An international research project led by scientists from the U. of Granada has demonstrated that motivational interviewing can make smokers see tobacco as something disagreeable, thus helping them to quit the habit. Motivational interviewing is a psychological technique of direct intervention that seeks to produce changes in patient behaviour.
53 smokers participated in this research, published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy. These patients had been smoking over 10 cigarettes a day for more than a year, and had no intention of abandoning the habit.
The researchers, from the universities of Granada in Spain and San Buenaventura in Bogotá, Colombia, evaluated the effects upon them of a 20-minute motivational interview. This intervention expresses empathy, and generates discrepancies between current behaviour and future targets. It also increases self-efficiency and avoids confrontation and resistance.
They compared the results of this test with another type of standard intervention, and also with a control group. They then watched whether the willingness to change increased in smokers. To this effect, they measured the amplitude of the shock reflex experimented by subjects when they were presented with a series of disagreeable images associated to tobacco.
An efficient intervention
Jaime Vila Castellar and Pedro Guerra, researchers at the Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment Department, U. of Granada, and Carlos Gantiva, from the U. of Buenaventura in Bogotá (Colombia), are the authors of this article. They point out that their results prove that Motivational Interviewing "was the most effective sort of intervention".
Before this treatment, smokers responded to tobacco images in a similar fashion as they responded to pleasant images (for instance, erotic photographs), but after the intervention, their response to the same tobacco images was analogous to their response to disagreeable images, such as corposes or images of violence.
"Motivational Interviewing", these researchers concluded, "manages to change, at least temporarily, the emotional response that smokers present before stimuli associated to tobacco, from pleasant to unpleasant, which helps them overcome one of the main obstacles for quitting tobacco consumption, i.e. motivation for change."
According to data provided by the World Health Organization, there are over 1000 million smokers worldwide, and tobacco consumption is associated to the three main causes of premature death.
There are several obstacles for health professionals when it comes to treating smokers. For instance, their low motivation to change, the scarcity of time and resources that health systems worldwide provide to attend patients, and the little evidence for the efficiency of psychological therapies when it comes to change in this sort of behaviour.