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How to Change Your Behavior? Step By Step From a Therapist: The Six Stages of Change You Will Need to Get the Most Out of Therapy

Have you ever wondered when is a good time to begin therapy? If you have, you are not alone. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard folks ask themselves this question. Typically, people come to therapy whenever they feel overwhelmed, have emotional distress, and are experiencing serious mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression. Individual therapy helps people process their emotional problems, make new meaning of their circumstances, attain coping skills, and much more. Yet, have you noticed that there needs to be some readiness for change before even thinking of looking for information about how to go about finding a therapist? Here I discuss the stages of change model, which can help you identify where you might be in the change process.

Let me begin by explaining what this thing of “stages of change” is. In the 1970’s psychologists Carlo DiClemente, Ph.D. and James Prochaska, Ph.D. developed a theory of change which they called the Transtheoretical Model of Change. This model focuses on the decision-making processes folks need to attain intentional change. In short, this theory proposes that people don’t change behavior rapidly; it occurs through a series of cyclical processes. For example, have you ever tried to break an “unhealthy” habit, but it becomes incredibly challenging to attain? Like, you can do it perhaps for one week, but you’re back to the old behavior the next week? If you have, you’re not alone! It happens to all of us. Below I describe the stages of change. Try to evaluate where you are at the moment. Hopefully, it can guide you in deciding whether or not you’re ready for mental health care.

  1. Precontemplation– in this stage, people are not thinking of changing their behavior. They might even be unaware that their behavior is problematic or that it has negative repercussions. In better words in this stage behavioral change is not wanted or needed. The person has no intention whatsoever of doing anything to change their behavior. Typically, people in this stage overlook the benefits of therapy, how this can affect their life, and are quick to argue about the cons of changing the behavior. For example, have you ever encountered a person who is overworked? You can definitely tell that there’s something off. It can be because they are very anxious all the time or tend to be hard on themselves when things don’t go their way. However, if you share this with them the probable answer will be “what are you talking about? I am great! I don’t need help.” This is what this stage is all about. Having no awareness of how their busy life is affecting their mental health.
  2. Contemplation– in this stage, people begin to think about changing problematic behavior. Or for example, people might think “I might need to change X and Z because is causing anxiety.” Here, there’s recognition that they have a behavior that needs changing. It can also look like having more thoughtful consideration on whether the person should change the behavior. Note: folks might still feel ambivalent about behavior change. If we continue with the previous example, this might look like having more awareness of how having a busy lifestyle is affecting their mental health. You can even hear things like “I’m noticing that I am extremely exhausted by the end of the day and I’m more anxious than normal. Maybe I should get help. Not really sure, but I’m thinking about it.”
  3. Preparation (Determination)- have you ever said “enough is enough I am going to stop being so hard on myself?” Or have you ever found yourself more committed to doing anything in particular? That is exactly what preparation looks like. Here folks have made up their mind, and are ready to tackle the problem. People might begin to make small changes to engage in behavior change. This might look like feeling more committed to looking for a mental health provider or clinic and making an appointment.
  4. Action– in this stage, people have begun to change their behavior by actually initiating mental health care. People are intentional about moving forward with behavior change. Here, folks start to think that their decision of starting therapy will lead to a better and improved life.
  5. Maintenance– in this stage, folks are already in therapy and have acquired the skills that led them to behavior change. They are able to see their personal growth and change. They intend to sustain and maintain the new behavior.
  6. Termination– in this stage, folks have already fully implemented the strategies needed for change and have no intention of returning to unhealthy behaviors that keep them stuck.

 At times we might feel lost or not know where to start. We might even be unaware of the things and the resources out there that can help. Through the stages of change model, we can understand and help identify where we are at the moment. Ask yourself do I have some behaviors I would like to change? Am I ready to start this journey? Am I noticing a pattern that is keeping me stuck? Where am I in the stages of change? Am I ready to start individual therapy? Reflecting on your readiness for change might help identify how ready you are to start your emotional healing journey.  If you are ready to begin this process please schedule an initial appointment with Dr. Sandra Pabón. 

References:

American Psychological Association. (2003, December 3). Understanding how people change is the first step in changing unhealthy behavior. Retrieved from American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/research/action/understand

LaMort, W. (2019, September 9). The transtheoretical model (stages of change). Retrieved from MPH Online learning modules: https://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/sb/behavioralchangetheories/behavioralchangetheories6.html

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