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!--TL Setting The Stage for Change by Carole P. Smith, Ph.D.--> Setting The Stage for Change

Many of us are under the illusion that change is an all-or-nothing matter. "Just make up your mind and do it!"

Not so, say two research psychologists. James Prochaska, Ph.D. of the University of Phode Island and Carlo DiClemente, Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, have done studies on over 3,000 people to assess their readiness to take steps to address a problem. Their research indicates that individuals go through several well-defined, separate stages, often cycling back through them a few times before the new behavior becomes habitual or comfortable.

Precontemplation. People in this stage don't recognize or accept that they have a problem. Typical remarks might be: "It's your problem. If you would get off my back, everything would be OK". There's no intention to do anything different. A serious legal, health or relationship consequence sometimes can be a wake up call.

Contemplation. People in this stage may be willing to admit that something is wrong and that they are seriously thinking about change within the next 6 months. They feel ambivalent and may begin to recognize some anxiety about doing what it takes.

Preparation. In this stage there are intentions to take some action within a month and a person may already have tested the waters in minor ways. Telling a friend of their intention, getting information on a self-help grouup, committing to a starting date are examples. There is still likely to be ambivalence or hesitancy.

Action. Only about 10-15% of people making changes are in this stage at any given time. Even when they perform specific actions incompatible with the undesired (old) behavior, they may also telll themselves it isn't fast enough or good enough. Support by family and friends is very important here.

Maintenance. Even after new behavior is initiated, it isn't automatically living "happily ever after." Practice to strengthen the gains made in the action stage is crucial. Relapse prevention requires awareness of early backsliding and support against feeling discouraged it there is a temporary slip back into old behavior.

Whether the person in need of change is yourself or a loved one, recognizing where one is in the process makes for a more realistic evaluation. Accepting some temporary backsliding to an earlier stage and celebrating even small improvements are essential to lasting change. Remembering this will enable you to be patient and give the appropriate kind of support to ensure the best chance of success.

Carole P. Smith, Ph.D.
Staff Psychologist

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