Motivational Interviewing (MI): How Does It Help?

There are many effective therapeutic counseling approaches that specialists use to help people who are struggling with substance use and mental health disorders. One such intervention is a technique called motivational interviewing (MI).

Read on to learn more about MI, how it’s used, the benefits of this approach, and how to find help for you or or a loved one with a substance use disorder.

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

motivational therapy session

Motivational interviewing is a patient-focused therapeutic approach that helps individuals find motivation and purpose to change behaviors and thought processes.  The MI process was originally created to help people struggling with substance use disorders get to the root of their resistance to the recovery process and ambivalence to change, and help to motivate them to want to engage in the therapeutic process. Since its inception, MI has been incorporated into a number of other treatment protocols for a number of different issues.

People begin their recovery journey for a number of reasons; however, not all of those reasons are motivated by a desire to change. For instance, some people entering therapy for substance use issues may have to fulfill court-ordered obligations, or may be trying to placate a partner, spouse, or employer. In these instances, the individual may not be fully ready to accept that they actually need to change their behavior.

The Transtheoretical Model of Motivational Interviewing

People entering therapy do not begin at the same point in understanding their need to change, the impact of their behavior, or what changing really means. When a person first begins the recovery journey their therapist will attempt to understand where the individual  stands in their understanding of the need to change, where they are on the continuum of change, and what actually changing their behavior means.

The transtheoretical model which outlines the stages of the process of change that is believed to occur in people changing some aspect of their behavior. These stages are:

  • Precontemplation: The earliest stage is the stage of precontemplation. In this stage, an individual may not be experiencing negative effects from their behavior and has not yet seriously considered the need to change their behavior. They will typically have very little interest in changing. At this stage therapists will simply “roll” with the client’s statements that they do not need to change or that their behaviors are not problematic, and point out inconsistencies in the individual’s stated beliefs and reality. By asking a series of questions, this approach assists patients in understanding and discovering that they may need to take a closer look at how their behavior is really affecting them.
  • Contemplation: In this stage, the person has realized that they do have some type of a problem; however, they have not yet made a commitment to actually changing their behavior. The individual may want to change but has made no actual movement toward committing to change.Many individuals who are entering treatment for substance use disorders as a result of the consequences of their behavior, such as legal issues, issues at work, relationship issues, etc., often begin at this stage. Individuals in this stage often realize that there is a problem, but are not sure of the extent of the problem and of the actual type of change they need to implement to solve it. At this stage, therapists will continue to point out inconsistencies between what the individual believes and what is actually happening.
  • Preparation: Individuals at this point realize that they must change their behavior. They have developed readiness to change, and they are evaluating their options to determine the most effective approach to changing their behavior. In this stage, the person begins to think of their actions, the consequences of their actions, and are readily open to discussing alternatives. They have fully accepted the notion that the responsibility for change is centered on them and not on other people or on the system. Therapists will help the individuals to identify their options and pick the best one.
  • Action: Individuals at this stage of the process are involved in real efforts to change their behavior. These individuals are working on specific plans of action to address their issues and implement long-lasting changes. People in this stage may not adhere to any specific plan of action if they find it to be ineffective; however, they have made the commitment to change and are actively working on a plan to reach their goals.
  • Maintenance: People at this stage have been successful at implementing change and are now at the point in their progress where they are attempting to maintain their new skills and the changes they have made. It is not unusual for individuals at this point in the process to have tried many different approaches to change and to have adjusted their approaches to fit in with their own needs.Therapists will work with their clients to fine-tune the process, so individuals can anticipate and deal with future situations that may threaten the changes they have already made.
  • Termination: At this stage, the person has made changes, confronted any threats to their success, and is continuing to move forward. These individuals are simply moving on with their lives and making minor adjustments as needed to ensure that the positive changes they have made remain in place. In some instances, they may attempt to add new skills or behaviors to their repertoire.

The transtheoretical model assumes that individuals can start at any stage in the model and may experience setbacks and failures and even drop back to earlier stages. Often, the process of real change is not a linear process where individuals simply go through a series of steps, but a trial-and-error process where individuals experience a number of ups and downs in their goals to move ahead. People at any level on the model may experience difficulty and need to start from the very beginning.

Benefits of Motivational Interviewing

The usefulness of the model for therapists is that can help individuals to identify where they are on the continuum of change and then personalize the treatment to assist the individual to move forward. Therapists also understand that individuals may experience failures and setbacks and need to start at a different level. Thus, the model is very flexible and allows therapists to personalize treatment based on where an individual stands.

The model can be applied to a number of other issues aside from just the therapeutic treatment of substance use disorders, including the treatment of obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure. It is also been applied to aspects of management training and education.

Drug and Alcohol Treatment in Hillsborough County, FL

When you’re ready to begin your recovery journey from substance use disorders, finding a drug and alcohol rehab in Tampa, FL is an important first step. Our team of addiction recovery specialists and healthcare providers are ready to help you find hope, healing, and meaningful recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol. Using evidence-based therapeutic approaches, including motivational interviewing, we customize treatment plans that take into account your needs and goals.

Contact our helpful and knowledgeable admissions navigators at to get more information about our treatment center, levels of care, or to begin the admissions process. They can also help you find out if your insurance will cover some or all of treatment, or discuss other ways to pay for rehab.

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