“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety,”
Abraham Maslow, psychologist
Change is often uncomfortable and may even be avoided. However, I would say 100% of the people I see during counselling want some sort of change. I could ask anyone off the street and there is something they would change about themselves or their life. Without change, our lives would be very boring and static. As we all know, life is quite dynamic, things change, people change. Over the course of any life time, a person will experience significant change at one point.
Adjusting to change can be welcomed or it can be overwhelming and create stress. Certain changes can be scary and come with their stressors, but they can be exciting. Changes, and especially difficult changes, can influence personal growth, and dealing with a change successfully may leave one stronger, more confident, and better prepared for what comes next in life. In other words, even those changes that are neither expected nor wanted might still produce some beneficial outcome.
When I reflect back on the significant changes I experienced in my life, there was definetly a period of stress and anxiety especially as I adjusted. Surprisingly, I myself do not always like change. I am a creature of habit and enjoy stability. However, I have learned through my experiences that change and feeling uncomfortable can be rewarding. Beginning my master’s degree was absolutely terrifying, I didn’t know anyone, and wasn’t familar with the school. It was the best decision I ever made and the reward of all the knowledge and experience I gained I cannot even put into words.
Needless to say, there are times when change is out of our control or leads to undesirable outcomes. Unexpected change can be difficult. Some change can create stress and a person may have difficulty coping. This stress could lead to a person experiencing depression, anxiety, or even physiological symptoms like insomnia, difficulty eating, headaches etc. The most important thing to do during change is to take care of yourself, engage in self-care. If you still are experiencing difficulty, you may want to enlist the support and help from friends and family, a medical doctor, or even a counsellor.
Transtheoretical Model of Change
A theory I have used in my counselling practice is called the Transtheoretical Model of Change. This theory and model was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente (1983). It began with smoking cessation studies. The model draws on fields of psychotherapy and behaviour change. The model has been applied to a wide range of health behaviours like addiction, bullying, eating disorders, HIV/AIDS prevention, etc.
According to this theory, there are six stages of change and we will go through all of these stages.
1. Pre-contemplation: no foreseeable action for change. Clients are not ready.
2. Contemplation: there is intention for change, but no action. Clients are thinking about getting ready for change. They are aware there is a problem or a need for change, but there is no commitment to change.
3. Preparation: beginning to make a plan of action. Clients are taking the steps to get ready for behavioural change. There is an intent for action.
4. Action: behavioural change is made. Clients are active in change.
5. Maintenance: the real tricky part is to maintain the change over time.
6. Relapse: falling back into old behaviour before change.
Termination: change is complete.
Click here for a worksheet with the Stages of Change
I find individuals may get stuck in Contemplation and Preparation Stages. It can be overwhelming and scary to take the first step of change. It may also be confusing and you don’t know where to start. A tool I’ve found helpful is the Decision-Balance Grid. When we think about making changes, most of us don’t really consider all “sides” in a complete way. Instead, we often do what we think we “should” do, avoid doing things we don’t feel like doing, or just feel confused or overwhelmed and give up thinking about it at all. Thinking through the pros and cons of both changing and not changing is one helpful way to make sure we have fully considered the decision to make a change. This can give us something to hold onto in times of stress or temptation and not relapse into an old pattern of behaviour.
Click here for a worksheet on the Decision-Balance Grid
Change is a part of life. We cannot avoid it. Sometimes it will just happen. What we can control is our thinking and way of adapting/coping. Overcoming negative thoughts patterns and developing a positive outlook will shift your thinking so that you learn to see opportunities for growth where previously there were only roadblocks and barriers. Every cloud has a silver lining and every big change has something you can take away like something you’ve learned or experienced.
Prochaska, J. O., DiClemente, C. C. (2005). The transtheoretical approach. In: Norcross, JC; Goldfried, MR. (eds.) Handbook of psychotherapy integration (2nd ed). New York: Oxford University Press, 147–171.