Updated on April 23, 2024
4 min read

What Is Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)?

What is Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)?

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a therapeutic approach. It focuses on a person’s motivation to change.

The primary goal of MET is to overcome resistance or ambivalence toward positive changes. A therapist using MET helps the person recognize the problem, adjust their thoughts about the situation, and gain the confidence to change for the better.

Additional goals of MET include:

  • Provide a supportive environment, so the person feels respected and accepted
  • Help the person recognize the discrepancy between who they are and who they want to be
  • Avoid feelings of defensiveness and resistance by using a gentle communication approach
  • Diffuse resistance with reflective listening and agreement
  • Help the person modify their behavior by making them aware of their ability to change

What Does Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) Treat?

Motivational Enhancement Therapy can treat:

  • Substance abuse, such as with alcohol or drugs
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Problem gambling
  • Problems with health-risk behaviors, including HIV

Additionally, MET can help reduce the risk of developing an addiction or participating in at-risk behaviors.


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Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) for Substance Abuse

While MET is often used to treat substance use disorder (SUD), it is also effective in helping individuals change other types of harmful behavior.

MET is most often used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), other behavioral therapy, and/or a 12-step program.

Despite its effectiveness, MET is not a viable option for everyone. Treatment providers consider an individual’s substance of choice and the extent of their addiction when determining whether or not to use MET.


One study showed that MET was especially useful in motivating individuals who struggled with heavy drinking and aggression.1

Additionally, research shows that MET inspires positive change in people living with HIV. A 2021 study found that using this approach increases safe sex behaviors and reduces alcohol use in certain populations.2

MET focuses on rapid change, which is especially helpful for treating drug addiction. It’s also effective in helping adolescents struggling with identity issues or asserting their independence.

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Benefits of Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)

MET helps therapists navigate questions or concerns individuals have about the recovery process. It’s a directed, person-centered approach that focuses on motivation, a powerful tool in recovery.

Other benefits of MET include:

  • Fast-working: MET is time-limited and often requires four to six sessions.
  • Reduction in resistance and ambivalence: This method uses persuasion tactics instead of confrontation, coercion, and labeling.
  • Emphasis on choice: The therapist is not an authority in this approach but collaborates with the client. Instead, the individual learns how to make choices on their own.

MET isn’t right for everyone. Those addicted to substances other than alcohol or marijuana tend to have less success with MET.3

How to Start Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) for Substance Abuse

Speak to your doctor about a referral to a qualified, experienced therapist who uses MET.

Before beginning therapy, ask about the therapist’s background and experience. Questions may include:

  • How long will treatment last?
  • How do I know if therapy is effective?
  • Will/can anyone else be present during therapy sessions?
  • What can we do to improve the chances of recovery success?

5 Motivational Principles of MET

Therapists using MET refer to five motivational principles. They include:

1. Expression of Empathy

Therapists help their clients feel respected and accepted by creating a supportive environment in therapy sessions. They listen reflectively and avoid confrontation. This helps the person know they are heard and understood.

MET also helps people develop and express empathy for others. This helps them understand how their behaviors affect other people.

2. Development of Discrepancy

Therapists repeat to the client what they say but with slight modifications. This helps the individual recognize the discrepancy between how they want to behave and how they are behaving.

When successful, this allows the person to realize certain behaviors are hindering them from achieving their goals.

3. Avoiding Arguments

Therapists using MET do not argue with their clients. The goal is to avoid defensiveness and resistance. Instead, the therapist gently and optimistically helps them develop an awareness of their ability to change and understand that change comes from within.

4. Rolling with Resistance

Instead of confrontation, therapists use MET to defuse resistance. They know resistance is natural and inevitable. However, defusing it allows someone to continue therapy and find the motivation to change.

In MET, therapists are agreeable, even if the person makes a false statement. This increases the likelihood that the person benefits from the overall process. 

5. Supporting Self-Efficacy

This final principle acknowledges that the best success comes when someone believes in their ability to change. Therapists using MET help clients recognize their ability to modify their behavior and achieve their goals. Successful recovery is likelier when someone believes their goals are achievable.

MET works best when an addicted individual determines there is something more precious than the addiction. For many, this is a loved one, but it can also be a job, the will to live, or their dignity.

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Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a non-confrontational addiction treatment approach. It can also treat anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders.

MET is usually combined with other treatment approaches. It works fast and focuses on people’s ability to control their behavior.

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Updated on April 23, 2024
5 sources cited
Updated on April 23, 2024
  1. Murphy, Christopher M., et al. “A Randomized Clinical Trial of Motivational Enhancement Therapy for Alcohol Problems in Partner Violent Men.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment,  2018.  

  2. DiClemente, Ralph J., et al. “Horizons and Group Motivational Enhancement Therapy: HIV Prevention for Alcohol-Using Young Black Women, a Randomized Experiment.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2021.  

  3. Budney, Alan J, et al. “Marijuana Dependence and Its Treatment.” Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 2007.

  4. Noknoy, Sairat, et al. “RCT of Effectiveness of Motivational Enhancement Therapy Delivered by Nurses for Hazardous Drinkers in Primary Care Units in Thailand.” Alcohol and Alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire), 2010.  

  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction Drug Facts.” samhsa.gov, 2019.

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