What Are the 4 General Processes of Motivational Interviewing?

When a person enters treatment for substance use disorders, there are a number of tools that therapists use to help. These tools include evidence-based therapeutic modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) or motivational interviewing (MI).

While many people are familiar with CBT or DBT, they may not be as familiar with motivational interviewing and wonder if it’s the right treatment for them. Our guide will explain what MI is, how it works, and how to get help for substance use disorders.

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

man receiving motivational interviewing therapy

Motivational interviewing is a style of therapeutic intervention that was developed to help people struggling with alcohol use disorder to overcome the compulsion to keep using alcohol and focus on long-term health. It is a collaborative and goal-oriented approach that helps therapists and patients discover the client’s goals and motivations to want to engage in the recovery process.

The goal of motivational interviewing is to help the individual seek treatment and help for their own reasons. This is done by resolving resistance and ambivalence towards treatment, and helping the individual to develop internal drives toward recovery rather than using externally driven reasons, which are typically viewed as coercive and may not create lasting change.

However, the format has proven to work with many different populations in need of counseling, including people with medical conditions like cardiovascular problems or diabetes. The counselor works with each client individually, building a rapport with the person through the four primary stages of motivational interviewing.

The Four Processes of Motivational Interviewing

  1. Engaging: The counselor works to understand the client’s beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and perspective, with empathy and without outside judgment or agenda. This is an important step toward understanding why the client is ambivalent about treatment and their dilemmas as they currently view them. Using a series of non-judgmental and open-ended questions, the therapist helps the individual understand their internal barriers to treatment.
  2. Focusing: Once the client is more engaged in the process of overcoming addiction, mental illness, or another condition, the counselor guides them toward a specific goal. The goal is determined by the client and could be defined per session or last over multiple sessions. However, the focus is a behavior or circumstance the client picks, is interested in exploring and wishes to better understand, and overcome.
  3. Evoking: Based on the client’s choice of focus, the counselor or therapist will help them evoke reasons for the chosen focus. The therapist will use empathetic listening and recognize changes in the way the client speaks, which may lead to the client soliciting advice. However, the therapist’s role in this situation is to be supportive and not to give advice unless requested.
  4. Planning: This step involves taking the language the client used to evoke their desire to change a specific behavior or situation and turning it into action. Depending entirely on the client, the planning stage could involve reflective journaling, making a list, or working with the therapist to be held responsible for actions. Motivational Interviewing can still work as a process without planning to take action.

Motivational interviewing is ultimately a process that can be transformed to fit each individual client that a therapist works with. While the first three stages are considered defining characteristics of Motivational Interviewing, the final stage – planning – is not a required step until the client is ready. It is not a step that must be taken during each session, but instead, a voluntary step after the way the client thinks about the world has changed.

The Path To Recovery

Therapists recognize that it is also important to use the motivational process to help the client develop self-efficacy. When the person notices that they are resistant to change or stress in their lives, they should be able to change their behavior based on motivational interviewing techniques. This may involve the planning stage, or the behavioral change could represent a larger, longer-term process involving the individual’s hard work in therapy sessions.

Addiction Treatment in New Jersey

Whether you are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, or love someone who does, there is help available when you’re ready to get on the road to recovery. At our inpatient drug and alcohol rehab in Lafayette, NJ the specialists at Sunrise House Treatment Center have the knowledge and expertise help you achieve meaningful recovery from substance use disorders.

Contact our caring and compassionate admissions navigators today at to learn more about our different levels of care, our features and amenities, or to start the admissions process. Our staff are on hand day and night to answer your questions about what to expect in inpatient treatment or to give you information about how to pay for rehab — including using insurance to cover addiction treatment.

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