Explore how we progress toward change by negotiating five discrete stages, from our “comfort zone” to a place where we are able to maintain momentum for change.
In the January/February 2002 edition of Psychotherapy Networker there is an article by the name I’ve given this title. It appeared in a feature called “From Research to Practice” and discussed a large cross-sectional study of 3,000 people. What they found was very interesting. We generally do not enter therapy to actively resolve our problems, reduce our symptoms and retool our lives. Rather, we tend to negotiate five discrete stages as we progress toward change.
- In the initial stage, PRECONTEMPLATION, we’re largely unaware of our problems and have no intention of changing our behavior. Why should we? We’re quite contented with ourselves just as we are.
- Next, in the CONTEMPLATION stage, while aware we face problems, we haven’t yet made a commitment to take action. If we suspect change will require some effort on our part (and it certainly will!), we remain hopeful that things will magically improve on their own as we continue adjusting to the current situation.
- Then we go through a PREPARATION stage in which we intend to take action within the next month. Now we’re getting serious. Not quite ready to step off our familiar path and travel new territory, but we’re more seriously talking ourselves into the courage we will need if we’re to actually explore what we must do in order to create change.
- At the ACTION stage, in which only 10 to 15 percent of us are engaged at any one time, we finally take concrete steps to overcome our problems. This is when we need all the courage we can muster, because permanent change is not often easy — otherwise more of us would be making the changes in our lives that we say we “want” to make, but keep putting off.
- Finally, there is MAINTENANCE when we work to consolidate our gains and prevent relapse. Of course, the difficulty of continuing to move toward behavior and ideals we set for ourselves is not always as hard as it can be for those struggling with addictions. Nevertheless, it’s important to remind ourselves that it took time to develop habits and beliefs that weren’t life-affirming — and it takes time to turn ourselves around until we’re comfortable with the new person we’re becoming.
The study confirms what most therapists already know. Most of their clients don’t come to therapy gung-ho to dramatically turn their lives around. They come for many different reasons, depending on which stage of change and transformation they are in. This is why Support4Change presents a wide variety of material. We hope to encourage some of you to examine the situations you’ve been “putting up with” and at least begin moving toward change in the not-too-distant future. For those who have already decided they must do something about their situation, we hope our ideas will offer practical ways you can take steps today to change and then to maintain those new beliefs and behaviors.