What Is the Primary Goal of Motivational Interviewing?

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What Is Motivational Interviewing (MO)?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a counseling approach developed by psychologists William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick. It’s a client-centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients explore and resolve ambivalence. The primary goal of motivational interviewing is to facilitate a client’s internal motivation to change.

It is a method that works on facilitating and engaging the intrinsic motivation within the client to change behavior, while also being a practical, empathetic, and short-term process that takes into consideration how difficult it is to make life changes.

MI is used across a variety of settings. These include addiction, public health, treatment of chronic diseases, mental health, and other areas where behavior change is desired. It’s particularly effective for individuals who are ambivalent or resistant to change. It helps them move towards their motivations for making significant life adjustments.

The goals of MI are multifaceted, aiming to:

  • Engage clients through empathetic and active listening.
  • Focus on the client’s motivation and reasons for change.
  • Elicit and strengthen the client’s arguments for change.
  • Empower the client, highlighting their ability and autonomy to bring about changes.


MI is collaborative rather than prescriptive or authoritarian. It respects the client’s autonomy and capacity for self-directed change, while also acknowledging the therapist’s expertise in facilitating the change process.

What Is the Primary Goal of Motivational Interviewing?

The primary goal of Motivational Interviewing is to elicit and strengthen an individual’s motivation for change. It aims to help individuals overcome their ambivalence about changing harmful behaviors by finding and mobilizing their internal values and goals. This approach seeks to increase the individual’s motivation so that change arises internally rather than being imposed externally, leading to more lasting and self-directed change.

What Mental Health Disorders Does Motivational Interviewing Treat?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a versatile therapeutic approach that has been applied to a wide range of mental health disorders. Its flexibility and focus on eliciting internal motivation make it particularly effective for conditions where ambivalence towards change is a significant barrier.

Below is a list of some mental health disorders and areas where MI is beneficial:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Behavioral addictions
  • Depression
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Dual diagnosis


MI works across these disorders by focusing not directly on the disorder itself but on the individual’s attitudes toward change and ambivalence. It’s a complementary approach that enhances the effectiveness of other treatments by motivating individuals to engage more fully in the change process, whether that involves attending therapy sessions, taking medications as prescribed, or making behavioral changes.

How Does Motivational Interviewing Treat Substance Use Disorders

MI is widely used in treating substance abuse and addictions, including alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. It helps individuals explore their ambivalence towards substance use and supports them in making decisions to reduce or quit their use.

Motivational Interviewing Practics for Behavioral Addictions

Beyond substance abuse, MI has been applied to treat behavioral addictions, such as gambling, internet addiction, or compulsive shopping, by helping individuals recognize the negative impact of these behaviors and find internal motivations to change.

Treating Depression With Motivational Interviewing

MI can be used to motivate individuals with depression to engage in activities they previously enjoyed, adhere to treatment plans, and take steps toward positive life changes. It’s particularly useful for those who may be ambivalent about treatment or making lifestyle adjustments.

Motivational Interviewing Tactics for Anxiety

For those with anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder, MI can help motivate individuals to confront situations or thoughts that they find anxiety-provoking, as part of their treatment plan.

Motivational Interviewing in Dual Diagnosis Treatment

MI is effective for individuals with dual diagnoses, such as those who have a mental health disorder along with substance abuse issues. It addresses the complexities of treating both conditions by helping individuals find personal motivations to change behaviors related to both their mental health and substance use.

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What Happens During Motivational Interviewing Therapy?

Motivational Interviewing (MI) therapy is a client-centered, directive method for enhancing intrinsic motivation to change by exploring and resolving ambivalence. The process is collaborative. The therapist and client work together to explore the client’s motivations, values, and reasons for change.

The initial phase involves building a trusting relationship between the therapist and the client. The therapist listens actively to understand the client’s perspective, experiences, and feelings without judgment. The therapist helps the client identify and focus on the main issues that need change. This could involve behaviors, thought patterns, or situations the client wants to change.

Speaking and Listening

Through open-ended questions, reflective listening, and affirmation, the therapist encourages the client to talk about their desire, ability, reasons, and need for change. This phase aims to increase the client’s awareness of the potential benefits of change. The therapist helps the client explore the pros and cons of change versus staying the same. This process helps to resolve ambivalence and increase the client’s motivation towards making a change.

Once the client is ready to make changes, the therapist assists in developing a concrete plan of action. This includes setting goals, identifying potential obstacles, and strategies for overcoming them.

Motivational Interviewing Questions

Sessions can vary in length depending on the setting and specific needs of the client. An individual session might last between 45 to 60 minutes. The number of sessions required can also vary, with some clients experiencing significant progress in as few as one to three sessions, while others may benefit from ongoing support over several months.

Examples of Motivational Interviewing Questions

  • Open-ended questions: “What makes you think you need to change this behavior?”
  • Exploring Pros and Cons: “What do you like about your current situation? What are you less fond of?”
  • Looking Forward: “If you decided to make this change, what would it look like?”
  • Querying Extremes: “What are the best things that might happen if you change? What are the worst things if you don’t?”
  • Using Scaling: “On a scale from 0 to 10, how important is it for you to make this change? Why are you at a [client’s answer] and not a lower number?”


The effectiveness of MI lies in its client-centered approach, where the therapist acts more as a guide, helping clients uncover their motivations for change rather than dictating what those changes should be. This empowers clients, making the process of change more personal and meaningful.

Who Offers Motivational Interviewing in Orange County, CA?

If you are seeking motivational interviewing therapy in Orange County for yourself or a loved one, South Coast Behavioral Health can help. We focus on treating the whole person, which is why we provide each of our clients with a comprehensive continuum of care.

Our treatment centers offer a wide range of services, including inpatient and outpatient mental health care, addiction therapy, and numerous psychiatric therapies, as well as motivational interviewing.

Our sites are staffed by competent and compassionate specialists who are committed to offering personalized treatment strategies for each client. We provide several treatment options, including therapy, medication management, and support groups.

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Motivational Interviewing in Orange County, CA at SCBH

If you or a loved one are seeking addiction treatment, South Coast Behavioral Health is here to help. The first step in treating addiction is a medical detox. This means using drugs to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Our medical detox program in California is staffed by caring and compassionate professionals who can provide you with medications to manage your withdrawal symptoms.

At South Coast, we take pride in offering care that is closely tailored to specific issues. To that end, we offer gender-specific detox programs, with medical detox for men in Irvine, CA, and medical detox for women in Huntington Beach, CA.

After detoxing, proper treatment can begin.

Treatment for substance abuse takes place along an entire spectrum of care. Along that entire spectrum are various behavioral therapies, support groups, and the use of medically-assisted treatment (MAT).

These levels of treatment are, in order, as follows:

Residential Treatment in California

After completing medical detox, you’ll receive inpatient treatment in Orange County California. There, you’ll receive medically-assisted treatment and dual diagnosis treatment to deal with any cravings or co-occurring mental health issues you may be battling.

We also offer residential treatment facilities in Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Huntington Beach for those who desire gender-specific treatment. There, patients get round-the-clock medical attention and monitoring while living at the institution full-time.

In addition to individual and group counseling and medication management, you’ll also have access to leisure activities and family support services.

Partial Hospitalization in California

Most clients start substance abuse treatment with South Coast in our residential treatment program. After completing that, many desire something that still provides structure and support, but with extra space and time to oneself. For that, we offer Partial Hospitalization in Newport Beach.

A step down from inpatient care but with more structure than conventional outpatient programs, partial hospitalization offers a good balance for those looking to ease back into normal life. Clients can receive care five to seven days a week for several hours each day, returning to their homes in the evening.

This way, they can recover without putting their daily lives completely on hold, receiving intense therapeutic interventions like group and individual therapy, skill development, and medication management as necessary.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment in California

For those leaving inpatient residential treatment or partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are yet another gradual step forward on the road to recovery and positive behavior.

With a focus on group therapy, individual counseling, and education, clients undergoing Intensive Outpatient Treatment in Newport Beach can meet three to five days a week. Each session lasts three hours. We can then help you transition to aftercare and sober living.

This level of care requires the least amount of attendance at a facility.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health but wonder how long treatment takes or have other questions, call us at 866-881-1184 or contact us here. Our highly qualified staff will be happy to help give you an idea of what to expect from your addiction recovery timeline, verify your insurance, and assist with any other questions you may have.

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