Motivation is a powerful predictor of change in recovery.
In recent years, addiction treatments have shifted away from punitive methods and abstinence protocols toward a focus on motivation and change-based interventions (Miller & Rose, 2009).
One such intervention is Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET). MET is a behavioral intervention designed to help clients with substance use disorders.
It uses a variety of methods to promote motivation and elicit change (Miller, 1992). This article will describe the history and process of this therapy and discuss some training opportunities.
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What Is Motivational Enhancement Therapy?
MET is a short intervention that uses motivational interviewing. But to explain it, let’s start with the beginnings.
A brief history of MET
A team of therapists developed it as part of Project MATCH, a large-scale study of addiction treatments (Miller, 1992). The eight-year study began in 1989 and aimed to match specific alcohol treatments to clients. MET was one of three therapies studied, along with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Twelve-Step Facilitation Therapy (TSF).
The researchers designed MET to be a standardized short-term motivational protocol. Initially, it was created to stand in as a control group (Longabaugh & Wirtz, 2001). Indeed, the lack of a true control group is one of the major criticisms of the study (Cutler & Fishbain, 2005). However, the results showed that MET was as effective as CBT and TSF (P.M.R. Group, 1998).
Results from Project MATCH were ultimately inconclusive regarding which treatments were best matched for each variable, but MET showed positive results as a short-term intervention (P.M.R. Group, 1998). It has continued to be used in various settings and studied as an intervention, although now it is generally seen as most effective when combined with other treatments (DiClemente, Corno, Graydon, Wiprovnick, & Knoblach, 2017).
How MET works
MET is a therapy designed to quickly produce internally motivated change (Miller, 1992). Based on motivational psychology, MET uses a combination of assessments, goal setting, and motivational interviewing to move a client from ambivalence about their recovery to a mindset of change.
MET comprises four carefully planned treatment sessions. Prior to treatment, the client completes a battery of assessments lasting 7–8 hours. The sessions can be envisioned as moving through three phases.
Phase one involves building the motivation for change. In this stage, the therapist reviews the assessments by presenting personal information that the client relayed.
Discussion around substance use involves the therapist empathically listening, reflecting back the client’s words and feelings, and attempting to elicit change-based language through open-ended questions. Once the therapist assesses that the client is ready for change, they can move to the next phase.
Phase two is a consolidation of change. This stage begins to move the client toward a plan for change. The plan is not prescriptive but rather created by the client. The therapist uses reinforcing and empowering statements, like “No one can decide this for you” and “It’s up to you what you do about this.” Together, the client and therapist create a change plan worksheet (found in the Medical Management Treatment Manual published by the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
Phase three consists of follow-through strategies. This could happen as soon as the second session, depending on the client’s initial motivation. The tools used in this phase are reviewing progress, renewing motivation, and redoing commitment.
The Goal of MET
MET was created specifically for addiction recovery, and the goal is ultimately to increase motivation.
The entire purpose of MET is to move the client into a motivated state for change. After they have reached this state, the therapist and client can then work together to create a plan.
Unlike other forms of rehabilitation, MET does not set out to make abstinence the goal. It is emphasized as a clear option only after the client shows readiness to change.
The therapist may present data that shows the benefit of abstinence and even question the goal of moderation if the client desires that, but MET allows for the client to choose their own recovery goals. This is an important distinction, as many programs for addiction give a diagnosis and state expectations of removing the substance entirely. MET and other motivational therapies focus on autonomy and respect for the client.
Unlike CBT, which assumes that the client is already motivated and therefore does not have strategies to build motivation, MET has direct and clear principles and strategies for building client motivation. Motivational therapies are based on the belief that the client is capable of change and that they have the inner resources necessary to create that change.
MET and Stages of Change: 6 Steps for Recovery
The transtheoretical model of the stages of change is incorporated into the MET process. These stages can be a good framework for envisioning the process of addiction recovery.
There are six stages of change, according to the model created by DiClemente and Prochaska (1998):
In MET, the therapists meet the client in whichever stage they are in, and the goal is to assist them in moving through each of these stages. According to this model, the contemplation and determination stages are the most critical (Miller, 1992).
In the contemplation stage, discussion focuses on the pros and cons of continuing to use the substance. This discussion will, in a nonjudgmental way, assess how the client’s life might change, both for the positive and the negative. Tipping the balance toward change will help the client move from contemplation to determination.
In the determination stage, clients firm up their resolve to change. For a client in relapse, this can be fueled by remembering past attempts and how their lives were improving. For clients who are just starting out, developing self-efficacy by celebrating small wins and noticing the positive effects of the change can build confidence and determination.
The ideal path for change is to move from determination to action and eventually (after a few months) into the maintenance stage. For many in recovery, the path is not linear and may require several attempts. The good news is that even those who relapse can return to contemplation and move through the stages again.
MET vs Motivational Interviewing
Motivational interviewing is a theory of counseling developed by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick (2012).
It is a structured and goal-directed form of therapy with the overarching aim of enhancing motivation in the client.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy uses motivational interviewing (MI) as its core process. In that way, there is no difference in methodology or treatment focus. The only real difference between MET and MI is the structure.
MET is designed to be brief, lasting only four sessions, and was envisioned as a standalone treatment in situations where the therapist may have limited time with the client. MI on the other hand, is a technique that can be used in many settings and used in combination with other therapies.
“While MI represents a broader therapeutic approach, MET includes specific emphasis on personalized assessment, feedback, and change plans.”
Guydish, Jessup, Tajima, and Manser, 2010, p. 4
Motivational interviewing is widely used to treat substance use, but it can also be used in many other settings and is valuable in any situation where a client is struggling with motivation. MET, on the other hand, has been used only for reducing substance use and was designed with this need in mind.
Because MI is so much more flexible and multifaceted, it is more widely used. MI has decades of research to support its efficacy. Over 300 clinical trials have been published and a number of meta-analyses and reviews (DiClemente et al., 2017).
Motivational interviewing has been shown to be effective not only with reducing substance use but also to manage diabetes, dietary changes, hypertension, and mental illness (DiClemente et al., 2017). A Delphi poll of distinguished therapists ranked MI in the top five theoretical schools of counseling today (Norcross, Pfund, & Prochaska, 2013).
In general, MET falls under the umbrella of motivational therapies. It is considered a brief intervention and has the same efficacy and outcomes as other forms of motivational therapies (DiClemente et al., 2017).
5 Helpful Techniques to Apply
Motivational interviewing has five important techniques that are critical to developing motivation in a client.
These five techniques are also applied in MET.
1. Express empathy
The first and one of the most powerful therapeutic techniques is to express empathy to the client. It is critical to establish a trusting relationship in the MET program quickly because it is short term.
A good way to foster trust is to show empathy through active listening, reflecting, and validating the client’s experience. The relationship between the therapist and client is not hierarchical or punitive, and the therapist shows respect for the client’s decisions.
MET therapists know that only the client can choose to change their substance use. The goal in therapy is to “compliment rather than denigrate, to build up rather than tear down” (Miller, 1992, p. 7).
2. Develop discrepancy
An important part of the process of moving from the pre-contemplation stage to contemplation is to develop discrepancy. This is the process of realizing the impact that substance use is having on the client’s life. The discrepancy lies between where the client would like to be and the reality of where they are.
It may take time for the client to realize this discrepancy. Once it’s realized, the client may be more willing to discuss change.
3. Avoid argumentation
It is important during the MET process that the client not be put into a defensive posture. Argument and pressure from the therapist may create this and can break down the trust that was established.
Realizing discrepancy can be a sensitive and painful process, and any attempt on the therapist’s side to label or pressure the client may cause them to revert back into pre-contemplation and choose to stay with the substance.
“When MET is done properly, the client and not the therapist voices the arguments for change” (Miller, 1992, p. 8).
4. Roll with resistance
A tenet of motivational interviewing is “rolling with resistance.” This points to the therapist’s ability to avoid challenging the client’s ambivalence.
The client’s uncertainty toward change is seen as part of the process and not viewed as pathological. Rather, the therapist works with the client to keep the momentum going. Resistance is met with reflection, rather than a challenge.
5. Support self-efficacy
The client must believe they have the ability to change if they desire it. This belief in our ability to meet goals is called self-efficacy.
MET works to increase self-efficacy. If the client doesn’t believe they can change, they may meet their discrepancy crisis with defensive coping. This will allow the client to reduce the discomfort brought on by the discrepancy without creating change – an understandable behavior. Building self-efficacy takes time and encouragement, which is created in the later sessions.
Training in Motivational Enhancement Therapy: 2 Options
Because Motivational Enhancement Therapy was designed expressly for Project MATCH, the best way to learn the technique is through their manual, which is freely available online.
Unfortunately, formal training programs for MET do not exist. It is not currently a technique that is widely used, as motivational interviewing is much more broadly applicable. If you learn MI, it is simple to follow and apply the protocol outlined in the Project MATCH manual.
There are, however, many wonderful programs to become trained in MI. A thorough list can be found in our Training in Motivational Interviewing article.
PositivePsychology.com’s Relevant Resources
We have many informative blog posts on the topic of motivational interviewing. Here are three helpful examples.
- What Is Motivational Interviewing? A Practical Theory of Change outlines the basics and main goals of the model.
- Your Ultimate Motivational Interviewing Toolkit describes the most important MI techniques of open questioning, affirmation, reflective listening, summarizing, and considering ways to elicit change talk, and gives examples of affirmations.
- 15 Motivational Interviewing Books for Helping Clients Change reviews the main texts for MI as well as several texts that apply MI to specific issues, such as healthcare, school, and nutrition.
When a client is ready to change, the language that they use is described as preparatory. One helpful way to remember this is by using the acronym DARN. The client expresses desire, talks about their ability to change, will indicate their reasons for change, and describe the need for change. These worksheets work with those states.
- Desire questions: A motivational interviewing worksheet
This worksheet explores the “D” in the acronym DARN, asking questions about the client’s desire for change.
- Ability questions: A motivational interviewing worksheet
Exploring the “A” in the acronym, this worksheet provides open questions about the client’s ability to change.
- Reasons questions: A motivational interviewing worksheet
This worksheet investigates the “R” in the acronym, looking at the client’s reasons for change.
- Needs questions: A motivational interviewing worksheet
This worksheet provides questions about the client’s need for change.
Our Positive Psychology Toolkit©, which contains hundreds of evidence-based exercises and assessments, is a valuable resource for finding motivational interviewing tools.
One such tool is the Readiness to Change Assessment. The interventions that a practitioner chooses will reflect what stage of change the client is currently in. This assessment allows the practitioner to identify that state and create a program that meets the client where they are.
Another excellent exercise in our toolkit is Motivational Interviewing Techniques. This exercise describes the six techniques of MI:
- Eliciting change talk
- Decisional balancing
- Asking permission
- Open-ended questions
- Reflective listening
The exercise also provides worksheets and questions for each of the techniques. This is an invaluable tool for eliciting motivation in a client and providing support for change.
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, check out this collection of 17 validated motivation and goal achievement tools for practitioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques.
A Take-Home Message
Motivational therapies have been an invaluable addition to the therapist’s toolbox in recent years. This is not surprising because therapists want to elicit change in their clients. For a long time, motivation was overlooked as a critical component of creating change.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy puts the emphasis on increasing the client’s motivation. This is critical in addiction recovery because although the knowledge that change is necessary may be there, motivation can be difficult to access because the draw of the substance is so strong. It’s critical that a client really identifies for themselves how their lives would be positively affected by the change.
Brief interventions like MET have been shown to be just as effective in recovery as other forms of substance use interventions (DiClemente et al., 2017).
This may be surprising, but it is heartening to know that even just four well-structured and targeted sessions with a client can have a lasting impact. MET shows that the techniques of respect, empathy, and compassion can go a long way toward creating health in our clients.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free.
- Cutler, R. B., & Fishbain, D. A. (2005). Are alcoholism treatments effective? The Project MATCH data. BMC Public Health, 5(1), 1–11.
- DiClemente, C. C., Corno, C. M., Graydon, M. M., Wiprovnick, A. E., & Knoblach, D. J. (2017). Motivational interviewing, enhancement, and brief interventions over the last decade: A review of reviews of efficacy and effectiveness. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 31(8), 862.
- DiClemente, C. C., & Prochaska, J. O. (1998). Toward a comprehensive, transtheoretical model of change: Stages of change and addictive behaviors. In W. R. Miller & N. Heather (Eds.), Treating addictive behaviors (pp. 3–24). Plenum Press.
- Guydish, J., Jessup, M., Tajima, B., & Manser, S. T. (2010). Adoption of motivational interviewing and motivational enhancement therapy following clinical trials. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 42(sup6), 215–226.
- Longabaugh, R., & Wirtz, P. W. (Eds.). (2001). Project MATCH hypotheses: Results and causal chain analyses (no. 1). US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Miller, W. R. (1992). Motivational enhancement therapy manual: A clinical research guide for therapists treating individuals with alcohol abuse and dependence (vol. 2). US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2012). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change. Guilford Press.
- Miller, W. R., & Rose, G. S. (2009). Toward a theory of motivational interviewing. American Psychologist, 64(6), 527–537.
- Norcross, J. C., Pfund, R. A., & Prochaska, J. O. (2013). Psychotherapy in 2022: A Delphi poll on its future. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 44(5), 363–370.
- P. M. R. Group. (1998). Matching patients with alcohol disorders to treatments: Clinical implications from Project MATCH. Journal of Mental Health, 7(6), 589–602.