Motivational Interviewing is a style of counseling used to help patients resolve ambivalent feelings and make positive changes in their lives. It was developed by two clinical psychologists, William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick, and first practiced in the 1980s.

Motivational interviewing is commonly used to help treat addiction, but its use has been expanded to include mental health treatment, parenting, and even in the management of physical health disorders like heart disease and diabetes.

How Does Motivational Interviewing Work?

Motivational interviewing helps patients address and change their attitude that is preventing them from making healthier life choices. The core goal is to replace an ambivalent attitude with motivation that leads to resolute action.

For example, many individuals struggling with substance abuse understand the dangers of their behavior. They know stopping is in their own best interest, but they feel conflicted; despite the dangers, they still want to continue using the substance. This conflicted feeling often results in indifference and a lack of motivation to make behavioral changes. As a result, the substance use continues.

Motivational interviewing establishes a supportive relationship between the therapist and the client with the goal of helping the client develop a positive attitude towards change. In this way, the client feels empowered to take positive actions in addressing their addiction. There are several techniques therapists use to facilitate this change.

A young woman and a therapist practice motivational interviewing during a therapy session

Motivational Interviewing Techniques

Like many other styles of therapy, motivational interviewing is conversational. Open communication between the therapist and patient is the core of the style. As a result, motivational interviewing techniques build empathy and create open-ended conversation.

Miller and Rollnick have identified useful strategies for clinicians and therapists who use motivational interviewing in treatment. Several foundational techniques are outlined below.

1. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Two things are vital for a successful motivational interviewing approach: open communication and avoiding premature judgements. Asking open-ended questions encourages the client to engage in a genuine dialogue while the therapist can ensure the conversation progresses at a comfortable pace.

2. Practice Reflective Listening

Empathy is important for therapists practicing motivational interviewing. Reflective listening requires the therapist to actively listen but remain responsive and engaged with the client. To practice reflective listening, the therapist must process what the client has said, then restate its meaning.

Reflective listening allows the therapist to show empathy for the client and encourages the client to communicate comfortably with the therapist.

3. Use Affirmations

Affirmations help clients feel confident in themselves. Fostering self-confidence is vital in helping them develop changing behaviors and take action to address problems. Some examples of affirmations include:

  • I appreciate how difficult it must have been for you to decide to take action and seek help.
  • It’s great that you want to do something about this problem.
  • It takes strength to live with this problem every day and still continue to take steps forward.

4. Elicit Self-Motivational Statements

The therapist’s goal is to encourage their client to express concerns that lead to motivation and, eventually, to positive change. In other words, the therapist must guide the client to recognize that their life can become better and help them choose ways to begin the change process.

Self-motivational statements can be elicited by asking the client to elaborate on a statement, provide examples, or to offer more details about their concerns. For example, asking them how they feel about a specific change they’ve made or how they feel about their overall therapy progress.

5. Reframing

Reframing is used across a number of therapeutic styles but is particularly important within motivational interviewing. Clients may deny a personal problem or feel discouraged by a seemingly negative thought or event. Reframing encourages the client to think about the issue from a different perspective.

For example, a client may feel hurt that their partner criticizes their drinking habits or calls them an alcoholic. A way to reframe this scenario is through encouraging the patient to consider that their partner made these remarks because they care for the patient and are worried about their health.

Is It Effective?

Since its inception in the 1980s, many studies have been done to determine motivational interviewing’s effectiveness in treating a range of psychological and physical health disorders.

Meta-analysis studies, or studies that review a large body of previously conducted research, have concluded motivational interviewing is effective in treating everything from alcohol addiction to high blood pressure.

For example, a study from 2011 published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that motivational interviewing was effective in treating adolescents suffering from substance abuse disorders. Another study published in Diabetes Spectrum found motivational interviewing successfully decreased unhealthy dietary choices and depression in patients being treated for type 2 diabetes.

A therapist takes notes while listening to their patient describe the challenges they are experiencing in overcoming substance abuse

When is MI Used to Treat Patients?

While motivational interviewing can be used as a complement to other forms of therapy or addiction treatment, it’s most commonly used when a patient is resistant to treatment. In some cases, this technique is used when a patient outright refuses to admit they have a problem. This is most often the case in patients suffering from a substance use disorder.

When a patient refuses to accept that they have a substance abuse problem, they are resistant and unlikely to commit to a plan of action. For these patients, motivational interviewing is the first step in the recovery process.

Learn more about addiction treatment available at High Focus Centers’ New Jersey locations.

The Benefits of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing helps clients take the next step in their mental health or substance abuse recovery journey. Benefits of motivational interviewing include:

  • Helping clients to take responsibility for themselves and their actions
  • Encouraging clients to envision a future free of substance abuse or mental health struggles
  • Preparing clients to become more receptive to treatment
  • Building the client’s self-confidence and trust in themselves

Motivational interviewing is a great adjunct to other therapeutic styles and substance use treatments. It’s especially beneficial to patients who are initially resistant to starting a treatment program or who are unprepared to make the necessary life changes.

When used to treat patients struggling with a mental health disorder, motivational interviewing can help them better manage their symptoms. Patients living with an anxiety disorder or depression may feel more inclined to seek additional therapy, continue current therapy, or work more openly with their therapist to find an effective solution.

Finding Help for Substance Abuse

If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, help is available. At High Focus Centers, our outpatient rehab programs use a range of techniques, including motivational interviewing, to help adults and adolescents achieve long-term sobriety.

If you need help with drug or alcohol addiction, contact us today and start your path to a healthier life. You can also call our admissions team at (800) 877-3628 to inquire about our adolescent mental health program today.