Motivational Interviewing: A Closer Look

Motivational interviewing (MI), is a person-centered, collaborative approach to counseling and behavior change. It is often used to treat addiction, but it can also be applied to many other behaviors and situations.

MI’s goal is to assist individuals in moving from resistance and indecision to a place of willingness and commitment to change. We will be discussing the principles and methods of motivational interviewing, their applications and their advantages and disadvantages in this article.

Motivational Interviewing principles

Empathy, acceptance, evocation and collaboration are the core principles of Motivational Interviewing. Each principle is crucial to the success of MI.


Empathy refers to the ability to see and understand the perspective of a patient. To help patients feel heard, and understood by their MI practitioners, empathy is essential. This can help to build trust and rapport.

Empathy can be shown through active listening, reflection, and validation of client’s feelings.


Acceptance refers to the unconditional, positive regard that practitioners have for their patients. Acceptance is the willingness to accept patients as they are without judgment or criticism.

Acceptance can make patients feel secure and safe in a therapeutic relationship. This can encourage honesty and openness.


Evocation is the act of bringing out the client’s reasons for change. MI practitioners employ open-ended questions and reflective listening to assist patients in exploring their motivations and goals.

Evocation assists patients to identify and strengthen their reasons for change. This can help them be more committed and self-confident.


Collaboration is the relationship between the practitioner and the patient. MI practitioners work closely with their patients to create a plan of action that is based upon the client’s goals and motivations.

Patients can feel more involved in the process of change and have a greater sense of control and autonomy through collaboration.

A counselor and patient in a Motivational Interviewing session.

Motivational interviewing techniques

MI practitioners employ a variety of techniques to help patients discover their motivations and goals.

Open-ended questions

These questions can’t be answered simply with a yes or no answer. These questions encourage patients to think and feel for themselves.

Open-ended questions can include, “What is your opinion on this change?”, and “What benefits would you experience if this change were made?”

Reflective listening

Reflective listening involves paraphrasing and summarizing the client’s words. It conveys empathy and understanding.

Patients can also benefit from reflective listening to clarify their thoughts and feelings.


Summarizing refers to the act of summarizing the client’s words. This is done to show that the practitioner has listened and to help the client see a bigger picture.

Patients can also benefit from summarizing to identify themes and patterns in their thoughts, and behavior.

Change talk that inspires

Encouraging patients to share their reasons for changing is change talk. You can identify change talk by the use of phrases like “I want to”, “I need to”, and “I should”.

Motivational Interviewing: Applications

Motivational interviewing can be used in many settings including primary care, substance abuse treatment, and criminal justice. MI is an effective way to address a wide range of health issues. These include substance abuse, smoking, and healthy eating habits.

  • Addiction treatment: Helps patients to move from a state where they feel resentful and ambivalent to one that is open to change and ready to accept it.
  • Mental health: Helps people with depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. The effectiveness of MI in improving the treatment outcomes for people with mental illnesses has been proven.
  • Criminal justice: Helps individuals involved in the justice process to change their behavior and avoid reoffending.
  • Primary care: This is used to assist individuals in improving their health habits such as exercise, healthy eating habits and treatment adherence.

Motivational Interviewing and SMART Recovery

Motivational interviewing is a key component of the Self Management and Recovery Training program. SMART Recovery is a non-profit organization that offers support groups for people who are looking to overcome addictive behaviors such as gambling and substance abuse.

There are many ways that SMART Recovery uses the Motivational Interviewing techniques for its program.

Recognize and investigate motivations

MI is used to help people identify and explore their motivations for change. Facilitators of SMART Recovery use reflective listening and open-ended questions to help people understand their motivations for changing their addictive behavior.

This collaborative, person-centered approach can help individuals feel heard and understood which can boost their motivation to make positive changes.

Plan for change

MI can be used to assist individuals in creating a plan of change that is based upon their goals and values. SMART Recovery facilitators help individuals identify the behaviors they wish to change and the steps that can be taken to get there. The process is based upon the principles of autonomy and collaboration, which are fundamental to MI.

Follow the plan

Motivational Interviewing can be used to help individuals implement their plans for change. MI is used by SMART facilitators to encourage change talk and address any ambivalence or barriers that might arise during the process.

This helps people stay engaged and motivated in the process of change, even when they face obstacles.


Motivational interviewing is a crucial component of the SMART Recovery Program. Utilizing MI techniques, SMART facilitators assist individuals in identifying their motivations for change and creating a plan to achieve them. They also help individuals stay engaged and motivated during the process of change.

This collaborative, person-centered approach is powerful in achieving and maintaining sobriety.

A person who has broken free from addiction standing on a hill at sunrise

Things to remember and advantages

Motivational interviewing is a powerful approach to counseling and behavior modification. MI is person-centered and collaborative. It helps patients explore their motivations and set goals for the future.

MI is non-judgmental, non-confrontational and can help patients feel secure and safe in therapeutic relationships. MI can be used in many settings and with a variety of behaviors.

Motivational interviewing has its limitations and potential drawbacks. In the context of addiction recovery, MI requires an experienced substance abuse counselor who is able to use the principles and techniques. This process can take a lot of time and may require several sessions to bring about meaningful change.

Most importantly, motivational interviewing may not work for people who are in denial and/or unwilling to change their behavior. Motivational Interviewing is only effective if the person wants to make changes.


At Whispering Oaks Lodge, we believe that SMART Recovery and Motivational Interviewing can be a powerful combination for those seeking to overcome addiction and achieve lasting recovery. These evidence-based approaches can equip individuals with the necessary tools, skills, and support to build a healthy and fulfilling life free from addiction.

We understand that every person’s journey towards recovery is unique, and we are committed to offering personalized treatment plans tailored to each individual’s specific needs and goals. Our team of experienced and compassionate professionals is dedicated to providing the highest quality care and support to help our patients achieve long-term recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it’s important to remember that help is available. Contact Whispering Oaks Lodge today to learn more about our SMART Recovery and Motivational Interviewing programs, and take the first step towards a brighter and healthier future.

checkbox checkbox Residential Treatment Intensive Outpatient IOP Day Treatment Respite