Motivational Interviewing Helps Substance Abusers Resolve Confusion
Many people with drug or alcohol abuse problems have conflicting feelings – the addiction brings pleasure or relief, but is also severely life-disrupting. Motivational interviewing is a style of counseling therapy that helps patients solve feelings of uncertainty or confusion.
The style of motivational interviewing differs from other types of counseling because it is directed toward the goal of resolving conflicting attitudes or feelings. First developed to help people with alcohol addictions, the therapy is now used across a spectrum of behaviors and addictions and shows promise toward successfully encouraging a change in behavior.
Experts describe the central premise of motivational interviewing with several key characteristics, such as a desire to bring about specific changes in the patient’s attitudes and goals, which will be reflected in changes in behavior. There is also the belief that it is up to the client, not the therapist, to explain and rectify the clash between two sets of feelings, such as elation and guilt – also known as ambivalence.
Motivational interviewing does not involve direct statements that the person must change their behavior, nor does the technique allow for specific treatment recommendations to the patient. The approach, instead, relies heavily on client feedback and input as the counselor tries to guide the patient toward ending a destructive behavior pattern.
A large part of the process is the patient talking about the benefits and the consequences of their confusing conflicting feelings. For example, the client may say that if they quit indulging in emotional eating they may lose weight, but they will also have to learn to work through life stress in a new way. Direct urging or persuading the client to stop a behavior is avoided, believing that this may trigger a negative response. Instead, the counselor calmly encourages the patient to weigh the pros and cons of a behavior until they arrive at a workable conclusion. This assumption is that patient indecision toward a behavior can be resolved with the patient’s input.
Due to the client-centered nature of motivational interviewing, the process can take longer than other more direct methods of resolving unwanted behaviors. Therapists are also encouraged not to move too quickly beyond the patient’s pace, as this could deter the likelihood of change.
Despite its relatively lengthy approach, other techniques for drug or alcohol addiction have stemmed from the motivational therapy practice. The Drinkers Check-Up is a relatively quick question/answer strategy for people with addictions to alcohol or other problems, relying on feedback from the client to explore drinking patterns and comparing this feedback with standards that are considered norms.