Millions of people in the United States struggle with addiction. Addiction negatively impacts every aspect of a person’s life, from their physical and mental health to their social life and finances. Despite severe negative consequences, many people find it incredibly challenging to overcome their addiction.

Because addiction is a whole-person issue, treatment needs to be customized for each person. Part of effective treatment involves educating people about the issue of addiction and helping them understand their unique motivations and values that are at odds with substance abuse. One form of counseling called Motivational Interviewing (MI) helps people do this in addiction treatment.

Motivational Interviewing is a unique form of counseling that helps people develop and strengthen their desire to make positive changes to their life and to stop engaging in destructive behavior. This method focuses on maintaining an equal relationship between the counselor and client and working towards change that the client values. It has been proven to be effective for many people in recovery – whether the person chooses to be in treatment or has a court order.

Understanding Motivational Interviewing

To understand what makes Motivational Interviewing (MI) uniquely effective when used in addiction treatment, we can identify its key beliefs. Some of the key principles of MI are:

  • Motivation comes from within – what drives and inspires us to change must come from our own values and beliefs, not from any external encouragement or threats
  • Only the client can resolve their ambivalence – the client must want to change their beliefs and attitudes about overcoming their addiction
  • The client can’t be coaxed out of ambivalence – the counselor’s role is not to persuade the client or point them in a certain direction, but should support their goals and motivations
  • The counselor works gently- the relationship between the client and counselor is important, and the counselor asks questions or makes observations without judgment or persuasiveness
  • The counselor is a guide – their job is to call gentle attention to their client’s lack of motivation or willingness to change so that the client can resolve it
  • The willingness to change will fluctuate – recovery is a journey and is not always linear

What separates MI from other forms of behavioral modification therapies is that the counselor simply supports the client’s vision of their future. The counselor is not the expert teaching the client how to change–the client decides how, when, and why the change occurs.

Steps of Using Motivational Interviewing in Addiction Treatment

MI relies on the counselor and client’s relationship and the trust that flows in both directions between them. This therapeutic approach can be used effectively for a short period of time, making it an ideal choice to be used in an addiction treatment program. There are four stages in this type of therapy.


At this stage, the client and counselor are working together to form a rapport and develop their relationship. They may talk about a range of issues, goals, concerns, and values. The goal of this stage is to have comfortable conversations.


During this stage, the counselor may gently guide the conversation towards specific patterns and behaviors the client wants to change. In addiction treatment, the client identifies behaviors specific to their substance abuse that they want to change.


The client and counselor focus on increasing the sense of the importance of change. The counselor helps increase the client’s confidence in their ability to change and identifies the client’s readiness to change.


Together, the client and counselor make a practical plan to implement the client’s desired change.

At every stage, the counselor adapts to the client’s fluctuating levels of motivation and accepts these fluctuations as a natural part of recovery. The counselor strives to identify and encourage their clients’ motivation but does not actively work to motivate them. The central belief of Motivational Interviewing is that all real, effective motivation must come from within the client.

Why Should I Use Motivational Interviewing in Addiction Treatment?

While people may be able to recognize the devastating effects of their addiction, they may also have deeply rooted reasons to keep using substances. One of the most important parts of effective addiction treatment is helping people understand their own unique journey with addiction and gain the strength and confidence to overcome it. It helps clients identify and overcome the battle over whether they really want to quit or not.

MI is very effective at helping people identify and strengthen their motivation to make changes. Because it is client-centered, it can meet people where they are and adapt to their growth and setbacks. It can also be effective in a limited number of sessions, making it a great choice for use within an addiction treatment program.

Learn More About Addiction Treatment at Comprehensive Wellness Centers

If you or someone you love need healing addiction treatment, reach out to the staff at Comprehensive Wellness Centers. We offer programs that can be tailored to support you on your unique journey through recovery. Our addiction treatment therapies work to empower people to make changes to their life so they can live the healthy, self-directed future they deserve.

If you are ready to take the first step in your recovery journey, we will walk the rest of the way with you. For life-changing treatment, call now.