What is Motivational Interviewing?

Millions of people in the United States are suffering from a substance abuse disorder. Although we once viewed addiction as a moral issue, we now know that this is a medical and psychological disorder requiring specialized treatment. Motivational interviewing is one specialized therapy intended to help people who are dealing with this life-threatening issue.

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing is a special therapy intended to help people with addiction decide to make a change and begin to plan for that change. It is especially effective because it uses a collaborative and nonconfrontational approach.

Motivational interviewing requires specialized training. Therapists learn to ask questions that help an addict to think objectively about their issue, the barriers holding them back, and their motivations for moving forward with treatment. The therapist does not provide answers, but rather helps the addict to find their own path to sobriety.

This style of interviewing is becoming increasingly successful because it is less confrontational than other ways of influencing a person with an addiction to get help. The therapist and patient are partners having an ongoing open discussion about the patient’s plans for the future.

Motivational Interviews: An Alternative to Traditional Confrontation

For decades, individuals struggling with addiction have been encouraged to get help using a planned confrontation. In these confrontations, the friends and family members of the person with an addiction plan a meeting. They list the ways that they are harmed by the substance abuse and the consequences they will impose if the individual does not immediately enter treatment.

There are several issues with a confrontation. First, people with addiction often want to get help, but they want control over the process. It is okay to want some say in your own medical care. Second, the stories of other people simply may not be compelling. Many people with addiction already have a conflict with their loved ones, so a confrontation just adds to the problem.

Third, a person who enters rehab because of a confrontation may be entering with a counterproductive attitude. This becomes something they are doing to please angry family members, rather than a step they are taking for their own health.

While confrontations are sometimes effective, they are not the best approach for everyone. For some people, the more gentle and collaborative approach is most likely to inspire positive change.

Allowing People With Addiction to Choose Treatment

Motivational interviewing respects the autonomy of people who have a substance abuse disorder. However, this does not mean that the therapist agrees with them or encourages healthy behavior. The goal of this style of therapy is to inspire them to find their own path to change.

This style can be very effective in people who are resistant to rehabilitation. Other people may demand they stop and give them good reasons, but these are not compelling to many. However, many people struggling with addiction have their own reasons to get help and simply need someone to help them draw them out. Every person has the power to change. Motivational interviewing helps them take responsibility.

Understanding the Stages of Changes

People who use motivational interviewing believe that there are five stages of change. The interviewer simply helps the patient to move through these stages. These stages are:

  • Precontemplation, the first step. People at this stage are not actively considering making a change. They tend to be extremely defensive about their substance abuse and feel that rehabilitation is not possible for them at this time.
  • Contemplation is the phase in which patients with addiction first consider sobriety. These people are often beginning to see negative consequences in their life, but are worried about the process of quitting and the challenges of life without substances.
  • Preparation is a stage in which people have decided that they need to quit in the near future and are actively planning to do so. These patients usually have already tried unsuccessfully to stop without help and are open to treatmen
  • Action is when people struggling with addiction actively reach out for help. Although these patients are highly motivated, they may still be ambivalent. This stage has a very high potential for relapse.
  • Maintenance is the stage after a person has become sober. In this phase, they are actively resisting cravings and hopefully have developing coping mechanisms for their life challenges.

These stages are not linear. Many people move backward and forward, even several times in a day before they reach maintenance. In addition, patients may relapse, which is a normal part of addiction. When this happens, they need encouragement to accept the disease and continue fighting it.

Is It Time to Get Help?

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, you need expert help and treatment. Whether you choose motivational interviewing or another therapeutic technique, it is important to reach out. Addiction treatment specialists are waiting to help you make the first steps into sobriety today.