The Stages of Change

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Most people seek counseling because they are looking to make a change in their life. It is important to gauge a person’s readiness for change to determine which interventions need to be implemented to help this person achieve his or her goal.

Precontemplation Stage

In the precontemplation stage of change, a person is not even aware that there is a problematic behavior that needs to be addressed. This client is in a denial state. Many may underestimate the positives a change could have in their life during this stage and would say that they do not intend to act anytime soon.

During this time counselors should be challenging the belief of a client that no change is needed. Pointing out the consequences of their problematic behavior is one of the main ways to approach this. A client may be reluctant during this time due to lack of knowledge, rebellious to discussion, resigned due to change’s overwhelming nature, or they may rationalize that they are fine.

Contemplation Stage

When a person realizes that there is a need to make a change, he or she enters the contemplation stage. This realization can come from oneself or someone else helping the person to become aware of the need for a change. In the contemplation stage, the person begins to weigh the pros and cons of making a change, but does not take any steps towards forming a plan.

Many clients can be on the fence during this time and seeking information rather than direct help. Counselors can help clients identify and process the benefits of change during this time and dispel fears of commitment.

Preparation Stage

Once a person commits to making a change and begins to develop a plan to foster this change, he or she has entered the preparation stage. When the plan is implemented the person is in the action stage of change. A counselor will help a client create a plan of action during this stage. As the client progresses following up and holding them accountable for their actions is another main part the counselor plays.

Maintenance Stage

A person enters the maintenance stage when he or she has successfully sustained the changed behavior for a period. Developing insight into any issues that may keep them from maintaining their changed status is important during this time. Continually dealing with things as they arise and moving in a positive direction is always encouraged while developing coping skills.

It’s important to recognize that the stages of change are not a linear process. People can regress to stages of change they were previously in. They can also relapse after being in the maintenance stage of change for a while. If a relapse occurs, the person will need to go through the entire process all over again.

Making a change may seem daunting but if you or a loved one need to, not matter how big or small, it’s important to take the first step and seek outside help.


Article Written by Shaylyn Forte, LPC, CAADC