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The Role of Motivational Interviewing in Addiction Treatment

In addiction treatment, therapists tap into various counseling methods to help those in recovery resolve their core problems and change their behaviors. A popular short-term therapy method that can help people find the internal drive they need to reconsider their actions is motivational interviewing. 

What is Motivational Interviewing?

William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, the founders of motivational interviewing (MI), believed that it was a collaborative, client-centered, or person-centered approach to strengthening motivation in a counseling setting. To better understand what motivational interviewing stands for, you must look at its core principles:

  • A guiding style of communication includes “following” (good listening) and “directing” (giving information and advice).
  • Designed to empower people to change by drawing out their meaning, importance, and willingness to change.
  • A respectful and curious way of being with people facilitating the natural process of change, honoring the patient’s autonomy. 

When Is It Used?

Motivational interviewing can help in many situations, including addiction and the management of physical health conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. The idea is that by incorporating this form of counseling, people can find the motivation they need to start making healthier choices. It can also help those struggling with anger management issues or hostile behaviors. In addition, it could help with behavioral addictions, including gambling problems, sex addiction, shopping addiction, and more.

How Motivational Interviewing Works for Addiction Treatment

This form of therapy evolved from Carl Roger’s person-centered approach to counseling. For Miller and Rollnick, the idea is not to force anyone into wanting to change. Instead, it’s about helping who is committed to change find the motivation they need to make it happen. 

It’s a twofold process that requires patience and some level of self-awareness to be effective.

First, the goal is to boost someone’s motivation. Secondly, it’s all about that person committing to change. Instead of stating a need or desire for change, motivational interviewing has shown that expressing this commitment aloud improves a patient’s ability to make those changes. 

In short, in this form of counseling, the role of the therapist is more about listening than intervening. For addiction treatment, motivational interviewing is followed up with other interventions, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, support groups, and stress management. 

What to Expect from Treatment

The core principles of motivational interviewing rely on compassion, partnership, evocation, and acceptance. Expect your therapist to use open-ended questions, affirmations, reflections, express empathy, and use the language of change. Those are some of the core elements of this counseling process that differs from other styles.


One of the fundamental processes of motivational interviewing. The purpose of this therapy is to establish a productive working relationship between the patient and therapist. Engagement with the client happens through reflective listening to understand the patient’s perspective while at the same time, affirming the patient’s strengths and supporting their autonomy.


Moreover, the next process is focusing on the topics. At this stage, both the patient and therapist agree on a shared purpose. This is a vital portion of the treatment as it grants the therapist permission to move into a more directional conversational tone that focuses on change.


Furthermore, at this stage, the therapist focuses on helping the patient create their “why” of change using their ideas and motivations. Ambivalence is normalized and explored without judgment, thus resolving it. The language of change used at this stage requires expertise, compassion, and understanding. This stage is about building confidence in their ability to change.


Finally, both patient and therapist focus on the “how” of change. Here, the therapist supports the patient in consolidating their commitment to change and developing a plan based on their insights and expertise. While this process is not a must, it can be the key to sustaining long-term recovery for those in addiction treatment.

Where to Find a Motivational Interviewing Therapist

When considering motivational interviewing, make sure you look for a licensed mental health professional with insight into this counseling style. Above all, it’s essential to find someone with both formal training and field experience. Most addiction treatment centers will have therapists on staff trained in different counseling techniques. Ask about the possibility of incorporating motivational interviewing into your treatment plan. 

Getting Help for Addiction

To sum up, motivational interviewing can be very helpful when combined with therapies like CBT, REBT, and other approaches. Findings show that this form of counseling can help people engage in their treatment, build consistency, and continue practicing healthy habits after treatment. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please seek help today. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our rehab programs incorporate various styles of evidence-based therapy to help you navigate the ins and outs of your addiction and find long-term recovery. 

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