When you’re starting addiction treatment, the most important first steps are identifying your goals, resolving detrimental issues and setting the stage for change. Once these have been addressed, moving through the stages of change will require exploration and support. Motivational interviewing is an effective tool that helps in all of these areas.

Definition of Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a therapeutic method used in addiction treatment to help people make changes in their lives. The motivational interview approach draws out rapid changes that come from within, rather than guiding the client through a series of steps. (1)

The core of motivational interviewing is based on three main concepts:

  1. Collaboration between therapist and client, instead of the therapist using confrontation
  2. Drawing out ideas from the client, instead of the therapist dictating ideas
  3. Autonomy of the client, instead of the therapist assuming authority over the client

Collaboration vs. Confrontation

Collaboration is a process where the therapist-client partnership is based on the client’s points of view and experiences. It’s a different approach from traditional methods where the therapist confronts the individual and imposes viewpoints about the client’s addictive behaviors.

Collaboration effectively builds rapport within the relationship. Rapport enables the client to build up trust in the therapist, which may be harder to do in a confrontational environment. However, the therapist doesn’t necessarily always agree with the client. When there are differing points of view, the focus is on mutual understanding, not proving one person right and the other wrong.

Drawing Out vs. Imposing Ideas

Based on the belief that motivation—the desire to change—originates with the client, not with the therapist, motivational interviewing uses a drawing-out technique. The therapist elicits genuine motivation for change, rather than telling the client what to do. Regardless of how much the therapist wants the person to change addictive behaviors, transformation only happens if the client wants to change.

Autonomy vs. Authority

Other treatment methods view a therapist’s authority over the client as the best way for creating change. Motivational interviewing takes a different approach by emphasizing that the person has the true power to make changes. In the end, it’s up to the client to decide to change. Recognizing true power gives the client a sense of empowerment as well as ultimate responsibility for behaviors.

The Benefits of Motivational Interviewing in Addiction Treatment

Research shows when therapists effectively integrate motivational interviewing techniques early on, it helps keep clients in treatment, making motivational interviewing critically important initially.(2) As treatment progresses, using motivational interviewing to identify goals and resolve issues keeps the recovery process moving forward.

Motivational interviewing enables people with addiction to believe in their own power to change. Motivation supports the focus and effort needed to make those changes. With desire, hard work, collaboration, understanding and the strong sense of control that motivational interviewing gives people in treatment, those with addiction can transform from a life of substance abuse to one of sobriety and fulfillment.

  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-2
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16169159