What is Motivational Enhancement Therapy?

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a client-centered, evidence-based therapeutic approach designed to enhance an individual’s intrinsic motivation for change. Focused primarily on the treatment of substance use disorders, MET has also proven effective in addressing other behavioral issues. It is rooted in the principles of motivational interviewing and emphasizes a non-confrontational and collaborative relationship between therapist and client.

The primary goal of MET is to help individuals recognize and resolve their ambivalence about changing maladaptive behaviors, empowering them to make informed choices that improve their quality of life.

In this article, we will explore the origins of Motivational Enhancement Therapy, its core components and principles, and the process of implementing MET in a therapeutic setting. We will also discuss the effectiveness of MET compared to traditional counseling methods, its integration with other treatment modalities, and training and certification opportunities for therapists.

Origins of Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational Enhancement Therapy was developed in the early 1990s as a time-limited, focused intervention for substance use disorders. It emerged in response to the need for an effective, brief treatment approach that could be easily implemented in various settings. MET’s development was informed by research on the effectiveness of motivational interviewing, a technique designed to elicit behavior change by helping clients explore and resolve ambivalence.

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a client-centered, directive counseling approach that aims to enhance motivation for change by exploring an individual’s ambivalence and fostering their self-efficacy. Developed by clinical psychologists William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick in the early 1980s, MI laid the foundation for the creation of Motivational Enhancement Therapy.

While MET and MI share common principles and techniques, they differ in some aspects. MET is a more structured and focused intervention, incorporating specific assessment and feedback components that help clients better understand their personal situation and the consequences of their behaviors. In contrast, MI is a broader counseling approach that can be applied to various behavior change scenarios, beyond substance use disorders.

The development of Motivational Enhancement Therapy was primarily led by William R. Miller, the co-creator of motivational interviewing. Miller, along with other researchers and clinicians, refined the MI principles and incorporated additional strategies to create a time-limited, focused intervention specifically tailored for substance use disorders.

Other key contributors to the field of MET include Stephen Rollnick, Theresa B. Moyers, and Paul Amrhein. These researchers have played a significant role in refining and evaluating the effectiveness of MET, as well as promoting its integration into broader treatment approaches for substance use disorders and other behavior change contexts.

Core Components of Motivational Enhancement Therapy

A Collaborative and non-confrontational approach

One of the essential components of Motivational Enhancement Therapy is its collaborative and non-confrontational approach to counseling. Therapists work as partners with their clients, encouraging open communication and fostering a supportive environment where clients feel comfortable exploring their thoughts and emotions. The therapist avoids directly challenging the client’s beliefs and instead uses reflective listening and open-ended questions to guide the conversation. This approach helps build rapport, reduce resistance, and facilitate meaningful discussions about the client’s readiness for change.

Enhancing intrinsic motivation

MET focuses on enhancing clients’ intrinsic motivation, which is the desire to change behaviors based on personal values, beliefs, and goals. Intrinsic motivation is a powerful driving force for long-lasting change, as it comes from within the individual rather than external sources. Therapists work with clients to identify and strengthen their personal reasons for change, thus increasing the likelihood of sustained behavior modification.

Client-centered focus

A key aspect of MET is its client-centered focus, which acknowledges that clients are the experts on their own lives and experiences. The therapist’s role is to support clients in identifying their unique strengths, resources, and goals, and to help them navigate the change process at their own pace. This empowerment-based approach fosters a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy in clients, as they recognize that they possess the necessary skills and abilities to achieve their desired changes.

Goal-setting and problem-solving

MET emphasizes the importance of setting clear, realistic, and measurable goals for behavior change. Together, the therapist and client collaboratively develop a change plan, which includes specific objectives, strategies, and a timeline for achieving these goals. The therapist supports clients in identifying potential barriers to change and developing problem-solving skills to overcome these obstacles. By actively engaging clients in the goal-setting and problem-solving process, MET helps to promote accountability, self-efficacy, and sustained commitment to change.

Principles of Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Expressing empathy

Empathy is a fundamental principle of MET, as it helps to create a supportive and non-judgmental environment for clients. Therapists express empathy by actively listening, validating clients’ feelings and experiences, and demonstrating genuine understanding and compassion. This empathic approach fosters trust and rapport between the therapist and client, making it easier for clients to openly discuss their ambivalence and resistance to change.

Developing discrepancy

Developing discrepancy is a key technique in MET that involves helping clients recognize the gap between their current behaviors and their personal values, goals, or desired outcomes. By highlighting these discrepancies, therapists encourage clients to examine the consequences of their actions and consider the potential benefits of change. This process fosters a sense of discomfort with the status quo and motivates clients to take steps towards behavior change.

Rolling with resistance

Instead of confronting or challenging clients’ resistance to change, MET therapists “roll with” the resistance by acknowledging and validating clients’ concerns and hesitations. This approach minimizes defensiveness and promotes open dialogue about the clients’ ambivalence. Rolling with resistance may involve using techniques such as reflective listening, reframing, and asking open-ended questions to gently guide clients towards recognizing the need for change.

Supporting self-efficacy

Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to achieve desired outcomes or make positive changes in their lives. In MET, therapists actively support clients’ self-efficacy by highlighting their strengths, past successes, and personal resources. By fostering a sense of competence and confidence, therapists empower clients to take ownership of their change process and believe in their ability to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.

The MET Process

Initial assessment

The MET process begins with an initial assessment, during which the therapist gathers information about the client’s history, substance use patterns, and relevant psychosocial factors. This assessment helps the therapist understand the client’s unique situation, identify potential barriers to change, and tailor the intervention to meet the client’s specific needs.

Feedback and personalized information

Following the initial assessment, the therapist provides the client with feedback and personalized information about their substance use and its consequences. This feedback may include data on the client’s substance use patterns compared to normative data, potential health risks, or the impact of their substance use on various aspects of their life. By presenting this information in a non-confrontational and supportive manner, the therapist helps the client recognize the need for change.

Exploring ambivalence

A crucial step in the MET process is exploring the client’s ambivalence about changing their substance use behaviors. The therapist uses open-ended questions, reflective listening, and other motivational interviewing techniques to help clients examine the pros and cons of their current behaviors and the potential benefits of change. This exploration of ambivalence is essential for fostering intrinsic motivation and helping clients resolve their uncertainty about taking steps towards change.

Developing a change plan

Once clients express a desire to change their behaviors, the therapist collaborates with them to develop a personalized change plan. This plan outlines the client’s specific goals, strategies for achieving these goals, and a timeline for implementing changes. The change plan also includes strategies for coping with potential barriers and setbacks, thus increasing the likelihood of successful behavior change.

Monitoring progress and reinforcing change

Throughout the MET process, therapists monitor clients’ progress towards their goals and provide ongoing support and encouragement. They help clients recognize and celebrate their achievements, while also addressing any challenges or setbacks that may arise. By reinforcing positive changes and fostering clients’ self-efficacy, therapists support clients in maintaining their motivation and commitment to their change plan.

Effectiveness of Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Comparison to traditional counseling methods

Motivational Enhancement Therapy has been found to be more effective than traditional counseling methods in facilitating behavior change, particularly in the treatment of substance use disorders. While traditional approaches often rely on confrontation and persuasion, MET’s non-confrontational, client-centered approach has proven more successful in enhancing intrinsic motivation and reducing client resistance. Moreover, MET’s time-limited nature allows for rapid engagement and progress, making it a cost-effective treatment option.

Research and evidence supporting MET

Numerous research studies and clinical trials have provided strong evidence for the effectiveness of MET in treating substance use disorders. A landmark study, Project MATCH, demonstrated that MET was as effective as, and in some cases more effective than, other evidence-based treatments, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Twelve-Step Facilitation. Other studies have consistently shown that MET leads to significant reductions in substance use, increased treatment retention, and improved psychosocial outcomes.

Success rates and long-term outcomes

While success rates and long-term outcomes vary depending on the specific population and substance use disorder being treated, MET has generally demonstrated positive results. Clients who participate in MET tend to show greater improvements in substance use and related behaviors than those who receive traditional counseling methods. Furthermore, these positive outcomes tend to be maintained in the long-term, suggesting that MET helps to foster lasting change.

Specific populations and settings where MET is most effective

Motivational Enhancement Therapy has proven particularly effective in specific populations and settings. For instance, MET has shown promise in treating adolescents with substance use disorders, as its non-confrontational approach can be more appealing to younger clients. Additionally, MET has been successfully implemented in various treatment settings, such as primary care, emergency departments, and criminal justice settings, as its brief and focused nature allows for rapid intervention and progress. While MET is most commonly used to address substance use disorders, it has also demonstrated effectiveness in treating other behavioral issues, such as eating disorders, gambling addiction, and medication adherence.

Incorporating MET into Other Treatment Modalities

Combining MET with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Motivational Enhancement Therapy can be effectively combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to address both the motivational and cognitive-behavioral aspects of addiction. MET can be used to enhance clients’ motivation and readiness for change, while CBT can provide clients with the necessary skills and strategies to cope with cravings, triggers, and high-risk situations. This integrated approach allows therapists to tailor treatment to each client’s specific needs, offering a comprehensive and effective solution for substance use disorders.

Integration with 12-Step programs

MET can also be integrated with 12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), to provide clients with a holistic approach to recovery. While MET focuses on enhancing clients’ motivation for change and helping them develop a personalized change plan, 12-Step programs offer a supportive community, a structured framework for recovery, and spiritual guidance. By combining the strengths of both approaches, clients can benefit from a comprehensive and flexible recovery plan that addresses their unique needs and preferences.

Use in conjunction with medication-assisted treatment (MAT)

Motivational Enhancement Therapy can be used alongside medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to provide a comprehensive approach to addiction treatment. MAT involves the use of medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, while MET helps to address the psychological and motivational aspects of addiction. When used together, MET and MAT can improve treatment retention, enhance clients’ motivation to engage in therapy, and ultimately increase the likelihood of long-term recovery success.

Training and Certification in Motivational Enhancement Therapy

To effectively deliver Motivational Enhancement Therapy, therapists should possess a strong foundation in counseling, psychology, or a related field. A minimum requirement is typically a master’s degree in clinical or counseling psychology, social work, or a related discipline. Additionally, therapists should have a solid understanding of the principles and techniques of motivational interviewing, as MET is based on these core concepts.

There are various training programs and resources available for professionals who wish to learn and implement Motivational Enhancement Therapy in their practice. These may include workshops, seminars, online courses, and supervision from experienced MET practitioners. Organizations such as the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT) and the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) offer training opportunities and resources for professionals seeking to develop their skills in MET and related techniques.

When selecting a training program, it is essential to ensure that the program is evidence-based, up-to-date, and taught by experienced and qualified instructors. Many training programs also offer continuing education credits, which can be beneficial for maintaining professional licensure or certification.

While there is no specific certification for Motivational Enhancement Therapy, obtaining certification in motivational interviewing (MI) can demonstrate a therapist’s competence in the principles and techniques that underlie MET. The Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT) offers a certification process for professionals who have completed an approved MI training program and demonstrate proficiency in MI techniques.

Continuing education is crucial for maintaining and enhancing therapists’ skills in MET and staying current with the latest research and developments in the field. Professionals can pursue continuing education opportunities through workshops, conferences, webinars, and online courses offered by reputable organizations and institutions. Regular supervision and consultation with experienced MET practitioners can also provide valuable ongoing learning and support.


Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is an evidence-based, client-centered intervention that has demonstrated effectiveness in treating substance use disorders and other behavioral issues. By focusing on enhancing clients’ intrinsic motivation and empowering them to take ownership of their change process, MET has proven to be a valuable addition to the repertoire of addiction treatment options. With its origins in motivational interviewing, MET emphasizes empathy, collaboration, and personal autonomy, making it a non-confrontational and appealing approach for clients. The integration of MET with other treatment modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 12-Step programs, and medication-assisted treatment, allows for a comprehensive and tailored approach to addiction recovery. As more professionals receive training and certification in MET, the potential for this therapy to positively impact individuals struggling with addiction and behavioral issues continues to grow.

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Struggling with an addiction?

If you’re struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to stop. Gaining short-term relief, at a long-term cost, you may start to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. If you’re looking to make some changes, feel free to reach out. I offer individual addiction counselling to clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.

Other Mental Health Resources

If you are struggling with other mental health issues or are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern.

If you require a lower-cost option, you can check out BetterHelp.com. It is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help, I receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.

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