Module 9: working with young people on AOD issues: learner's workbook

4.2 Working with ambivalence in young people

Page last updated: 2004

One of the underlying premises of motivational interviewing is that all behaviour is motivated. There is no such thing as 'unmotivated' behaviour. It therefore assumes that people may be motivated to change and at the same time have strong motivators to stay the same. The more a young person is involved with drug use and the associated lifestyle issues, the greater the chance they will feel some conflict about making a significant change to their drug use and avoid making that change. That is, they may be ambivalent about changing their patterns of use. Understanding and working with a young person's ambivalence is a central element of motivational interviewing.

As mentioned earlier, ambivalence is a normal, human condition which is central to decision-making. A good comparison is with relationships. Most people have felt ambivalence about an intimate relationship. Again, the greater the involvement in the relationship, the stronger the ambivalence is likely to be. Similarly, the greater the involvement with drug use, the stronger the ambivalence is likely to be.

Working with this ambivalence (rather than ignoring it or denying it) can be one of the keys to assisting young people in moving through the change process.