Considering Change: Exploring the various stages of change
Written by: Maria Barcelos, MA, Executive Director, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying)
Every New Year, we are often inundated with messages of change is possible, if you only do this one thing, or buy this workout machine or fill in the blank on the numerous ads you have probably seen trying to inspire you to purchase something that will help you change your life. At times, yes, these things can be helpful in the change process.
Change takes time and a few more elements to get us inspired and motivated to continue the path that we want to be onto living life with purpose and intention.
We all want a better life for ourselves, and those we love. Every year, we are reminded with messages to set goals or resolutions for change. For some survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the new year can be a source of hope and it can also continue to be a source of disappointment, regret, or shame especially when previous goals were not met, or the supports were not in place for success in the first place.
Various models that try to give context to the process of change and why some of us, start, stop, avoid. Start, quit, start again. There needs to be resources and supports at each stage of change for ultimate behaviour modification and maintenance to occur.
Let’s look at the Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change), which was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late 1970s. This model focuses on the decision-making of the individual considering the intentional change they are trying to make in their lives (Boston University School of Public Health, 2019). This model considers that each person needs time to change behaviours, which for many survivors even considering a change may be quite difficult, fearful and anxiety-provoking.
The model proposes that people progress through the following stages of change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance.
For each of the stages of change, different strategies are most helpful at moving the person forward to the next stage.
- Precontemplation – In this stage, the person isn’t even considering taking steps to start a change in behaviour (for more than six months from now) and may even be unaware that their behavior is challenging (for themselves or others in their lives). The person may focus on the negative aspects of potential change and tend to not consider the positive aspects of it. For many survivors, this can be thinking about change but feeling overwhelmed with all the discomfort that it might take (e.g., I want to go to the gym in January, but the bus ride is too long. It’s cold outside. I will think about this next month when it’s warmer outside).
- Contemplation – In this stage, the person is intending to start healthy behavior in the foreseeable future (defined as within the next 6 months). The person has an awareness that the behaviour is not helpful for them or others; maybe more considerate of the pros and cons of changing the behavior. However, they might still feel ambivalent toward changing their behavior. For many survivors, they may know that their behaviours are not helpful towards their healing (e.g. They know that overeating, or drinking too often during the week, or excessively watching Netflix is not helping them feel well during the day at work).
- Preparation (Determination) – At this stage, a person is willing and ready to take the necessary steps for behaviour change within the next 30 days. They may begin to take small steps and acknowledge that modifying their behaviour will lead to healthier outcomes in their life. For many survivors, this stage may be supported when attending the peer support programs at www.thegatehouse.org when recognition of the behaviour has occurred, further awareness of the negative impact of the behaviour and the person starts to take small steps towards the behaviours they want to emulate eventually. (E.g. the person buys a gratitude journal to eventually start writing daily gratitude)
- Action – In this stage, the person has recently changed their behavior (defined as within the last 6 months) and plans to keep moving forward with these new habits or behaviours. These can be totally new ones (e.g. Writing a daily journal to help enhance their self-awareness of thoughts, feelings and behaviours) or modified behaviours (e.g. adding a 10-minute meditation to their daily mindfulness routine, adding 5 minutes to their daily walk, reading one self-help book per month).
- Maintenance – In this stage, people have sustained their behavior change for a while, usually defined as more than 6 months, and intend to maintain the behavior change going forward. People in this stage take actions to deter themselves from reverting to previous stages or relapsing. Many survivors that attend our programs may repeat the groups to help them continue to engage with their new or modified helpful behaviours.
Thinking about a change? Here are some helpful questions to get started: What is the life I want to live? What do I need and want to do to get there? What’s stopping me from living this life? What resources do I have access to that will help me along the various stages of change? (persons, programs, books)
Boston University School of Public Health. (2019). The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change). Retrieved from https://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/sb/behavioralchangetheories/behavioralchangetheories6.html