Updated on 1/31/2023

Addiction can cause many individuals to think they do not have a problem or that they can control it without any help. Some people are even indifferent about their situation and simply refuse to seek help. In these situations, a technique known as motivational interviewing (MI) can encourage individuals to want to change for the better. Through MI, individuals can overcome any feelings of uncertainty regarding recovery or even ambivalence toward healing to motivate them to change for the better through healing. Taking an in-depth look at MI can help you better understand the technique and how it can help you learn how to stop drinking or using drugs.

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a type of talk therapy or counseling strategy that works with individuals to move away from indecisiveness, ambivalence or uncertainty towards seeking help and finding the motivation to want to be better and make more positive decisions. It is beneficial for those that do not see a problem with their behavior and therefore do not think they need to seek help or get better. The primary goal of MI is to help the patient overcome their internal battle over whether they want to quit using drugs or alcohol. 

There are many critical points used during the process to help the patient reap the benefits of this technique:

  1. Motivation comes from the patient and the patient alone, not from external sources.
  2. Direction persuasion cannot be used to resolve ambivalence.
  3. The patient, not the counselor, is responsible for resolving their own ambivalence.
  4. The counselor should quietly evoke information from the patient.
  5. The patient is guided by the counselor in recognizing and resolving their ambivalence.
  6. Readiness to change is not a trait but a fluctuating result of interpersonal interaction.
  7. The patient -counselor relationship is also a partnership.

How Does MI Work?

Motivational interviewing is all about collaboration and being non-confrontational to motivate the patient to want to get better and change their lives. A session of MI will typically go as follows:

Asking Open-Ended Questions

Questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” are avoided during MI. This is because the counselor wants the patient to venture into their thoughts, emotions, beliefs and values to spark a discussion and allow the patient to lead the session rather than the counselor.

Supportive Affirmations

Throughout the session, the counselor will often state affirmations to support positive behaviors exhibited or discussed by the patient. These are made to boost the patient’s confidence and self-esteem to help recognize they are on the right path. They also help the patient believe they can change if the affirmations are given appropriately by the counselor. The affirmations are never given towards negative behaviors to make the patient feel better, as this would be counter-productive.

Reflective Listening

MI uses reflective listening as a tool for the therapist to understand the patient’s experience and build a connection between themselves and the patient. It also helps to decrease the patient’s ambivalence towards the process and the idea of getting better.


Summaries are used to recap the session to point out any recurring issues, themes or concerns the patient may be exhibiting. Summaries help show the patient their own discrepancies in what they are saying or doing as a way of motivating them to change.

Change Talk

Change talk occurs as a result of the previous four sections and is done by the patient. The patient will state exact changes they can make and the benefits of those changes in their lives. Change talk occurs in two stages: preparatory and implementing. Preparatory has the patient acknowledge their capability of change, their desire for change, their need for change, and the reason for the change. The implementing stage includes commitments to change and taking the proper steps.

Benefits of Motivational Interviewing

MI has numerous benefits for patients that go through it. The technique has been proven successful in several individuals struggling with addiction concerns. Some common benefits of MI include:

  • Teaches accountability
  • Builds confidence and trust
  • Gives the opportunity to talk through problems
  • Shows what a future without drugs and alcohol would look like
  • Makes patients more receptive to treatment
  • Helps patients realize they are capable of change
  • Motivates patients to make the necessary changes and helps them understand why these changes are necessary


Motivational interviewing (MI) is a common counseling strategy used to help patients come to a place of understanding in terms of needing help for addiction. It has shown to be extremely successful through its non-confrontational approach by having the patient lead the sessions and realize they need to make changes. Facilities like the Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford in New Jersey use MI to motivate patients to step onto the recovery path. You can learn more today by calling (877) 557-5372. Remember, the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that there is one.