Skip to main content

Motivational Interviewing For Teens


teenager undergoing a motivational interview

Motivational interviewing (MI) was originally developed in the 1980s by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick as a client-centered approach to aid people with substance use disorder. Psychology Today explains “Motivational interviewing is a counseling method that helps people resolve ambivalent feelings and insecurities to find the internal motivation they need to change their behavior.” Since its development it has also become an established evidence-based practice to treat people with other health conditions (e.g., heart disease, asthma, diabetes, etc.) as well as in a variety of different fields (e.g., criminal justice, education, sports, etc.). The behaviors of teens are driven by intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, as well as their physical, biological, and emotional needs. Teenagers inherently react to external stimuli from an emotional standpoint. This can be attributed to the fact that a teenager’s brain does not begin to reach its full development until age twenty-five, at the earliest. The prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that reigns rational thought, executive planning, and impulse control) is the last to fully develop. This means that teenagers innately process, problem solve, and make decisions using their amygdala (the area of the brain that is most closely associated with impulsivity, aggression, emotion, and instinctive behavior). Motivational interviewing can be especially beneficial for teens as it empowers young people to cultivate their intrinsic motivation that helps them make healthier choices.  

Key Concepts

Motivational interviewing is based on four general principles that are referred to as the “Spirit of MI” and they include: express empathy, develop discrepancy, roll with resistance, and support self-efficacy. Indiana University expands upon the four principles and further characterizes the following key points of MI when being used with young people:

  • Motivation to change is elicited from the teen and is not imposed from outside forces.
  • It is the teenager’s task, not the counselor’s, to articulate and resolve his or her ambivalence.
  • Direct persuasion is not an effective method for resolving ambivalence.
  • The counseling style is generally quiet and elicits information from the young person.
  • The counselor is directive, in that they help the teen to examine and resolve ambivalence.
  • Readiness to change is not a trait of the teenager, but a fluctuating result of interpersonal interaction.
  • The therapeutic relationship resembles a partnership or companionship.

Motivational interviewing is often framed as a method of communication and can be used on its own or in conjunction with other treatment approaches. MI can he highly effective for teens as a fundamental aspect of motivational interviewing is the notion that people are more likely to accept and act on opinions that they voice themselves. Further, research has found that MI is successful in raising self-esteem and self-confidence for teens. 

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

Close Menu
Back to top