More on Motivational Interviewing: A Technique to End Teen Substance Abuse

If your child is attending therapy as a part of a teen substance abuse treatment plan, you might encounter a counseling technique called Motivational Interviewing. It’s a form of therapy that explores the level of ambivalence to change. And with this, your child’s readiness to make different choices.


This article explores Motivational Interviewing in more detail and highlights the unique ways in which this therapy promotes change.


Motivational Interviewing

The characteristic quality of Motivational Interviewing is its focus on eliciting an adolescent’s (or adult’s) intrinsic desire to change. It recognizes that there will be high levels of ambivalence to changing behavior, given the pros and cons of using drugs. Exploring and resolving this ambivalence is the goal of this type of therapy.


Motivational Interviewing is a therapeutic approach that is gentle, empathic, yet goal-oriented. It requires a skillful therapist to have productive conversations that are sensitive to an adolescent’s emotions, inner struggles, and symptoms of any co-occurring mental illnesses. It does not use any coercive methods to change behavior or pressure that might induce feelings of guilt or shame.


This therapy recognizes that the only person who can create the desired change is the adolescent receiving therapy. For this reason, the therapist is empathetic, respectful, and encouraging, while the therapeutic relationship is collaborative and nonjudgmental.



 The core techniques of Motivational Interviewing are known by the acronym OARS:


Open-Ended Questions:

The therapist uses open-ended questions in order to invite a teen’s personal story, Also, they establish rapport, and elicit what is important. provide an opportunity for an adolescent to hear his or her own struggle, and increase understanding.


Affirming a teen’s strengths wherever possible provides validation, encouragement, and support. It increases confidence in his or her ability to create change. One of the many dysfunctional patters of addiction is powerlessness. Affirmations can promote a feeling of inner power and the ability to make change.

Reflective Statements:

These are statements that mirror what a teen just said without actually repeating his or her words. For instance, if an adolescent expressed difficulty in making a decision, the therapist might respond with, “It sounds like you’re having trouble making the right choice.” These statements allow a teen to hear his or her own struggles. And the ambivalence he or she is experiencing. Depending on where an adolescent is in the process of change and also on the depth of the therapeutic relationship, the use of different types of reflections may vary.


A therapist might provide a summary of the therapeutic discussion to highlight any changes, insights, or shifts that a teen experienced during a session. Summaries might also include both sides of a teen’s ambivalence and communicate empathy towards his or her difficult position.


Motivational Interviewing is a therapeutic approach that has been used since the early 1980’s. It has been incredibly successful in both examining the level of readiness for change and facilitating that change for a substance-free life.