running and training.

The ‘R’ in OARS represents Reflections.  This is when a mental health provider will reflect the client’s answers back to them throughout the session. When an individual is running or training and wants to give up or stop, they need to reflect the answers to the open-ended questions and affirm that those answers are still valid. This stage is to help remind individuals of the goals that were set and to stay on track to these goals.

Last is Summaries. Normally a mental health professional will summarize the whole process with the client after the client has achieved the goals set in for the sessions. When running, this is when the individual has finished running or training. After completion of the event, the individual will look back at the goals they set, how they asked the questions on how the goal will be accomplished, affirmed that the goal is realistic, continuously reflect on the goal, and the achievement the goal.

These are simple steps to take when wanting to get motivated to run and to change one’s mindset to a more positive outlook for running. Set realistic goals on for each run and use OARS to motivate oneself to achieve the goal. Change is not easy and will not happen overnight, but is possible over time; one just has to be motivated to make it happen.

Happy Running!

Jeffery Garrison, Jr
MA* Forensic Psychology