Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach for New Life

Deciding to commit to sobriety and recovery is rarely ever easy. Even when the consequences of one’s substance use become clear, one must remember that addiction is a brain disease that takes a significant amount of time to treat. Despite common misconceptions, treatment is not just for those who are ready to make the commitment to sobriety. Recovery experts have developed several treatment interventions to challenge ambivalence or hesitations that one may have regarding their willingness to change. One of these treatment approaches is known as motivational interviewing (MI).

What Is Motivational Interviewing in Addiction Recovery?

MI is a counseling approach that is defined as a person-centered method of guiding one’s personal motivation to change. It was initially used to treat addictions but has been increasingly used in health care as well as public health settings to elicit change.

Different from other treatment approaches, MI utilizes specific techniques that aim to empower participants. Rather than a healthcare professional working to force change, MI uses unique strategies to encourage a patient to unlock their own willingness to change, as well as reflect on the obstacles that are keeping them from doing so. Strategies include:

  • Reflective listening
  • Shared decision making
  • Eliciting change talk
  • Encouraging nonjudgmental and nonconfrontational conversations
  • Creating a supportive climate
  • Expressing empathy
  • Rolling with resistance
  • Supporting self-efficacy

MI is built upon the understanding of how difficult it is to change learned or conditioned behaviors, many of which develop as means of achieving feelings of safety and survival. It uses this knowledge to help patients find what they need to achieve goals within themselves.

How Can Motivational Interviewing Help in Addiction Recovery?

There are numerous factors that keep individuals from seeking or receiving mental health and substance use treatment. Similarly, there are many reasons people may experience ambivalence toward sobriety and recovery.

The first main and most obvious reason is that substance use disorder (SUD) alters an individual’s brain chemistry in such a way that self-control becomes compromised. An individual who is exposed to the perceived pleasure achieved through repeated substance use may eventually fall into a downward spiral of addiction. This is because the chemical effects of substance use rewire the brain and impair cognitive abilities such as judgment and rationality, which leads to intense compulsions that drive chronic substance-seeking and substance-using behavior.

MI can educate an individual as well as help them come to terms with how their addiction is affecting their cognitive functioning. Then, practitioners work to empower their patients’ motivation and willingness to change so that they are able to meet their treatment goals. In this case, a patient’s goal may be to achieve and maintain sobriety.

Other reasons that individuals may procrastinate seeking or continuing treatment include:

  • Feeling shameful or fearful of asking for help
  • Lack of insight on the intensity or severity of their problem
  • Limited awareness of how their illness or substance use is affecting their life
  • Feeling inadequate or unworthy of receiving treatment
  • Lack of trust in treatment centers or programs
  • Belief that they can recover and maintain sobriety without proper help

For these circumstances and more, MI becomes a valuable treatment approach for patients to safely explore the ambivalence they might have surrounding both treatment and change. Through discussion, the aim is to stimulate a patient’s desire to change.

The Benefits of Motivational Interviewing in Recovery

There are many reasons why MI is becoming a widely used therapeutic approach, not just to treat SUD, but also to treat mental health disorders. The benefits of motivational interviewing include:

  • Building the patients’ self-confidence, trust and willingness to change
  • Helping patients take ownership and responsibility for themselves and their actions
  • Preparing patients to be open and receptive to future treatment
  • Encouraging patients to realize that they have the power and ability to change their lives on their own
  • Lowering the chance of future relapse

While MI has helped numerous people find the motivation to change their behavior in small and large ways, it is not always the best-fit treatment approach. This method is generally best for individuals who have mixed feelings surrounding change. If an individual has no desire at all to change, or they are already motivated to make the commitment to change, MI may not be the best treatment approach.

Remember that MI is one treatment approach, not a treatment program in and of itself. Therefore, if an individual is interested in MI, they may have to contact a local treatment facility to make sure they offer this modality. Additionally, individuals should be prepared to voice what changes they are hoping to make as well as their overall goals for treatment and recovery.

New Life Addiction Counseling and Mental Health Services understands that not all people are ready to make the lifelong commitment to sobriety and recovery. As frightening as it may seem, coming to terms with your willingness to change is not something you have to do alone. Our staff members here at New Life are dedicated to supporting and empowering your healing journey. We can establish a treatment plan that works to overcome your ambivalence while working to meet your long-term goals. Call (877) 929-2571 today.