The stages of change in therapy

Change is a constant in life, yet navigating through its stages can be a challenging journey. Whether you're aiming to break a habit, adopt a healthier lifestyle, or pursue personal development, understanding the stages of change can be invaluable. Originally conceptualised by psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in the 1980s, the stages of change model provides a roadmap for individuals striving for transformation.


1. Precontemplation

The first stage is precontemplation. At this juncture, individuals may be unaware or in denial of the need for change. They might resist feedback or dismiss the idea altogether. For instance, someone struggling with smoking might not acknowledge the health risks associated with their habit. Moving past precontemplation often involves increasing awareness and recognising the potential benefits of change.

2. Contemplation

Contemplation marks the next stage. Here, individuals acknowledge the need for change but may feel ambivalent or uncertain about taking action. They weigh the pros and cons, grappling with the challenges and potential outcomes. For instance, someone contemplating a career change might reflect on the risks and rewards involved. This stage is characterised by introspection and the exploration of possibilities.

Remember, change is not just about reaching a destination; it's about embracing the journey and the transformation it brings.

3. Preparation

The third stage, preparation, involves making concrete plans for change. Individuals in this stage are committed to taking action and may actively seek out resources and support. For example, someone preparing to start a fitness regimen might join a gym, purchase workout gear, and schedule exercise sessions. Preparation is crucial for setting the stage for successful implementation.

4. Action

In this stage, individuals actively modify their behaviour, implementing the plans they've formulated. It requires dedication, perseverance, and the ability to navigate obstacles. For instance, someone striving to improve their diet may start meal planning, cooking healthier recipes, and resisting temptations. Action is the visible manifestation of change in motion.

5. Maintenance

Maintenance follows the action stage. Here, individuals work to sustain the changes they've made and prevent relapse. It involves integrating new habits into daily life, reinforcing positive behaviours, and managing setbacks effectively. For example, someone who has quit smoking may employ strategies like avoiding triggers, seeking support from peers, and practising stress management techniques. Maintenance is about long-term commitment and resilience.

6. Termination

Finally, the stage of termination represents mastery and full integration of the desired change. At this point, the new behaviour becomes ingrained, and the individual no longer feels the temptation to revert to old habits. It signifies a successful transition and a sense of empowerment. For instance, someone who has overcome a phobia may no longer experience anxiety in triggering situations. Termination represents the ultimate achievement in the change process.

It's essential to recognise that progress through these stages is not always linear. Individuals may move back and forth between stages, experiencing lapses and regaining momentum. Relapse is a common phenomenon, but it doesn't signify failure; rather, it provides an opportunity for learning and growth.

From counselling services to community programmes and online platforms, there's a wealth of support to aid in personal transformation. Whether you're seeking to quit smoking, manage stress, or enhance your well-being, accessing these resources can enhance your journey towards change.

In conclusion, by recognising where you are in the process and embracing the challenges and opportunities each stage presents, you can navigate through change with greater clarity and resilience. Remember, change is not just about reaching a destination; it's about embracing the journey and the transformation it brings.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Twickenham TW1 & Richmond TW9
Written by Natasha Kelly, BA (Hons) MBACP
Twickenham TW1 & Richmond TW9

Natasha is a counsellor based in London and online. Her passion lies in helping individuals build meaningful connections and foster strong rapport. With a deep understanding of human emotions and interpersonal dynamics, she has worked as a primary school teacher and as a freelance writer on mental health.

Show comments

Find the right counsellor or therapist for you

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals