Using Motivational Interviewing to Prevent Chronic Teen Relapse

As a parent or caregiver of a teen who is struggling with addiction, you might feel overwhelmed. You might have lost hope about your child’s progress, or even given up, letting your teen make the decisions he or she wants, for better or for worse.

Perhaps instead you have even gotten to a point where you’re considering forcing your child into one of those boot-camp style treatment programs. That kind of environment will help give them a new perspective, you think to yourself. Perhaps a month-long-stay with others struggling to find freedom too will kick your child into gear.

Yet, the truth is, no change will take place unless your teen is ready. No addiction will end unless the desire to change is turned on.

Knowing this is the value of a counseling approach called Motivational Interviewing. It’s a method that focuses on and works to elicit the intrinsic desire to change one’s life. Motivational Interviewing recognizes that a teen, or anyone using substances, is going to have ambivalence about ending an addiction. If using alcohol or substances has brought relief from emotional pain, a dramatic increase in energy, and a euphoric feeling for life, among other perceived benefits, reasons to continue to use might still be there, despite the growing severity in consequences. Furthermore, if underlying emotional issues, medical concerns, or any mental illnesses exist, then the desire to use drugs will almost undoubtedly continue. An adolescent might say that he or she wants to change, but depression, anxiety, and other fundamental reasons might promote continued use. Thus, there often lies an enormous amount of ambivalence.

The examination and resolution of this ambivalence is the focus of Motivational Interviewing. A therapist using this approach is intentionally attempting to direct therapy towards this goal versus other types of therapies that explore the client’s inner experience without direction or intent. In this way, Motivational Interviewing is goal oriented, attempting to first resolve a teen’s ambivalence about drug use and then bring about a change in behavior. Specifically, this change in behavior is the continued choice not to use drugs or alcohol.

Of course, there are many factors that play a role in a teen’s chronic relapse, but assuming that all those issues are addressed, change will not happen unless your child acknowledges there is a problem, until he or she weighs the pros and cons to change, and until he or she decides to make different choices.

As a parent, it is an excruciating experience to watch your teen make one poor choice after the other, and although you want to help, the only way he or she will begin to make better decisions is when there is a readiness to change. Motivational Interviewing, as a counseling approach, can help to elicit that.

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