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Motivational Interviewing Therapy for Addiction


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woman in motivational interviewing therapy for addiction

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

When most of us think of the word “interview,” we imagine a nerve-wracking experience applying for a job or admission into school. What we probably don’t imagine is a therapeutic program that can help people overcome addiction and better manage stress and anxiety.

That’s exactly what the therapeutic technique known as “motivational interviewing” can do. We incorporate the motivational interviewing process into our own therapy programs here at Into Action Recovery, so we’ve seen firsthand the positive impact it can have. In this article, we’re going to explore why motivational interviewing is so effective and how it is used in treatment programs.

What is motivational interviewing and how is it used in addiction treatment programs?

Many of us understand that we need to make positive changes in our lives but struggle to put those thoughts into action. This is particularly difficult with addictive behavior patterns, many of which can quickly consume our everyday lives.

Motivational interviewing helps individuals who desire to change their behavior to understand and overcome the internal roadblocks that keep them stuck. Unlike cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of talk therapy, motivational interviewing relies less on strategies suggested by a therapist and more on the individual themselves.

For example, Jane may understand that she needs to stop drinking. Her family and friends have expressed their concern about her substance use to her multiple times, and she knows that her drinking is making it more difficult for her to function in daily life. Yet whenever she tries to quit, she can’t manage more than a day or two before returning to alcohol as a source of comfort and relaxation.

When Jane attends a motivational interviewing session, her therapist will ask her to explain why she feels the need to stop drinking. They may explore why she first started drinking and why she now feels her alcohol use has become a problem. They will discuss why Jane is motivated to control her drinking now and how her alcohol use makes her feel.

Once Jane has had a chance to reflect, her therapist will share what they heard in the conversation. They will highlight the positive statements that Jane made about her recovery, as well as the ways that her drinking is harming her life. By sharing these statements back to Jane, the therapist is able to show that Jane has already made the commitment to seek help. Now, she needs to find the support and resources necessary to accomplish her goal.

Why is motivational interviewing effective?

Psychologists have found that ordering a person to change their behavior is largely ineffective. Instead, they find that individuals who are self-motivated are much more likely to succeed at stopping difficult behaviors, giving up a harmful habit, or making other positive changes.

Motivational interviewing is so effective because it involves two key actions that help humans make up their minds and stick to their plans. Motivational interviewing involves two critical steps:

  • Becoming motivated to make a positive change
  • Committing to making that change publicly

The first step involves motivation. If an individual lacks the desire to change, behavior change is virtually impossible. This is why most treatment programs recommend that individuals only begin treatment when they are ready to get sober. Trying to overcome addiction while resistant to change dramatically decreases the likelihood of success.

The second step involves making a public commitment to change. Motivation isn’t enough for most people to complete the hard work of getting sober. For this reason, it’s important that they make a public commitment to someone else — preferably verbally, not in writing — that they are dedicated to recovery. This not only creates a sense of accountability but also further strengthens the individual’s desire to follow through on their plans.

In motivational interviewing, the therapist guides the individual through each of these steps. Together, they discuss the reasons that the individual has chosen to get sober, which the therapist then reviews in-depth in the next phase of the conversation. This helps motivate the individual to move forward with their goals.

At the same time, the individual is verbally committing to their recovery simply by discussing their goals and plans with the therapist. In later sessions, the therapist can remind the individual of what they discussed as a way to hold them accountable for staying on track with their recovery.

Motivational interviewing can be a powerful tool when incorporated into addiction treatment programs. Not only does this therapy process help individuals push forward with their recovery, but it empowers the individual through the power of their own words and thoughts.

If you’re interested in learning more about how motivational interviewing can help you on your recovery journey, talk to a member of the Into Action team today.


Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Dr. Saeed is a psychiatry specialist with over 40 years of experience in the medical field. He received training in General Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was selected as the Medical Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He currently serves as the medical director at Into Action Recovery Centers. Full Bio

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