The Role of Motivation in Recovery

Published: 17th August 2015
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The blanket term "motivation" may play a crucial position in helping people overcome substance dependency. Motivation and commitment to securing both abstinence and change in attitude have strong correlations to reductions in substance abuse. The scientific community seems to recognize the benefit of promoting motivation in recovery methodology, which in turn can facilitate change in negative attitudes and behaviors as they relate to dependency. This suggests that cognitive and behavioral changes can occur, even when confronting addictive behaviors. The emphasis remains on a positive attitude that promotes control and independence, compared to powerlessness and complacency with one's circumstances. Motivation in the field of treatment can be divided into three qualitative elements: the nature of motivation itself, how clients understand their motivation, and principles of motivational interviewing which act as a basis for effective recovery.

The Many Faces of Motivation

Motivation is comprised of three features: importance, confidence, and readiness. Appropriately described, "importance is related to client remarks about the disadvantages of the status quo and the advantages of change, confidence is related to expressions of optimism about change, and readiness is related to expressions of intent to change." For example, importance relates to clients recognizing the deleterious effects of a lifestyle that is dictated by substance abuse and how transitioning away from such abuses can alter one's life for the better. Confidence seems almost self explanatory; such that if a person believes change is possible, then they exhibit confidence about change. Readiness essentially defines a client's intent to begin change. These three qualities interact with client expressions in the treatment atmosphere. The four ideal patient expressions include (a) recognizing the disadvantages of the status quo, (b) recognizing advantages of change, (c) showing optimism about change, and (d) expressing commitment to change. Essentially, if a client is apt to be motivated, it is because they engaged in the aforementioned activities. This in effect leads the client to believe that change is possible. These facets of motivation encapsulate the nature of motivation itself and its relation to recovery.

Understanding Motivation

How clients understand their motivation is beneficial to promoting a sustainable recovery. If possible, the underlying elements of client motivation include, but are not limited to: (a) the client's perceptions of the value of the outcome of a change plan, including both benefits and costs. (b) the client's perspective of the probability of securing a successful outcome and (c) the presence of environment barriers and supports that inhibit or spur change. For (a) and (b), how the client views both the likelihood and an realistic understanding of "change" can have a major impact on their motivation. After all, it would seem likely that if a client had a realistic view of change and accepted the valuable outcomes that change can yield, they may be more motivated than a client who has an inaccurate view or does not think that change will produce a positive outcome. Finally, the environment can help or hold back client motivation by holding onto support or raising barriers. It is through this point of view that clients are able to either enhance or destabilize their enthusiasm, depending on both their perspective and the external circumstances. Although hopefully clients can set acceptable and realistic goals, and are surrounded by an environment that is favorable to positive transformation.

Motivation in Therapy

At this point it should be apparent that motivation can have an important impact on drug and alcohol treatment. Motivational interviewing is a aprticular treatment designed to promote motivation among clients in an effort to promote changes in attitude and eventually changes in perspectives and behaviors that involve substance dependence. In the context of recovery, motivational interviewing can adjust counter-productive mindsets, improve social functioning, and assist those recovering from addictive behaviors. The motivational interviewing techniqueapproach is supported by four pillars that act as a basis for the treatment method. The pillars advocate (a) expressing empathy, (b) rolling with resistance, (c) developing discrepancy, and (d) supporting self-efficacy. The first pillar, expressing empathy, ensures that the counselor establishes a competent environment in which the client can be safe and heard. During therapy, it is natural that clients may exhibit various issues or negative behaviors. It therefore seems fitting that counselors are open to such expressions or behaviors and react in a way that is in keeping with the intent of the overall motivational interviewing methodology. This responsiveness entails being accepting, understanding, and patient with clients, even when they resist treatment. Third, by developing discrepancies it is basically meant that the counselor, "gently explore discrepancies between the client's current behavior and desired futures." The client distinguishes what they have from what they want and this insight can help them reach realistic goals. Lastly, promoting self-efficacy can empower clients to build-up confidence and proactively engage in potential changes in their daily routines.

Final Thoughts

It seems apparent that acknowledging the value of motivation in the treatment arena is threefold: first requires an understanding of the nature of motivation itself; second is clients' ability to understand their own motivation; and third is to identify the main constructs of motivational interviewing as a therapeutic goal. Combining these concepts provides a clear understanding of the effectiveness of motivation's role in substance abuse treatment programs.


This is an article written about the role of motivation in a substance abuse, treatment and recovery environment. Mike Writes contributes articles on the topic of substance dependence treatment for Passages Malibu.

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