Motivational Interviewing and its Effect on Underachieving High Potential Adolescents
By: Ellen Thea Richer
Published: 02/08/2012
Uploaded: 11/02/2017
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: 2012 (February) Teachers College Columbia University Ed.D. Dissertations, Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations
Tags: adolescence, motivational interviewing, Self-Concept, self-determination, stages of change, Underachievement

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Description/Abstract: Academic underachievement, a syndrome affecting nearly 50% of gifted adolescents across gender, race, and socioeconomic strata, has fueled research for decades, in an attempt to identify its antecedents, characteristics, and consequences on the individual and on society. The research bridges fields of inquiry that converge in the area of human development and, particularly, self-concept: cognitive and learning theory, psychosocial development, the ongoing nature and nurture debate, resiliency theory, and current theories on education and the school environment.
The research documents the broad intrapersonal and economic consequents of underachievement: psychosocial alienation and isolation, alcohol and substance abuse, dropping out of school, and the delayed—often lost—opportunities for self-efficacy and successful career development. The cost to society measured in dollars spent on rehabilitation, incarceration, and medical care, and in social capital lost due to unrecognized social and cultural contribution warrants new approaches to mitigate this prevalent adolescent syndrome.


Motivational Interviewing, a counseling modality based on a Rogerian client centered approach and Stages of Change Theory, was tested as an intervention to ameliorate or reverse underachievement syndrome in highly capable adolescents. Its efficacy was suggested by the correlation between its philosophical adherence to the principles of personal empowerment and empathic relationship-building, and the tenets of adolescent stage theory that drive toward individuation, autonomy, voice, and relatedness. Four students, meeting the criteria of gifted and underachieving, were referred by
school administrators to participate in this qualitative study. During four 45-minute sessions, they first completed questionnaires exploring values, beliefs, and attitudes about home, social, school, and intrapersonal systems, providing opening themes for each session’s dialogue. They then participated in 30-minute Motivational Interviewing sessions. Pre- and post-data demonstrated a measurable improvement in performance and attitude after four Motivational Interviewing sessions. The data and the collective adolescent voice provide invaluable testimony to inform new methods of relating to these students, empathically and authentically, to affect their school experience and, ultimately, academic outcomes. The salience of the teacher-student relationship emerged as the key predictor of school success. The resulting portraits can drive innovative curricular and administrative changes to improve the academic experience of underachieving, gifted adolescents.