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Ambivalence is an emotion characterized by mixed or contradictory feelings towards something or someone. In recovery, the concept of ambivalence is typically used to refer to someone that has mixed thoughts and feelings surrounding the idea of change.

From Ambivalence to Changing Behavior

Ambivalence in recovery is uncertainty and hesitation about fully committing to sobriety. It is an important step in the right direction for healing. Nearly everyone will experience ambivalence at some point on their route to recovery. 

Although ambivalence is a step in the right direction, many people linger in this stage. The issue with staying in this stage is that if you remain idle here too long, your ability to move forward might be hampered. Chronic ambivalence can become a psychological barrier to recovery. 

If you or your loved one are familiar with ambivalent feelings surrounding change, especially when it comes to recovery from substance use or addiction, it might help to know that there is a therapeutic approach that focuses on navigating and overcoming these feelings. This approach is called Motivational Interviewing (MI). 

What Is Motivational Interviewing (MI)?

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a therapy approach that focuses on helping people find the necessary motivation to make positive change happen in their life. Motivational interviewing is designed to encourage positive behavior change. 

This unique therapeutic approach is client-centered, meaning that it is non-directive and allows both the therapist and client to view themselves as equal partners in the therapy process. It is essential that the therapist and client have a healthy rapport, as it is a collaborative process.

Motivational interviewing was originally developed to treat alcohol and addiction. It is special in the way that it empowers people to take control and responsibility for their own recovery. 

What Principles Are Used in Motivational Interviewing?

There are four main principles that motivational interviewing takes into account. These principles are essential when it comes to establishing unity and trust within the client-therapist relationship. 

#1. Express Empathy

Empathy is vital in motivational interviewing. It increases the likeliness that the therapist and client bond and strengthens their relationship, crucial to the MI process. It is important to acknowledge that client ambivalence is normal, and that reflecting listening is necessary for positive change to occur. 

#2. Develop Discrepancy

Discrepancy encourages the client to be transparent with themselves about what behaviors are not working in their current lifestyle. It is understanding that current behaviors are not aligning with the client’s morals, values, and future goals. The client should be the one that encourages arguments for change. 

#3. Roll with Resistance

Rolling with resistance is important not only in motivational interviewing but also in recovery. Transparent communication between both the therapist and client helps to keep encouragement and empowerment flowing. It is important to try not to oppose resistance. New perspectives will be given, although they should not be imposed. 

#4. Support Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is a staple in facilitating change. It is important that a client feels that they have control and the ability to change so that they can increase their likelihood of change. The client’s belief in the possibility of change is a crucial motivator. The client is responsible for choosing to change and carrying out any behavioral change. 

What Makes Motivational Interviewing Different From Other Therapeutic Techniques?

One of the biggest benefits of motivational interviewing, compared to other therapeutic techniques, is that it is client-led. This means most of the discussion taking place is based on the point of view of the client.

This contrasts with other approaches which require the therapist to confront the client about their behavior while including their own opinions in the process. 

Another benefit of this approach is that it works to increase the willingness for people to get the help that they need and deserve. Sessions may utilize a decisional balance scale which helps clients to weigh out the pros and cons of certain behavioral changes. 

This is valuable when it comes to changing behavior from substance use and addiction because it acknowledges the perceived positive benefits of substance use without trying to avoid them entirely. It encourages clients to freely explore both benefits and consequences of use without being told the right or wrong way to act or behave. 

To summarize, some key benefits of motivational interviewing includes:

  • triggering a change in high-risk lifestyle behaviors
  • helping clients to take responsibility for their actions and behaviors
  • encouraging clients to find a new and motivating perspective 
  • building the clients self-confidence, trust, and sense of self-control
  • lowering chances of future relapses occurring
  • increasing participation and commitment for long-term recovery

Contemplation is an important phase of the stages of change. In this stage, you may feel particularly ambivalent. Many people experience ambivalence as they question their recovery, and while it is a necessary step in the right direction, many people linger too long in this stage. Motivational interviewing is a valuable therapeutic approach that works to overcome mixed feelings surrounding change, especially when it comes to fully committing to sobriety. West Coast Recovery Centers is a treatment center for mental health and substance use. We offer several different therapeutic interventions with many utilizing a motivational interviewing approach. It is important that treatment for recovery involves facing feelings of ambivalence head-on. It is essential that people find the motivation and sense of control within themselves so that they are ready to commit fully to positive behavioral change. For more information about recovery or about the resources we offer, give us a call at (760) 492-6509.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
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