Motivational interviewing (MI) is psychotherapy that involves questioning motivations, contrasting current and desired behaviors, and focusing on change. Your therapist will challenge you in a supportive manner to help you recognize problem areas and find healthy solutions for them. 

According to work published by the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Individuals with substance abuse disorders are usually aware of the dangers of their substance-using behavior but continue to use substances anyway. They may want to stop using substances, but at the same time, they do not want to.” MI is ideal for those circumstances, and if you identify with those descriptions, it might be the right therapy for you.

Motivational Interviewing


What is Motivational Interviewing?

In short, MI involves a therapist helping you identify how your current state is not conducive to achieving the future goals that you want. They point out how your current thoughts or behaviors may keep you from achieving the desired outcome and then work with you to determine how you can alter your way of thinking or acting to reach that goal. 

Motivation to recover is the key to evolving into a healthier, happier, more confident you. As a form of talk therapy, MI involves visualizing what you hope to gain in the future and how to reach that place. A few things that you will not see in MI include the following:

  • There will be no confrontation about behavior or thought patterns that are unhealthy.
  • Your therapist will not engage in arguments over the best ways forward. Your therapist may guide you towards the ideal solution, but you control your own outcome. Your therapist will never force you to do anything. 
  • Your therapist is not going to judge or shame you for your current or past actions and thoughts. Instead, they will be empathetic and supportive of your desire to make healthy changes. 

Using Motivational Interviewing to Treat Substance Use

Some studies have indicated that the earlier clients use MI during treatment, the more effective treatment will be for people diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD). A 2006 review of the research into the effectiveness of MI during recovery conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network reported there is “strong empirical support in trials with a number of substance-using populations, particularly problem drinkers.” Many studies have indicated that MI is an effective way to lower the risk of relapsing. 

Primary Focus of Motivational Interviewing

Positive change is the goal in MI, so the focus will be on where you are, where you would like to be, and what changes need to occur to get you to that place. Once you have those things sorted out, your therapist can work with you to discover what approach will be the best to keep you motivated and moving forward in your recovery.

Who Benefits Most From Motivational Interviewing?

Individuals who have trouble finding a reason to modify their behaviors or thinking patterns will profit the most from MI. If you feel apathy, ambivalence, or active disinterest in your recovery, then you may benefit from MI. 

Anyone suffering from a condition like depression, acute anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) should use another type of psychotherapy if possible to treat their situation if they are already highly motivated to change. When you have plenty of reasons to improve and chronic symptoms nudging you in the direction of change, it can be easier to embrace necessary modifications to your worldview. 

Can It Be Combined With Other Therapies?

Frequently MI will be combined with other treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Some people do best focusing on only one treatment option, but others respond better to several tailored to their specific circumstances and personal goals. You can work with your therapist to determine which path is right for you. 

Overcoming Resistance to Change

Letting go of bad habits can be challenging even because they often have some part of them that makes you feel good or secure–even if it is the routine itself that provides that feeling. You may find yourself arguing, denying, or talking over your therapist if they bring up a topic you would rather avoid. However, those are most often the very topics that are the most crucial. You will need to learn how to overcome any ambivalence, fear, and shame that might be holding you back. A few good ways to do that include working with your therapist to reframe or reassess certain beliefs from an objective point of view. Most people find that accepting the need for transformation and taking action gets easier with time and practice. 

Here are a few ways you can challenge yourself to become more comfortable with the idea of change. Ask yourself the following questions whenever you begin to feel defensive about a subject your therapist brings up during a session: 

  • How would I like things to be different?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the ways things are right now?
  • How did I achieve change in the past? Were the results positive? 
  • How might it feel to experience change related to the current topic?

We are here for you

If you find yourself feeling apathetic or uncomfortable about modifying the way you live, then it might be time to start using the right tools. Motivational interviewing (MI) can jump-start your desire to change and help you find ways to grow. We are here to help guide you through the self-realization that comes with MI. The staff at White House Recovery and Detox recognize that change can be tricky, and you may not even feel like it is the best choice for you right now. However, it is essential to look at things objectively and recognize when you live in an unhealthy and unsustainable way.