Self-determination theory in health care and its relations to motivational interviewing: A few comments

Edward L. Deci, Richard M. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

210 Scopus citations


The papers of this special issue have the dual focus of reviewing research, especially clinical trials, testing self-determination theory (SDT) and of discussing the relations between SDT and motivational interviewing (MI). Notably, trials are reviewed that examined interventions either for behaviors such as physical activity and smoking cessation, or for outcomes such as weight loss. Although interventions were based on and intended to test the SDT health-behavior-change model, authors also pointed out that they drew techniques from MI in developing the interventions. The current paper refers to these studies and also clarifies the meaning of autonomy, which is central to SDT and has been shown to be important for effective change. We clarify that the dimension of autonomy versus control is conceptually orthogonal to the dimension of independence versus dependence, and we emphasize that autonomy or volition, not independence, is the important antecedent of effective change. Finally, we point out that SDT and MI have had much in common for each has emphasized autonomy. However, a recent MI article seems to have changed MI's emphasis from autonomy to change talk as the key ingredient for change. We suggest that change talk is likely to be an element of effective change only to the degree that the change talk is autonomously enacted and that practitioners facilitate change talk in an autonomy supportive way.

Original languageEnglish
Article number24
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
StatePublished - 2 Mar 2012


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