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Motivational interviewing (MI) is a collaborative, highly empathic therapeutic approach for eliciting behavioral changes by helping individuals explore and resolve ambivalence. MI evolved from treating problem drinkers, with initial findings published in 1983. Since then, it has been used to treat addictions, co-occurring disorders and other behavioral and physical health challenges.

MI attempts to move an individual away from a state of indecision or uncertainty and toward making positive decisions and accomplishing established goals. MI embraces the following four principles: expressing empathy and avoiding arguing, developing discrepancy, rolling with resistance and supporting self-efficacy (the client’s belief they can successfully make a change). The therapist supports and enables clients to make their own choices and arrive at their own conclusions without confrontation.

How Does MI Help?

The non-confrontational approach employed in MI helps clients build self-efficacy, which is an essential component of behavioral change. MI helps clients move through the stages of readiness to impart changes related to risky or unhealthy behaviors. This empathetic approach enables self-recognition of current behaviors in conflict with a person’s values or life goals. MI inspires greater motivation to make important life changes to attain these goals and stay on the path of recovery.

Benefits of MI

MI is designed to work fairly quickly. Evidence suggests it influences change away from high-risk behaviors across a wide variety of settings and scenarios. It has been shown to increase the likelihood of a person complying with addiction and other health interventions, a strong predictor of long-term success. Benefits include:

  • Decreased ambivalence and fear
  • Greater motivation to change
  • Improved self-efficacy
  • Reduction in unhealthy behaviors
  • Increased treatment program compliance
  • Greater probability of successful treatment outcomes
  • Higher post-treatment abstinence

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