By Dr. Rosemary Behrens, Adjunct Professor of Counselor Education and Supervision
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself”
– Jalaluddin Rumi
Change is all around us and within us. Situations, such as the loss of a job, the death of a loved one or a serious medical diagnosis, are examples of change being thrust upon us. There is also a change that comes from within. A desire to improve health habits such as increasing exercise, improving eating habits, and establishing or improving spiritual practices would be changes from within. Change from within also follows a pattern of realization that change needs to happen, gathering tools to make the change happen, taking steps to make the change happen, and keeping the change going.
The Transtheoretical Model of Change (TTM), developed by James Prochaska and others, further outlines the stages of change. This theory postulates the stages of change as 1) precontemplation, 2) contemplation, 3) preparation, 4) action, 5) maintenance, and 6) termination. The theory also warns that relapse is possible throughout the stages. An example of how the theory works could be similar to making the keeping of a prayer journal a consistent practice.
Precontemplation may not seem like a stage of change because it is a precursor to change that occurs before an “aha moment” that signals that change can be an improvement. In the precontemplation stage, one is unaware that change even needs to happen. At this stage, one may have an active prayer life and know that others keep a prayer journal but have no thoughts of adding it to one’s routine.
The “aha moment” is when precontemplation moves into the contemplation stage. The contemplation stage indicates awareness that change would be a good thing. This stage also begins the gathering of information. At this stage, one may begin researching how keeping a prayer journal can be helpful, whether it is done with pen and paper or electronically.
Moving from the contemplation stage to the preparation stage occurs as more thought is given to the decision and a stronger commitment is made to follow through. An additional element of preparation may be gathering tools needed for action. At this stage, one may procure appropriate items for keeping a prayer journal such as a fresh journal and pens.
The preparation stage moves next to the action stage. The action stage is when the first journal entry is made. Then, the maintenance stage is the process of making the change a habit. For this illustration, the maintenance stage would indicate a consistent practice of prayer journal entries.
The final stage of TTM is the termination stage. This is not a termination of the new habit, but rather a termination of the concern that the new habit addressed. At this stage the act of not making an entry into the prayer journal would be somewhat distressful, creating a feeling of loss.
It is easy to see how relapse can occur at any of the stages. A new, healthy habit may be considered (contemplation stage) and then the thoughts wander away. Or perhaps the new habit was not only considered but also tools were obtained (preparation stage) and yet no action was taken. Maybe action was taken a few times and could not be maintained. Relapse is not failure, rather it is an invitation to revise and redo. Understanding how change happens can help us make changes in our own lives and also help us help others as they move through the stages of change.