Motivational interviewing (MI) is an effective treatment model for many mental health needs, including addiction, trauma, mood disorders and anxiety. First responders who have experienced trauma and addiction may find that MI can help them prepare for real, lasting change. 

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing is a treatment technique that helps people identify the barriers that prevent them from making healthy life changes. In this type of therapy, identifying barriers and helping people understand their internal readiness for change is key to moving forward. Motivational interviewing explores the pros and cons of making a change and weighs the benefits and costs of maintaining one’s current lifestyle. 

MI was developed in the 1980s by William R. Miller, Ph.D., and Stephen Rollnick, Ph.D., to help people who struggled with alcoholism. Unlike prior treatment practices, it brings out a person’s self-efficacy, motivation and readiness for change. MI is based on four core principles:

  • Express empathy
  • Roll with resistance
  • Develop discrepancy
  • Support self-efficacy

While MI was initially developed for problem drinking, it is effective for a number of mental and emotional health needs and has been used widely as an evidence-based treatment method. Motivational interviewing can be successfully used for a range of needs, including:

  • PTSD
  • Trauma
  • Addiction
  • Panic disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Motivational Interviewing for PTSD

The impact of PTSD can be devastating. It can make people feel helpless when it comes to managing their symptoms and recovery. MI is a useful treatment tool for people with PTSD because it is empowering. Trauma can frequently disempower people due to the recurring flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and fight-or-flight responses within the body. 

When a therapist uses MI to help someone manage PTSD, it reinforces their ability to make positive changes and cope with the symptoms that get in the way of everyday life. Therapist and client identify areas that can be changed and explore barriers and ways around them. For first responders, this may mean exploring how PTSD has impacted their sleep patterns, substance use and emotional wellness. As a team, you’ll find interventions that can help adjust those patterns. 

Motivational Interviewing for Substance Abuse and Addiction

Often when trauma has impacted the lives of first responders, the symptoms can be emotionally devastating. As a result, people may try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to deal with the symptoms. 

Therapists trained in MI help first responders with substance abuse challenges explore what they think about making changes in their lives. Quitting substance use is a major decision; it can be difficult to commit to managing symptoms and cravings. Motivational interviewing explores a first responder’s hesitation about quitting alcohol and changes those barriers into avenues toward an addiction-free life.

Motivational Interviewing for First Responders

The constant exposure to trauma can leave first responders feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained. Approximately 30% of first respondersdevelop mental health issues like PTSD, depression and suicidal ideation. Motivational interviewing can be the start of making lifestyle changes that lead to relief.

The FORTITUDE program provides first-responder-specific, evidence-based treatment for addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions. First responders who struggle with trauma can benefit from motivational interviewing treatment at the start of their FORTITUDE program. With compassionate care and guidance, recovery from trauma and substance abuse can become a reality.  

First responders are an integral part of our nation’s safety and help during the most challenging parts of people’s lives. They deserve treatment that supports their recovery and wellness. If you or a loved one is a first responder who has struggled as a result of trauma and substance use disorder, contact us to learn more about FORTITUDE and start healing.

Editor – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more

Case Western Reserve University. “Motivational Interviewing.” Accessed October 31, 2021.

Resnicow, Ken, and Fiona McMaster. “Motivational Interviewing: moving from w[…]th autonomy support.” The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, March 2021. Accessed October 31, 2021.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “First Responders: Behavioral Health Conc[…]Response, and Trauma.” May 2018. Accessed October 31, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.