What Is Change?
Some Fear It! Others Embrace It!
March 20, 2008
By: Margo A. Charlebois - Therapy, Medicine
What is Change?
Margo A. Charlebois, MA, LPC
What is this concept we call "change"? Some of us fear it, don't cope well with it, or say we just plain don't like it. Others embrace it, look forward to it, seek it, or say we love it. So?. What exactly is it? We can "change" a diaper, "change" a tire, and "change" our mind. The first two examples can clearly be replacing something with something else; a dirty diaper for a clean one, a flat tire with an inflated tire. When we "change" our "mind" we certainly can't open a package and replace our "mind" with a different one (who wouldn't like to be able to do this sometimes!). Usually we mean we are replacing one decision with another, or replacing a preference for something with a preference for something else. We can use and describe the concept of change in many different ways. What remains constant is that it is a process. Sometimes we engage in behavior that brings negative consequences to our lives or prevents us from reaching our potential. So, when and how does behavior change happen?
Carlo DiClemente and James Prochaska did extensive research into the process of change as they developed their Transtheoretical Model (TTM; Prochaska & DiClemente, 1984) of behavior change. Their research and their study of previous "change" research popularized the notion of "Stages of Change" as a way to describe the progression of change over time. The five Stages of Change are: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance.
Someone in the Precontemplation stage is not thinking about making a change in their problem behavior. They may believe the "problem" is not theirs, that it just the perception of others that there is even a problem. The "Precontemplator" is often engaged in risky or unhealthy behavior and may not have the facts about the risks associated with their behavior. Traditional change theories view these individuals as "resistant" and "unmotivated", or "in denial". TTM and Stages of Change take the view that these individuals can have needs met through prevention or treatment, rather than just being ignored.
When someone enters the Contemplation stage, they have started to think and be aware that there may well be something they need to change. They start to want change. They weigh the pros and cons of change. Often people become "stuck" in this stage because although they want change they also can identify reasons they want to maintain their unhealthy behavior, and their ambivalence keeps them from taking an action.
Once the pros in favor of change outweigh the cons, the individual enters the Preparation stage. In this stage we intend to take action in the near future, we may have had some change attempts that were unsuccessful or may have made some small related changes. Preparers likely have or are developing a plan of action, they might not have fully committed to it yet.
The Action stage is where change becomes evident. This individual is "working" their change plan. There is still some risk of return to risky or unhealthy behavior if the person hasn't sufficiently prepared for change or and/or hasn't committed fully to their plan of action.
If one can attain and maintain a behavior change for at least 6 months they are thought to be in the Maintenance stage. There is less of a risk that one will return to previous behavior patterns and it takes less effort to remain engaged in the change process.
The Stages of Change describe the "when" of behavior change, what about the "how"? TTM describes ten processes that need to be put into place for successful progress through the stages. Some have to do with our thoughts and feelings, others with our behavior. Consciousness raising, dramatic relief, environmental reevaluation, self-reevaluation, and self-liberation are the processes related to thoughts and feelings. Reinforcement management, helping relationships, counter conditioning, stimulus control, and social liberation are the behavioral processes that must occur for successful change.
People successfully change behavior on their own all the time. However, sometimes it's not easy when you're trying to do it on your own or with the help of people to close to your situation. Counseling can help individuals implement these experiential and behavioral processes, with the goal being meaningful, lasting life improvement.
Or Contact Margo Charlebois at:
807 E Midland St, Bay City, MI 48706