Introduction to Motivational Interviewing: OARS

The purpose of this course is to introduce criminal justice professionals to the four pillars (OARS) of motivational interviewing.

Introduction to OARS

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing Overview

Motivational interviewing is a communication style that aims to intrinsically motivate an individual to commit to change.  Criminal justice professionals can use motivational interviewing techniques as a strategic tool to identify an offender's motivation for change which can be used to develop a supervision plan.

The four pillars of motivational interviewing are:

  1. Open ended questions 
  2. Affirmations
  3. Reflections
  4. Summaries


The four pillars of motivational interviewing are commonly remembered using the acronym OARS. 

OARS fill in the blanks questions

The acronym OARS stands for:

O: Open Ended Questions

O: Open ended questions

O: Open ended questions 

As opposed to close ended questions, which encourage a short or single-word answer, open ended questions require the individual to answer the question in their own words, using their own knowledge and generally elicit more information.

Examples of closed ended questions:

  • Have you been on probation before?
  • How many kids do you have?
  • Did you have court today?

Examples of open ended questions:

  • What kind of challenges are you currently facing?
  • What is your family like?
  • What are you hoping to get out of probation?

Benefits of asking open ended questions

Why open ended questions?

  • Facilitates open dialogue
  • Helps to establish rapport
  • Allows the offender to share true feelings
  • Leads to better understanding 
  • Encourages empathy 

Which is an example of an open ended question?

  • What are your thoughts on the meeting we had today?
  • What time did you get here?
  • What is your favorite color?
  • How long have you lived in Colorado?

A: Affirmations

A: Affirmations

A: Affirmations 

Affirmations are statements that recognize an individual's positive behaviors (no matter how small).  Affirmations can help offenders to build confidence and reinforce their ability to change.  It should be noted, affirmations are are more effective when communicated in a genuine and sincere way. 

Examples of affirmations:

  • I can tell your family is very important to you.
  • I really appreciate you being on time today.
  • That is a great idea.
  • You were very resourceful in that situation. 

Which of the statements below are examples of affirmations?

  • You have a lot of great ideas.
  • I don't think that is a good idea.
  • I appreciate you coming in for our meeting today,

R: Reflections

R: Reflections

R: Reflections 

Reflective listening is a thoughtful way of communication, where the listener offers back the content of the speaker usually through paraphrasing to confirm understanding.  

Common phases used to begin a reflection include:

  • It sounds like...
  • You're wondering if...
  • So you feel...
  • You're thinking about...


Benefits of using reflections

Benefits of reflections 

  • Closes gaps in communication
  • Builds trust
  • Supports a relationship of mutual respect
  • Demonstrates empathy 

Which is NOT an example of the beginning of a reflection?

  • What you should do is...
  • What I'm hearing you say is...
  • It sounds like...

S: Summaries

S: Summaries

S: Summaries

Summaries are used to highlight the important points of the discussion and  verify the listener has heard and understood the speaker.  Summaries should also address any ambivalence to change, and should end with the listener to inviting the speaker to provide any clarification or additional information.  

An example of a summary:

"I'd like to summarize what we've talked about so far.  You'd like to stop smoking because it is starting to impact your health and you'd like to live a long life so you can take care of your family.  On the other hand, you have a lot of stress in your life right now and smoking has provided you with a way to cope with that stress.  Did I miss anything?"  

Benefits of using summaries:

  • Highlights what is important
  • Reviews both sides of ambivalence to change
  • Allows the speaker to provide clarification
  • Confirms the listener is engaged 


Untitled statement question

  • Summaries highlight the important points in the conversation
  • Summaries demonstrate the listener has heard the speaker
  • Summaries provide the speaker with an opportunity to provide clarification

Test you knowledge

Match each of the OARS to the correct example

  • Open ended question
    What are your thoughts on the game last night?
  • Affrimation
    Thank you for making it to the meeting today.
  • Reflection
    So what I'm hearing you say is you're under a lot of pressure at work right now.
  • Summary
    Let me summarize, you'd like to start running to manage your stress because it's a healthy outlet. However, you're concerned it will take too much time away from your family. Did I get that right?