When smokers are resistant to change: experimental analysis of the effect of patient resistance on practitioner behaviour Academic Article uri icon

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  • AIMS: In the field of motivational interviewing, practitioner confrontational behaviour has been associated with lower levels of patient behaviour change. We set out to explore whether resistance to change among smokers affects practitioner confrontational and other behaviours. DESIGN: Experimental manipulation of levels of patient resistance in a role play. SETTING: The study was conducted at the start of a 2-day health behaviour change workshop. PARTICIPANTS: Thirty-two practitioners who had registered for the workshop. INTERVENTION: The practitioners were assigned randomly to interview a standardized patient (actor) who portrayed a smoker who had been briefed to display either high or low levels of resistance to change. MEASUREMENTS: Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. Practitioners and standardized patients completed interview ratings at the end of each interview. After listening to each taped interview practitioners were assigned a global score for confrontation, empathy and expert instructional style. Interviews were then submitted to a qualitative analysis. FINDINGS: Higher levels of practitioner confrontational behaviour were observed in the high resistance group. This was evident both from the global scores (median 2 versus 0, P = 0.001) and the qualitative analysis. Global scores for empathy and expert instruction were not significantly different. Qualitative analysis also suggests a pervasive negative impact on other practitioner behaviours. CONCLUSIONS: Higher patient resistance probably leads to an increase in confrontational and other negative behaviours in health professionals attempting to promote behaviour change. This challenges important assumptions about the influence of practitioner behaviour on patient behaviour and subsequent health-related outcomes.


  • Francis, Nick
  • Rollnick, Stephen
  • McCambridge, Jim
  • Butler, Christopher
  • Lane, Claire
  • Hood, Kerenza

publication date

  • August 2005