Addiction can have rippling effects on a person’s life and wellbeing. Almost every aspect of a person’s mind, body, and life can become consumed by drug use. Fortunately, there are several different options for addiction treatment. One of the key components of addiction treatment is therapy, including motivational interviewing for substance abuse.

Motivational interviewing (MI) focuses on promoting certain goals and encouraging motivation in those who are recovering from addiction. While it may seem like a simple premise, this approach can be extremely effective for addiction treatment. Typically, sobriety is the goal and a person receives support through their journey toward this goal. MI is just one of many therapy options offered at North Jersey Recovery Center, and it can also be used with other therapy methods.

What is Motivational Interviewing (MI)?

Motivational interviewing as a technique has been around for decades, dating back to its discovery and development in 1983. Through much effort and research, it was found that this therapeutic approach was more than just a type of counseling; it was a way to help improve a person’s entire mindset. With the right technique and guidance, a person can adapt to this mindset of goal-oriented encouragement. This is how MI for addiction is the most effective.

The main goal of motivational interviewing is to motivate individuals to change destructive behaviors (i.e. drug use). This approach is much different from your typical behavioral psychotherapy for addiction. MI uses interviews during the first sessions, which are a collaborative effort between the therapist and the patient. During this phase, a person can make their own goals, rather than having a therapist give the ideas or establish the goals.

By setting their own goals, individuals will more likely feel a sense of control over their own lives. They receive motivation to continuing pursuing their goals. This is a very valuable idea and a key factor in reaching long-term sobriety. This is a drastic change from the typical idea that a therapist will be in control of a person’s actions and recovery methods.

Motivational interviewing for addiction makes sure the person is given autonomy and control over their goals and responsibilities. Once a person adopts this mindset, they are more likely to remain consistent and motivated to stay free from drug and alcohol abuse.

The Four Main Processes of MI

This therapy method is different from other forms of therapy like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in the sense that underlying causes and traumas are not the main focus. MI can take place during inpatient treatment or before recovery as well. MI for addiction can be highly effective when used with other therapy methods as well. It is seen more as a therapeutic tool to help addicts identify, set, and work toward their goals.

While engaging in MI therapy, individuals will learn the value of reflective listening and overall awareness. Again, this is a collaborative effort between the counselor and patient. The therapist practices reflective listening by focusing on what the patient means, feels, and experiences. This helps create an environment in which people can safely and comfortably work through their challenges. It also allows therapists to properly express empathy to their clients. Likewise, patients can also learn to listen reflectively and empathize with others.

Motivational interviewing uses four main processes to help the person in their efforts. These include:

  1. Engaging – Creating a tight bond between the therapist and patient (getting to know them and creating a respectful relationship)
  2. Focusing – Creating a shared idea about what will be the main focus in the person’s recovery
  3. Evoking – Understanding and identifying the addict’s personal arguments towards change
  4. Planning – Ensuring the individual’s willingness to make a change; establishing a plan for reaching this goal

Each of these works to create a set plan while motivating the person to pursue their goals on their own. Motivational interviewing works differently from other therapy methods in that it allows the person to pursue their goals willingly.


One of the most vital parts of the MI process is to establish a respectful and strong bond between the therapist and the recovering individual. Since the therapist and the patient will be working together, it’s essential to build trust before the process begins. Counselors will be emphatic as they collaborate to create goals for the person who is in recovery. It is important to make sure that the person knows they are in control of their recovery from the beginning. In this regard, the counselor makes sure there is no power dynamic between the two of them. Conversations about change may occur during this phase but the main goal is to create a trusting relationship.


In certain cases, a person may enter into treatment with a goal already set. This could be through the honest realization that they need change or perhaps it is mandatory by a judge or the individual’s family due to alcohol-related or drug-related crime. While the recovering individual may have a broad picture of their goals they may not have a set plan or direction. This is where focusing comes into play during MI.

The “focusing” phase emphasizes the process of determining what is important to the person. It also helps to determine what the individual wants to get out of treatment and recovery. This is then the topic for the next few sessions to help a person realize their desire to change. It is important for the counselor and the person to agree upon a set of goals. However, it is crucial to have the person identify and create a set of goals themselves. This process may take some time depending on the case, while it may take a few weeks, there is no rush or pressure to do so.


Evoking is the next vital part of the MI process. This component uncovers a person’s personal motivations and reasons for change. After focusing on a goal, the counselor will help address the individual’s reasons as to why they want to recover. This requires a close examination of the person’s personal desires and internal motivation.

Speaking on the subject of change while bringing out the person’s arguments and motivations for recovery makes motivational interviewing unique. During the evoking stage, the counselor will push towards the importance of change while building the person’s self-efficacy. It is a collaborative process that can truly help someone identify their reasons for change and recovery.


The final stage of motivational interviewing is planning. Planning is one of the most crucial parts of the process and can help set a person up for long-term sobriety. It is a fact that most people will not be in treatment centers for their whole lives, they will eventually move away and transition back to a normal life. Planning helps a person develop techniques and knowledge to avoid relapses and downfalls in their lives ahead. Techniques can stem from coping mechanisms to knowing who to contact when things get rough.

At this stage, the counselor will go all-in making sure that the person is ready to take on life’s stresses and potential triggers. However, the counselor will follow the goal of making sure the individual stays in control of their own desires and motivations. Sometimes the hardest part for recovering addicts is knowing where to start or how to set a functioning plan. This is where the counselor can step in and guide them without ‘taking the reins’.

Motivational Interviewing Techniques for Addiction

Motivational interviewing for substance use cases are extremely effective. This treatment method can be especially useful in cases where a person has tried recovering and has failed in the past. This therapy approach is also useful if other therapy options like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) didn’t have great results.

These instances can damage a person’s motivation to get help. However, motivational interviewing can help a person find motivation, confidence, and self-efficacy. During MI, a person holds themselves accountable and continues pushing themselves no matter how difficult.

In cases where a person has relapsed in the past, they may be numbed to the true severity of relapse and its effects. This can make someone lose motivation and can ultimately increase their chances of relapse down the line. MI helps a person find their desire to change and motivates them to pursue these goals closely. Also, MI can work in combination with other therapies and, in some cases, medication assistance as well.

Components of MI Therapy

Another important component of MI is “change talk”. Change talk is, in general, the statements a person says about their ability, reasons, desire, and need for change. This type of language is used to discuss and find solutions regarding a person’s desire and commitment to change.

When individuals have the readiness to change, they can truly benefit from the components of MI therapy. This therapeutic approach incorporates open-ended questions, allowing individuals to develop healthy methods of dealing with the challenges they face. It also prepares people for the process of change. Without a doubt, this evidence-based approach to therapy can be incredibly helpful to those who are recovering from addiction.

Start Your Journey Today at North Jersey Recovery

If you’re ready to make a commitment to change, it’s time to reach out for help. Motivational interviewing is just one of many treatment methods available at North Jersey Recovery. If you are new to recovery or are returning, we will be by your side to guide you and support you no matter what.

Often, those who suffer from alcoholism or drug addiction may find the idea of recovery intimidating. Finding the motivation for change often seems daunting. Sobriety in itself may feel unobtainable. This can negatively impact a person’s motivation to recover, even if they’re experiencing health, financial, and social problems. Sobriety may feel like a distant and unrealistic goal. However, with therapy and professional support, this goal becomes both realistic and achievable.

The road to recovery can sometimes seem far away. Gaining the motivation to change is often challenging. But it is reachable and possible with the right help. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, we’re ready to help.

At North Jersey Recovery Center, we prioritize your emotional, physical, behavioral, and mental health. Contact us today to learn more about our substance abuse treatment services. You have the desire and ability to change; reach out today!