Understanding The Change Process

Has anyone ever told you that you have a problem, whether it is a specific behavior, pattern of interaction, or coping mechanism but you don’t see it? Have you ever considered making changes in your life but are not sure it is worth it? Or have you decided that a change in your life is necessary in order to function more effectively?  Whatever the reason or motivation is, change does not simply occur overnight or in one step but rather takes place in stages over some period of time. 

Usually we are not willing to acknowledge that we need to consider making changes in our lives until it is apparent that our current decisions and behaviors are causing more harm than good where the consequences outweigh the benefits.   However, the process of change can begin before we are consciously aware of it and can evolve into action-oriented phases, which makes up the stages of change.  Read more about each of these stages:

1.     Pre-contemplation: The first stage of change involves lack of acknowledgment that a problem exists.  A person who is in the pre-contemplation stage of change often engages in defensiveness that he/she engages in any problematic behavior, especially when other people are telling him/her that they are.

2.     Contemplation: The second stage of change involves some degree of awareness and acknowledgement that a specific behavior causes some form of consequences.  A person who is in the contemplation stage of change is able and willing to think about a problematic behavior however they are ambivalent about making any changes.

3.     Preparation: The third stage of change involves a commitment to change a specific behavior.  A person in this stage of change is actively gathering information about his/her options for steps they can take towards achieving change. 

4.     Action: The fourth stage of change involves the implementation of specific steps towards achieving change.  A person in the action stage of change is using his/her motivation and willpower to overtly engage in various techniques that will result in change.

5.     Maintenance: The fifth stage of change involves the continuance of the new behavior or change.  A person in this stage of change maintains a commitment to avoid his/her previous problematic behavior by actively engaging in specific relapse prevention or other techniques in order to sustain the new desired behavior.

6.     Relapse: The sixth stage of change involves re-engagement in the problematic behavior.  This can be a natural part of the change process and does not always indicate regression however the evaluation of triggers should be conducted as well as a plan for more effective coping skills should be established.

The timetables for each stage varies from person to person depending on the behavior being changed as well as an individual’s support system, access to resources, strengths/resiliencies, and other stressors that may be present during the process.  Some common problematic behavior involves addiction, patterns of interaction within relationships, and poor coping mechanisms and the reasons and motivations for making changes differs from person to person.  People can often achieve successful changes in behavior on their own however some situations may indicate that professional help may be needed in order to provide support and guidance in navigating the change process. 

~Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT