Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Many people, at some point in their lives fall into patterns of self-destructive behaviors such as addictions, self-harm, etc. Motivational enhancement therapy is an approach that seeks to empower them to take control of their lives.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) is a widely used therapeutic approach for patients with self-destructive behaviors. It’s a brief treatment and promotes in the patient a desire for improvement and to eventually overcome their problem. This will usually be via psychological treatments oriented to their specific needs. For example, addiction to drugs, alcohol, self-injurious behavior, etc.

Many times, people are fully aware of their problems. Nevertheless, they don’t find it necessary or don’t have the courage to go to a therapist. However, motivational enhancement therapy seeks to give them strength and motivation. In addition, it awakens in them their skills, values, and strengths. It’s all about achieving empowerment. This is a really useful exercise that mediates the subsequent therapeutic process.

On average, four or five sessions of motivational enhancement therapy are enough. During this time, the patient is able to establish a good relationship with their therapist. This is decisive in their subsequent journey toward the recovery process. Let’s take a closer look.

People with self-destructive behaviors exhibit low self-esteem and self-confidence. Therefore, empowering them to believe in their ability to improve and take control of their lives is key in this type of therapy.

Woman in motivational stimulation therapy

Motivational enhancement therapy: purpose and techniques

Motivational enhancement therapy is aimed at patients suffering from self-destructive behaviors. These can be wide-ranging.

For instance, they range from self-harm to harmful behaviors, suicidal thoughts, and self-injurious behavior. However, among the most common are undoubtedly addictions. These are highly adverse actions that not only threaten the sufferer’s physical well-being.

In fact, in addition, they almost always experience a lack of meaning in life, an absence of values and meanings, and a reduced interest in their own well-being. Therefore, this therapy seeks to promote motivation and a sense of control in them.

Motivational enhancement therapy aims to get the patient to keep in mind an inescapable existential purpose. It’s the idea of improving the situation in which they find themselves. Let’s take a look at some of the keys to this kind of therapy and its techniques.

A managerial treatment oriented to change and motivation

Motivational enhancement therapy was designed in 1993 as a clinical trial for alcohol addicts. However, the results were so outstanding that experts decided to improve the therapy in order to apply it to a greater number of psychological conditions. The therapy is based on the following principles:

  • Part of motivational psychology. The basic objective is to stimulate the action, emotion, and enthusiasm of the patient. Therefore they’re able to work on changing and improving themselves.
  • It uses motivational interviewing techniques and a counseling style. These were developed by Drs. William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick.
  • The therapeutic approach aimed at evaluating the patient’s needs and behaviors is integrated into the motivational interview itself. It’s based on dialogue and trust.

Empathy is key to the therapeutic alliance

“I understand what you feel. I feel your anguish. I’m able to relate to how you feel and I respect you. I hear you. I’m here for you…”. One of the essential pillars of motivational stimulation therapy is to start from empathy. Indeed, the professional must create a climate of connection and acceptance so the patient is able to trust them.

Only from a feeling of trust can the personal reality of the patient be validated to convince them that they can change. Also, to make them realize that they’re able to develop resources and values to improve themselves.

Feedback to reinforce the motivational attitude

Dialogue and feedback are a constant in this type of therapy. The objective is to encourage the patient to not only recover their self-confidence, but also the conviction that they can put aside their addiction or addictive behavior.

It should be noted that this type of therapy can be complex. That’s because, often, patients have no motivation or affection for themselves.

Therefore, it’s essential for the therapist to avoid arguments and contradictions and not be judgemental. In fact, dialogue must always be dynamic, positive, and constructive. In addition, it must be skillful in order to disable the patient’s resistance, and energetic to create and promote hope for change.

Therapy for stimulating motivation and the drive towards self-efficacy

“You can deal with this even though it won’t be easy. You’re not going to make it in two days. You’re going to have some tough times ahead. However, you’re going to make it because you have the resources inside you and we’re going to help you develop them”. Indeed, if there’s one essential dynamic that permeates motivational enhancement therapy, it’s promoting self-efficacy in the patient.

Patients must work on their irrational ideas and helplessness. Furthermore, they need to reformulate their past failures. This promotes the need for them to try again. It’s also important to work on some of the ideas that might’ve been instilled in them from their family. These often involve trust issues, as families often tend to stop trusting relatives who are addicts.

Teenager doing motivational stimulation therapy

Duration and steps after therapy

Motivational enhancement therapy lasts for four or five sessions. Its objective is, as the name indicates, to enhance the motivation of the patient toward their recovery. However, the most decisive point comes, and the hard work begins when the relevant psychological therapy is started. The kind of therapy that’s prescribed depends on each sufferer’s individual needs.

The University of Massachusetts conducted research that claimed this therapy even reduces anxiety and insecurity toward subsequent treatment. In fact, the patient is empowered to commit to the process of improvement and healing. In light of these facts, we can confidently say that motivational enhancement therapy is an extremely valuable kind of psychological treatment.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Baker, A.; Lewin, T.; Reichler, H.; Clancy, R.; Carr, V.; Garrett, R.; Sly, K.; Devir, H.; and Terry, M. Evaluation of a motivational interview for substance use with psychiatric in-patient services. Addiction 97(10):1329-1337, 2002.
  • Haug, N.A.; Svikis, D.S.; and Diclemente, C. Motivational enhancement therapy for nicotine dependence in methadone-maintained pregnant women. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 18(3):289-292, 2004
  • Miller, W.R.; Yahne, C.E.; and Tonigan, J.S. Motivational interviewing in drug abuse services: A randomized trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 71(4):754-763, 2003.
  • Kerig, Patricia. (2017). Self‐Destructive Behavior. 10.1002/9781118524275.ejdj0137.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.