4 Effective Steps of OARS Motivational Interviewing

OARS forms a part of Motivational Interviewing and is not the only skill involved. In this post, I will be covering the four steps that make up the OARS process, and I’ll be explaining how you can use these steps.

Why Conduct Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing is a useful process to help anyone who is facing change in their life. The change may be medical, professional or maybe a significant change that may take place in their social life.

A major problem that people are faced with regarding change, is indecision. We all have existing thoughts and feelings about our current situations, and any suggestion or idea of doing something drastically different can create anxiety and even more indecision. Things like moving house or changing jobs are just as important as other areas where big decisions have to be made.

The medical and counseling professions use OARS and Motivational Interviewing to help their patients and clients clarify the situation they are currently experiencing, and help develop thoughts on how to improve that situation. In these interviews, it is not the counselor’s job to enforce their own opinions, but to guide the client to make better-informed choices for themselves.

The same approach can undoubtedly also be valuable in the business world just as it is valuable in the counseling professions.

So What Is OARS?

OARS stands for:

Open-Ended Questions






OARS in Action

Let’s look at each one of the above steps in more detail.

The following scenario is based on an imaginary situation where a friend of Tom knows that Tom needs to go to the dentist, but Tom has a fear of going to the dentist and has been putting it off for ages.

Open-Ended Questions


The O stands for Open-Ended questions. These questions are the type where it’s difficult to give a yes or no answer. So instead of asking a question like: “will you go to the dentist to have your teeth fixed soon Tom?”, the  friend could ask Tom: “what are your concerns about going to the dentist Tom?”

Tom will now have to reply giving details about his actual problem. These may include a fear of needles, a general phobia regarding dentists, a severe gag-reflex issue or perhaps the fear of pain.

With this new knowledge, Tom’s friend can now continue the OARS process.


A stands for Affirmations. This stage deals with Tom’s friend mentioning positive achievements that Tom has accomplished. Examples may go something like this: “Well Tom, I can understand your fears, but I have to say that you certainly don’t lack courage, as I know that you have been to the dentist in the past. Maybe on those occasions you were in pain and you had to go, but either way, you went. That takes guts. It also takes guts to talk to me about this because it’s never easy to open up when you’re afraid of something. I personally think that you are stronger than you give yourself credit for Tom.”

Note here, and in all the stages of OARS, that Tom’s friend doesn’t try to enforce his own agenda on to Tom. He isn’t trying to push Tom into going to the dentist. The OARS process is structured more to help the subject understand their situation more clearly and make their own informed choice regarding the issue at hand.



The R stands for Reflection. This stage involves Tom’s friend showing his understanding of what Tom is saying and thinking, regarding his problem. Tom’s friend doesn’t ask questions during this procedure, he merely re-words Tom’s own words to connect at a deeper level to Tom’s problem. The sequence may go something like this:

Tom: “I hate going to the dentist because the anesthetic often doesn’t work, so I end up in pain.”

Friend: “So one of your main concerns is that perhaps you aren’t being given enough anesthetic.”

Tom: “I feel so nervous before I enter the dentist’s surgery that I feel physically sick.”

Friend: “Having some way of being more relaxed would certainly be something that you’d like to have.”

Tom: “I have a terrible gag reflex, and I feel like I’m going to be sick all the time.”

Friend: “You’d stop feeling sick if your gag reflex wasn’t as bad as it is.”


The final letter, S, stands for Summary (more on this in a moment).

During the discussions, Tom’s feelings about the dentist will have become apparent. It is very often the case that people faced with a decision or faced with a situation that involves a change in their life, are caught between negative and positive emotions. They often can see the advantages, but they then see disadvantages. This conflict is what causes people to delay taking action.

During the conversation between Tom and his friend, Tom may have said things like: “I know that I need to go to the dentist, but I’m too scared to go. But if I go then, I’ll have nicer teeth, and I won’t need to hide my teeth when I smile anymore. But I am afraid of going. But I’d also like to man-up to this and show my fear whose the boss.”

The Summary part of the OARS process might see Tom’s friend saying: “If I have understood everything so far, you’ve been thinking hard about going to the dentist, but your fear has held you back. Then again, you can see that going to the dentist would bring back your smile, and it seems that you miss that.”

The Summary process can be useful as it’s an opportunity for Tom’s friend to be selective regarding the points that he mentions in the summary.

Here Is An Excellent Video Which Explains Motivational Interviewing & Also Covers OARS


In a professional situation, the counselor or doctor may use the summary stage to state various positive aspects of Tom’s remarks. In future sessions, these positive remarks could be mentioned again to help Tom see for himself the best direction to take.

You can see that the OARS process is not about forcing someone to change or to make a choice. It’s about understanding the situation profoundly and using that information to help the subject help themselves. OARS is seldom used on its own and forms typically one part of motivational interviewing techniques.

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