Motivational interviewing (MI) is a style of therapy in which the counselor partners with the individual to help them move away from ambivalence toward change and accomplishing goals.

“Motivational interviewing is a way of being with a client, not just a set of techniques for doing counseling.” -Miller & Rollnick, 1991

William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick first formed Motivational interviewing about 30 years ago when the saw an opportunity to help the individual examine their own motivations and discover the desire to change. Created with the substance abuser in mind, it is now a standard technique to treat a variety of issues including depression, anxiety, gambling, and health problems.

Dealing with Ambivalence

One of the key tenants of MI is that typically an addict knows that abusing drugs is harmful to them, but they are ambivalent to the need to change. The individual does not recognize enough positive, motivating goals and reasons to change, so they do not change. Your teenager needs to embrace motivation to move through addiction treatment. The question that comes up then is how do you motivate a teenager to want to change? Motivational interviewing is one of those ways.

MI is nonconfrontational and collaborative. A therapist using MI techniques is seeking to become a partner with the teen to help them explore their feelings and find their motivations to change. The therapist supports the teen through specific techniques to make their own choices and find their way through the ambivalence and other emotions to change. Often, when the change comes from within, it is most lasting than change imposed through conflict and education.

Key Traits of Motivational Interviewing

While there are different variations of the MI technique, there are some foundational principles as listed in the Motivational Enhancement Therapy Manual by W.R. Miller.

  1. Motivation to change is elicited from the client and is not imposed from outside forces.
  2. It is the client’s task, not the counselor’s, to articulate and resolve the client’s ambivalence.
  3. Direct persuasion is not an effective method for resolving ambivalence.
  4. The counseling style is generally quiet and elicits information from the client.
  5. The counselor is directive, in that they help the client to examine and resolve ambivalence.
  6. Readiness to change is not a trait of the client, but a fluctuating result of interpersonal interaction.
  7. The therapeutic relationship resembles a partnership or companionship.

MI is a very effective methodology used by therapists to helping teens work through their substance abuse issues. It compliments other proactive approaches including group and family therapy. Especially because of its effectiveness with teens, it is one we use here at Juneau Youth Services.