Can Motivational Interviewing Help My Recovery Process?

Two young men sitting on sofas and talking.

Can Motivational Interviewing Help My Recovery Process?

Everyone enters addiction treatment at different points throughout their recovery journey. Regardless of whether it’s someone’s first time entering treatment or their third, it is normal to have hesitations about participating in treatment. For many, deciding to fully commit to sobriety is not easy. Likewise, recovery is often uncharted territory that can bring about uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability. Still, leaving these hesitations unchallenged can be problematic for an individual’s ability to achieve lasting sobriety. For this reason, it is essential to understand that many treatment facilities have adopted approaches that can help individuals face their ambivalence surrounding recovery. One of these approaches is known as motivational interviewing (MI). 

If you are struggling with your motivation to commit to sobriety or to change other problematic behavioral patterns in your life, this treatment approach may be a good fit for you. 

What Is Motivational Interviewing (MI)?

According to the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, “MI has been defined as person-centered method of guiding to elicit and strengthen personal motivation for change.” Motivational interviewing is a counseling style that is now used in both healthcare and public health settings, although it was initially used to treat addictions. 

The journal also discusses motivational interviewing as a communication style that highlights the following strategies throughout a treatment session:

  • Reflective listening
  • Shared decision-making
  • Eliciting change talk

For MI to be effective, a practitioner must work a balance of comfort and discomfort during treatment. In other words, they must “strategically balance the need to “comfort the afflicted” and “afflict the comfortable”; to balance the expression of empathy with the need to build sufficient discrepancy to stimulate change,” as stated in the journal.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains that the foundation of MI is built upon the understanding of how difficult it is to change conditioned or learned behaviors. Likewise, as the approach is person-centered, the central principle of MI is that “motivation to change should be elicited from people, not imposed on them,” as stated in The Essential Handbook of Treatment and Prevention of Alcohol Problems. Motivation interviewing works to encourage an individual’s motivation, rather than forcing it.

Why Motivation Is Essential for Lasting Sobriety

To successfully recover from substance use disorder (SUD), you must first recognize how your substance use has altered your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Then, you must understand and identify what you need to do to stop your substance use and alter other patterns of problematic behavior in your life. Finally, you must commit to these lifestyle changes, learn how to healthily cope with triggers and adversity, and keep relapse prevention as the highest priority throughout your recovery. 

While these steps may have been worded simply, recovery is a lifelong process. Throughout this process, it is important to remember that motivation remains a critical element of your behavior change. Furthermore, motivation and the accompanying behavior change can predict an individual’s abstinence or reduction in substance use. Motivation plays a key role in your ability to progress in recovery and achieve long-lasting sobriety. 

Keeping motivation is necessary to accomplish personal growth and goals in life. Without motivation, you remain stagnant. In the same way that your motivation for completing daily tasks can fluctuate, your motivation for staying committed to sobriety is also bound to fluctuate throughout your recovery. However, when your lack of motivation is unchecked, it can quickly lead to relapse. This is why you must work to keep your motivation for sobriety high and seek help when you start to feel unmotivated. 

Maintaining motivation is essential for lasting sobriety. For instance, motivation:

  • Helps you identify problem areas in your recovery and encourages you to seek solutions
  • Fosters your desire to accept your struggles and follow through with change
  • Empowers you to ask for help from others when necessary
  • Increases your confidence and decision-making skills, as you can better consider the outcome(s) of your behaviors
  • Prevents you from giving in to your triggers and ultimately prioritizes your lifelong sobriety

How Motivational Interviewing Can Benefit Your Recovery

Various benefits can result from MI during treatment and recovery. As a result of increasing your motivation, this approach can help you take greater responsibility for your past as well as for your actions moving forward. With motivation, you can learn how to envision a future for yourself that is free from the ties of substance use and other mental health struggles. MI can also help you to approach treatment in a different and more positive light, which can make you more receptive to the treatment and recovery process. 

Will Motivational Interviewing Work for Me?

As the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity further explains, MI is effective for those who are resistant to change initially, while for “highly motivated individuals it may be counterproductive.” In other words, motivational interviewing may be best for you if you are experiencing mixed feelings about your recovery. If you are highly motivated, or conversely, have no desire to change your behavior, this treatment approach may not be a good fit for you. 

Likewise, it is important to keep in mind that there are additional variables to consider if you struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder (dual diagnosis). If you struggle with trauma, depression, or severe symptoms of bipolar disorder, your motivation for change may be limited and more complex. In this case, it may be wise to speak with your therapist to better understand if this treatment approach may be a good fit for you.