The Five Stages of Change

If you are seeking healing from substance use disorder (SUD) or a mental health condition, you will likely experience varying levels of motivation during your recovery journey. While no person will follow the same path for treatment and recovery, many people experience five stages of change. Researchers have created a model of these five stages of change that can help you better understand where you stand in terms of your willingness to engage in behavioral change. Known also as the transtheoretical model (TTM), the stages of change model is understood to be the standard-bearer for change.

At 12 South Recovery, we work closely with our clients in treatment to help them understand where they fall within the stages of change. We can help those in the earlier stages by utilizing specific treatment approaches such as motivational interviewing (MI) to encourage self-motivation and commitment to behavior change. On the other hand, we help those in the later stages of change sustain their commitment to their wellness journey.

An Overview of the Five Stages of Change

According to the book Stages of Change Theory by Nahrain Raihan and Mark Cogburn, the TTM offers easy-to-follow steps toward change. Years of prior research along with the creation of TTM made it clear that individuals move through five distinct stages as they work to adopt healthy behaviors to replace unhealthy ones. The five stages of change are as follows:

  • Pre-contemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance

If you are interested in learning more about addiction and mental health treatment, you are likely among the contemplation/preparation stages of change. Moreover, as you work to understand the five stages of change, it may be helpful to illustrate each stage with specific examples. Furthermore, learning about specific interventions and tools that can be used to progress through each of the stages can be paramount for motivation and recovery.

#1. Pre-Contemplation

The first stage of change is the pre-contemplation stage. Quite literally, pre-contemplation occurs before you begin to contemplate whether or not a problem exists. According to the aforementioned book Stages of Change Theory, “Individuals in this stage are unaware of or have limited awareness of the problem or lack insight into the consequences of their negative/addictive behavior.” If you are in this stage, you may deny that a problem exists and might even work to defend any problematic behaviors you may be exhibiting.

To move from pre-contemplation to contemplation, you may benefit from participating in consciousness-raising therapies. Another situation that can move you to the next stage is major life changes. As you enter a new chapter of your life, you will be more likely to evaluate your behaviors and seek insight that will benefit you moving forward.

#2. Contemplation

The second stage of change is the contemplation stage, marked by an acknowledgment that a problematic behavior exists. If you are in this stage, you may seriously consider changing, yet you still feel stuck. The previously mentioned book explains, “The ambivalence and indecisiveness that occur in this stage cause people to remain stuck in ‘contemplation’ for at least six months.”

To move from contemplation to preparation, you may benefit by learning more about the progressively worsening consequences of continuing your problematic behavior. It may also be helpful to ask close friends and family members if they have ever struggled with something similar.

#3. Preparation

The third stage of change is the preparation stage. You may be in this stage if you can easily acknowledge that a behavior is problematic and you are willing to change it. Additionally, you may feel energized and excited by the thought of treatment and recovery. To move from preparation to action, you may benefit by gathering various treatment and self-help information to develop a plan for future action. Appropriate and intentional planning is necessary to successfully move to the action stage.

#4. Action

The fourth stage of change is the action stage. If you are in this stage, you are working to achieve and sustain lasting sobriety and/or the cessation of another problematic behavior. In addition, as the book mentions, “People in this stage are willing to receive assistance and support.” Treatment along with relapse prevention strategies are necessary for maintaining abstinence. It is essential to understand that the first three to six months of abstinence is considered the most vulnerable time for relapse.

#5. Maintenance

Finally, the fifth stage of change is the maintenance stage. This stage is marked by total abstinence from an adverse behavior for at least six months. You may find yourself in this stage as you become more confident in your ability to sustain positive life changes. Also, you may notice that you experience less severe temptations that could lead to future relapse. As the book explains, “People become skilled at anticipating potential triggers that may result in relapse and have constructed coping strategies to combat these situations in advance.”

Progressing Through the Five Stages of Change

Effectively progressing through the five stages of change takes time, accountability, and most importantly, participation in a professional treatment program. At 12 South Recovery, we offer several outpatient programs beginning with partial hospitalization (PHP), transitioning to intensive outpatient (IOP) and general outpatient programs. No matter where you find yourself among the stages of change, we can help you progress through the stages and establish lasting maintenance in your life.

Research has confirmed that there are five stages of change that individuals go through when working to cease unhealthy behaviors and adopt healthier ones. While progressing through the stages takes time, the stages of change model offers easy-to-follow steps toward change. At 12 South Recovery, we are committed to helping clients cease problematic substance use and other destructive behaviors in a way that works for them. We create customized treatment plans with a wide variety of therapeutic interventions to ensure that each plan is tailored to meet the unique needs and goals of each client. To learn more about the five stages of change or our treatment options, call (888) 830-8374 today.

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