By Antonina Garcia and Dale Richard Buchanan

In their landmark book, Changing for Good, (HarperCollins: NY, 1994) James Prochaska, John Norcross and Carlo Diclemente outline the stages that we experience when we establish lasting change in our lives. Prochaska and his fellow authors and researchers spent years studying and working with smokers to discover what stages people go through who are successful at changing and how and why people get derailed in that process. They also propose ways to assist clients in successfully passing through the stages of change. The six stages are:

Precontemplation: At this time, the person has a problem but is in denial about the problem and/or its extent. Oftentimes others in the person’s life are aware of the problem and may make attempts to encounter the person about the problem, but their attempts are rebuffed. This is the period of resistance to change.

Contemplation: The person becomes conscious that he/she has a problem and is thinking seriously about doing something to solve the problem. There are two sub-stages to this stage. In the first, the person focuses on the problem and the difficulties it is causing and has caused in the past. In the second, the person is focused on how to make changes to solve the problem.

Preparation: During this stage the person is actively preparing to make some changes in relation to the problem within the next month. Some preliminary steps are being made, e.g., a dieter may be cutting out white flour; or an alcoholic may have discovered the times and places for local AA meetings.

Action: In this stage the person is instituting the planned changes by modifying behavior and, in many cases, environment. The person is working to develop consistency in engaging in the new behaviors.

Maintenance: The person must persist in retaining the new behaviors and work diligently to avoid lapse or relapse.

Termination: In this stage the initial problem no longer exists. There is some disagreement among professionals as to whether this stage is ever completely reached, the idea being that it is wise to stay green in one’s recovery.

Some Additional Thoughts

There are challenges at each stage of change, and there are interventions that clinicians can make that are stage relevant to facilitate re-enforcement of transformation. Psychodrama assists both in readying clients for the next step and in solidifying gains.

People engaged in the change process don’t necessarily follow lock-step forward going movement. They sometimes go back and forth between a current and earlier stage as well as getting their feet wet by testing out the next stage forward. People engaged in the change process often have momentary lapses. It is helpful to remember that such lapses are natural parts of the process.

The authors also define the change processes that are most useful in initiating and/or maintaining change. They are consciousness raising, social liberation (community support), emotional arousal, self-re-evaluation, commitment, reward, countering (substituting healthy for unhealthy behaviors), environment control and helping relationships.

Reference: Prochaska, J. O., Norcross, J. C., DiClemente, C. C. (1994) Changing for Good. NY: Harper Collins.

Think of some problem in your life that you would like to solve. What would constitute recovery for that problem? Not improvement, recovery. For example, if you are a cocaine addict, snorting coke only twice a week may be an improvement. It would not be recovery. So – once you have a clear idea of what you need to do to solve the problem, please answer the following questions that Prochaska et. al. have devised to help you assess at what stage of change you are operating.

“1. I solved my problem more than six months ago.

2. I have taken action on my problem within the past six months.

3. I am intending to take action in the next month.

4. I am intending to take action in the next six months.”




Reference: Prochaska, J. O., Norcross, J. C., DiClemente, C. C. (1994) Changing for Good. NY: Harper Collins.

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