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What Is Motivational Interviewing?

Differences Between Motivational Interviewing and Counseling

While researching addiction treatment options, many people are surprised to learn just how many types of therapy are available. Without a doubt, talk therapy is an essential method, but there are other approaches you might respond to as well. For example, knowing the difference between motivational interviewing and counseling expands your options to get in-depth quality care. Let’s take a closer look.  

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

William R. Miller—a University of New Mexico retired psychology and psychiatry professor—first developed motivational interviewing (MI) as a technique to work with individuals who might have resistance to or uncertainty about making changes, such as overcoming addiction, adopting healthier habits, or managing chronic conditions. 

MI has been studied in more than one thousand controlled clinical trials over 40 years. The primary intent of the method, especially with people in recovery for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and substance use disorder (SUD), is to help them recognize that change gives them more control over their choices. Therapists trained in this application help people strengthen their commitment and motivational skills.  

“MI is an alternative to the usual approach of educating clients and trying to persuade them to change. Simply advising clients to change is usually ineffective and can even entrench the status quo,” Miller has said. “Even brief MI interventions have been shown to help people turn the corner on longstanding self-destructive habits.” 

You might find MI helps you: 

  • Reduce resistance. This is prompted by learning to address confrontation and fostering a nonjudgmental atmosphere.
  • Enhance self-exploration. You’ll begin to recognize your motivations and values, which leads to more meaningful and sustainable change.
  • Increase motivation. By highlighting discrepancies between current behaviors and personal goals, MI boosts your intrinsic motivation for change.
  • Improve decision making. You’ll have an opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of change, paving the way for more informed and confident decisions.
  • Encourage autonomy. You’re empowered to take ownership of your change process.

The board-certified professionals at Great Oaks Recovery Center know this approach is especially effective in certain circumstances, such as Tactical Recovery, a Veteran-Ready treatment initiative for members of the military, law enforcement personnel, and first responders to move forward from addiction, PTSD, and other issues. Individuals respond well to a more cause-and-effect understanding of self and using specific tools to address related issues.

How Does Counseling Differ?

The American Psychological Association (APA) specifies five broad categories of psychotherapy, each with various branches of focus. “A theory of psychotherapy acts as a roadmap for psychologists: It guides them through the process of understanding clients and their problems and developing solutions,” the association states.

Many mental health professionals receive their core training in one of the following theories:

  1. Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies. These explore unconscious conflicts and dynamics, with psychoanalysis typically involving longer-term exploration, while psychodynamic therapies focus on shorter-term interventions. 
  2. Behavioral. This approach focuses on modifying maladaptive behaviors through techniques such as conditioning, reinforcement, and exposure, aiming to alleviate psychological distress and improve functioning.
  3. Cognitive. Varying methods of cognitive therapies target negative thought patterns and beliefs and work to modify them. One example—along with the motivational interviewing technique outlined above—is to use practices from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to help you become more aware of thoughts and emotions, which can be particularly useful in preventing relapse in depression.
  4. Humanistic. This form of therapy emphasizes self-exploration, personal growth, and the fulfillment of individual potential through a therapist’s unconditional positive regard, empathy, and authenticity.
  5. Integrative or holistic therapies. Many professionals combine elements from various therapeutic subsets to address your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being within the context of your environment. For instance, if someone is less responsive to a form of face-to-face talk therapy, they might appreciate more opportunities for equine therapy along with MI to ease the challenges of exploring certain issues.  

In many respects, the question isn’t so much “Is MI better than therapy?” but more “Should I use MI along with therapy to achieve optimum health?” For example, a therapist might offer MI as a singular technique, but it’s more often used in tandem with cognitive behavioral therapy. This creates a dual intent for you to not only identify characteristics of change and resistance but also formulate a more goal-oriented directive

Learn to Prevent Relapse at Great Oaks

There’s not one type of treatment that works for every person. This is why at Great Oaks Recovery Center outside of Houston, Texas, we create customized, evidence-based solutions not just as part of our Tactical Recovery program but for anyone who trusts us with their care, including in areas such as addiction rehabilitation and dual diagnosis recovery. Ask our admissions team for more details about how we provide the right therapeutic tools for your lasting wellness.