It’s time for a change!

As promised in last month’s blog, spring has indeed arrived. The trees have started budding, crocuses are popping through the ground, and the distinct smell of steaks grilling on the barbeque fills the air. Spring is considered by many to be a time of renewal and transformation; a time that is symbolic of change. It seems fitting to, therefore, have this month’s blog focus on exactly this.

In discussing the topic of change it is important to remember that it is a process, not an event. It is easy to see this in nature (i.e., winter shifting into spring, a caterpillar changing into a butterfly) and yet when it comes to making changes in our own lives, we often expect it to occur instantaneously and become frustrated or give up when it doesn’t. James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente took an interest in the topic of change and in 1983, while studying individuals with addiction issues, developed the Transtheorectical Model of Change (TTM). In addition to substance abuse, TTM has proven to be quite effective in promoting healthy behaviour change in other areas such as dieting, beginning to exercise, increasing self-esteem etc.

The Transtheoretical Model of Change proposes that people pass through 5 distinct stages in the adoption of healthy behaviour or cessation of unhealthy ones. TTM research has shown that there are certain predictors of progression through the stages. As you continue reading we encourage you to consider which stage you are at so that you can also identify what may assist you in progressing forward and/or maintaining change.

Let’s begin with the first stage, Pre-Contemplation. As the name denotes, at this stage there is not yet any willingness or consideration to change. In short, it is the “I’m not ready” stage. At this point people are not aware of their behaviour being an issue.

Following Pre-contemplation is Contemplation. At this stage, the individual acknowledges there is a problem but is not yet ready or sure they want to make a change. At this stage it may be helpful to get more information about the benefits and costs of modifying your behaviour. You can also ask yourself, Why do I want to change? What are some things that could help me make this change? What obstacles lie ahead?

The third stage is Preparation. Individuals at this stage have made a committment to change and are gathering information about what they may need to do to alter their behaviour. To improve the chances of success, identify social supports, review coping strategies, and determine a plan of action. Writing down some motivating statements may also be helpful at this stage.

The fourth stage is marked by significant movement. As such, it is called Action. In this stage the individual is putting effort and energy into creating change. This is the stage when work is really being done and when people are most dependant on their own willpower. It is vital at this point that you access supports, reward successes, and work through feelings of loss by reminding yourself of long-term gains/benefits.

Maintenance is the final stage and hopefully the longest. This is where change has been sustained and the individual is able to avoid temptation of returning to his/her old behaviour. When we talk about recovery from substance use/abuse it is important to note that relapse is, however, still a real possibility in spite of “x” number of years free of the drug. Relapse from dieting or exercise is no different. It is therefore important to continue rewarding yourself for successes and determine/plan coping strategies for temptations.

While Prochaska and DiClemente’s model of change ends at maintenance another stage was later added to address the successful change in behavior, that being Termination. This is where the individual exits the change process and when old behaviours are no longer desirable.

Change can be anxiety provoking and frustrating; it can also be exciting and liberating. One thing that has consistently been shown to be helpful is to have someone who can support and work with you as you move along the continuum. An ideal support person would be an understanding, empathic, knowledgeable counsellor who is well versed in the Transtheoretical Model of Change. Counsellors such as those employed at YRPCS (wink, wink). We look forward to hearing from you.

Philippa & Kerry

Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1983). Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: Toward an integrative model of change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51, 390-395.

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