The Stages of Change

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Overcoming substance use requires making a major change to your life. When you decide to seek treatment for your use, your counselor will likely gauge your readiness for change. This helps them determine which treatment methods would be most helpful for you on your path to sobriety. Here are the different stages of change and how each applies to counseling techniques.

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 individual is in a denial state. Many people at this stage underestimate the positive effect that change could have in their life. They often say that they do not intend to act anytime soon.

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

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. 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 and dispel fears of commitment.

Preparation and Action Stages

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 important role the counselor plays.

Maintenance Stage

A person enters the maintenance stage when he or she has sustained the changed behavior for a period. In the case of someone trying to overcome an addiction, this would mean abstaining from drugs or alcohol. It’s important to develop insight into any issues that may keep you from maintaining abstinence during this time. You should also continually deal with things as they arise and move in a positive direction 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, especially when it involves your substance use. However, if you have the slightest desire to change, it’s important to take the first step and seek outside help. The trained counselors at Rehab After Work understand the various stages of change and can help you through any stage you’re at. Contact us to inquire about counseling and other treatment options.


Article Written by Shaylyn Forte, LPC, CAADC