Stages of Change
Human beings are generally resistant to change and will repeat familiar behaviors even when they are no longer beneficial and even harmful. However, human beings are also very adaptable so we can change if we put our minds to it. Psychologists Carlo DiClemente, PhD and James O. Prochaska, PhD have identified five stages to making change.
Pre-contemplation: This stage represents the period before the individual realizes that she is in need of change. Others in the environment may identify the problems and the change required to solve them but the individual is not yet on board. Attempts to provide solutions or admonitions to change are likely to be unsuccessful at this stage and may prolong this period as the individual asserts her right to make her own decisions. Empathy, understanding and support to come to her own decision to change are much more effective at this stage.
Contemplation: At this stage the individual has recognized the need for change but is not yet able to do anything about it. He is weighing the pros and cons of change and may be distressed at the prospect, especially about potential losses. Alternatively, he may find hope and some excitement about his possible future as he thinks things through. At this point, empathy and understanding are still the best approaches, as the individual must articulate his own desire to change.
Planning: At this stage the individual begins to collect information about change, may talk to others who have made similar change, but has not yet committed to a particular plan of action. The type of support is that most effective at this point is providing information without pushing the individual in a particular direction and allowing her to articulate her own approach to change.
Action: In the action stage, the individual has decided on a course of action and is willing to commit to new behaviors in support of change. This is the stage at which the person is the most receptive to advice, suggestion and direction, although the onus is still on the individual to articulate and act in the way he believes will be best for him.
Maintenance: Once action has been taken and changes made, the focus turns to maintenance of the new behaviors and circumstances. In many ways this stage is the most difficult because the novelty of change has worn off but the individual is still at risk to return to previous behaviors. The work required to maintain changes may seem like “a grind”, with little apparent reward.
Relapse: Although not a stage of change per se, relapse is a normal part of change for human beings. At any stage, the individual may “backslide” and engage in behaviors or resume an attitude she has attempted to change. After relapse, the individual may cycle through all the stages again. Relapse is disheartening to the individual but relapse is normal and change is still possible.
Nancy R. Soro, PhD