the Stages of Change

Since it is a new year and many of us have created new years resolutions, why not write a post about the Stages of Change?!

What is the Stages of Change?

The Stages of Change is a model referring to how a person goes about changing a problematic behaviour.  The stages of change is a part of the Transtheoretical Model developed by DiClemente and Prochaska.

How did the Stages of Change originate?

DiClemente and Prochaska are researchers who were investigating alcoholism nearly 20 years ago (Gold, 2013).   They created a 5 stage model of change to help professionals understand their clients with addiction problems and motivate them to change (Gold, 2013).  However, counsellors and many other theorists have found the stages of change does not only apply to addiction, it can apply to any sort of behavioural change you would like to make.  Studies of change have found that people move through a series of stages when modifying behavior.

What are the Stages of Change?

(Gold, 2013)

  1. PreContemplation: Individuals in this stage are not even thinking about changing their behaviour.  They do not see it as a problem.  In this stage, you may see reluctance and rebellion.
  2. Contemplation: Individuals in this stage are considering that maybe they do have a problem.  However, they are still on the fence so in this stage you will see a lot of ambivalence.
  3. Preparation: In this stage, individuals have decided they do need a change and they start to prepare to make that change.  You may see determination.  It is important in this stage to develop a realistic plan and to plan ahead for possible roadblocks.
  4. Action: Individuals put their plan into action.  This stage involves making some sort of commitment and following through.
  5. Maintenance: Change requires building a new pattern of behaviour over time. The real test of change is long-term sustained change over many years (Gold, 2013).  Without a strong commitment to maintenance, there will definetly be relapse. Individuals need to develop a plan of maintenance so that they do not fall back into old ways.

Is it a linear process?

Not necessarily, some individuals do proceed through the stages linearly so they go from one stage to the next.  However some can go through a non-linear progression as well.  Often, individuals recycle through the stages or regress to earlier stages from later ones.


Relapse can occur at any stage and relapse is a normal part of change.  We all make mistakes and have slip ups, it is essential to not beat yourself up over it.  When relapse occurs, focus on the successful parts leading up to the relapse. I always say this to clients, “When you are on a diet and you eat a tiny piece of chocolate when you told yourself you weren’t going to, are you going to through all your hard work down the toilet?”  It’s easy to get frustrated and disappointed with ourselves for having a slip up, but what is more challenging is to get back up and do it again, it doesn’t mean you are starting over.  I think people get this notion in their head that once they have a slip up, it means they have to start all over.  Why is that?  It’s silly because it only hinders us from maintaining that positive change.  “You said you wanted to stop drinking, but you actually cut down quite a bit.” Acknowledge the successes, give yourself a pat on the back.  It’s important that we develop a realistic plan when trying to evoke change, and a realistic plan is that relapse will occur at some point.  So make sure you prepare for it and not let it get the best of you.  You’ve worked so hard and come this far, don’t throw all the hard work down the toilet for a slip up.


Gold, S. (2013). Stages of Change from


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