Kurt H. Dermen, PhD, and Molly Rath lead the University at Buffalo Motivational Interviewing Center.

UBMIC Making an Impact

Published September 8, 2022


The University at Buffalo Motivational Interviewing Center (UBMIC) has only been in operation for two years, but it is already making an impact on the local, state and national levels.

Working With Help Me Grow Organization

“Motivational interviewing is very accepting of people. They’re always going to feel safe. We’re never going to judge or criticize them. We’re there to appreciate their situation, put ourselves in their shoes and use that as a starting point.”
Senior research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry and director of the University at Buffalo Motivational Interviewing Center

The UBMIC provides training, consultation and implementation support services to help learners and organizations apply motivational interviewing to their work.

“Motivational interviewing is basically a style of having conversations that are collaborative and respectful and really focuses on the language of change, and listening why someone might want to make a change and how they might go about it,” says Kurt H. Dermen, PhD, senior research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry and director of the UBMIC. “We want to help them achieve their goals.”

Dermen and Molly Rath, the UBMIC’s lead trainer and project manager, are currently working with the Help Me Grow national center, which has affiliates throughout the U.S. that work on the promotion of health in early childhood.

Help Me Grow is engaged in a new initiative to make sure the services they provide are centered on parents’ and caregivers’ priorities, with the UBMIC playing a key role.

“They recently started a new initiative to make sure that what they’re doing lines up with the goals of the people they’re serving,” says Dermen, a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 30 years of experience in the development, research and training of motivational interviewing interventions. “We’ve been working with them for almost a year in the preparation project, but at this point we’re about to start the work of actually providing training services starting in October.”

National Footprint

Dermen and Rath are currently working with affiliates in Long Island, Kansas and Orange County, California.

“We are training the people who staff their centralized access points in motivational interviewing, so they can better engage people who call, and better find out what their goals are, and guide them in ways they are likely to follow up on,” says Dermen, who has been a member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers since its inception in 1997.

The UBMIC will work with the Help Me Grow affiliates over the course of a year to help them apply motivational interviewing skills and approach to their work.

“It’s very collaborative. We at the MI Center and MI trainers in general are very collaborative in our work. We’re never going to come in and say ‘here’s what you need to do, and here’s how to do it. Call us when you’re done.’ It’s more about learning from them what their strengths and goals are, and then seeing where motivational interviewing can fit and helping them learn those skills and apply them,” Dermen says. “It’s always very collaborative, rather than us being the experts and them being just receptacles. We co-design everything we do. We are as interested in their expertise and what they know about what works as we are in sharing our expertise.”

Collaboration With School of Nursing

The UBMIC also has an ongoing relationship with UB’s School of Nursing.

“They have contracted with us to provide motivational interviewing training to students. We have been doing this in one way or another for three or four years — I was actually doing it before the center started. We will work with a group of 40 or 45 students throughout the year,” Dermen says. “We also provide experiences with simulated clients. We train people to act as a client, perhaps with a substance abuse or other mental health issue. Then the student interacts with this simulated client for 20 minutes. We’ve trained this simulated client to respond in ways that make sense from a motivational interviewing standpoint.”

“Students really like it. They really appreciate the opportunity to try this out before working with real clients, and they really appreciate the feedback,” Dermen adds.

The UBMIC’s work with the School of Nursing isn’t just with nursing students. It has also worked with fellows in the Behavioral Health and Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Scholars Program and the Opioid Workforce Expansion Program (OWEP) — graduate-level students from UB’s School of Nursing, School of Social Work and Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology.

In addition, the UBMIC is also working with the New York State Commission for the Blind to train its workers on motivational interviewing techniques.

“Learning motivational interviewing is a complex skill. It’s like trying to learn the piano. You can watch somebody play the piano and say ‘OK, I can do that’ and sit down and try it, but it’s probably not going to get you very far. What really helps is trying something out, and having somebody sitting next to you saying ‘you know, try that again, but maybe do this instead.’ And that’s what we do in training people in MI,” Dermen says. “Motivational interviewing is very accepting of people. They’re always going to feel safe. We’re never going to judge or criticize them. We’re there to appreciate their situation, put ourselves in their shoes and use that as a starting point.”