The Cycle of Change

The Cycle of Change model, developed by Prochaska and DiClemente, helps us understand the process of how we change our behaviours. The model highlights the stages of awareness and commitment involved in behaviour change. Here’s a visual:

Let’s outline the different stages of the model and explain what may be going on here for someone with the addiction

  • Pre-contemplation: This is before any intention to change behaviour is present. The individual may or may not be aware that they have a problem or of the harmful effects of the behaviour in question. This could also be where the client has tried changing before but has relapsed and now is back into the habit with the idea that they aren’t going to change or they would like to change but think it would be too hard to do so chooses not to think about it.
  • Contemplation: Now the individual is thinking about the change and what that may involve. This includes the benefits of change and the routes they may take to get there. At this point is aware that their problem is there but are not committed to the change. Here the individual will explore action plans, be looking into how to get help or maybe even just may talk about it with close relationships. Here the individual need to come up with a plan that they think is realistic and achievable and then they can commit to planning to change.
  • Preparation: Intent is fixed on change and the behaviour change is imminent. Now the individual prepares for that change. This will include planning for the eventual cravings and deciding on the choices they will make in turn. Good preparation may include having a support network for times of crisis, creating appropriate distance from any triggers for the addiction to relapse and creating a specific date for change and committing to this.
  • Action: Now is the time for action! The time has come for the behaviour to change and the individual has committed to it. For action to be successful, it will involve several positive decisions leading away from this behaviour and positive reinforcement from the individual in each success.
  • Maintenance: Now the behaviour has been changed. The individual now needs to nurture these new behaviours as they become easier and replace the old behaviours. It’s important to keep in mind the reasons we changed the behaviour because cravings and temptation can come back at times of stress or in certain environments and in these trying times we must remember the importance of the change and keeping the positives of being clean of the behaviour clear in the mind. Maintenance could potentially be a lifelong stage once the behaviour has changed for the better. However, sometimes we can slip back into old patterns and enter a relapse
  • Relapse: The individual in relapse has fallen back into the old behaviours. This usually happens little by little with small decisions and allowances. However, it’s not long before the old behaviour is back in full force. Paying attention to this time of relapse can bring great insight into holes in ones’ armour with regards to their maintenance skills.

The cycle above could repeat itself several times before a resilient maintenance is achieved. However, each attempt at behaviour change holds the opportunity for learning about oneself and one’s needs. This is why we can visualise this cycle as a spiral. Each time we gain insight and experience the change and new behaviour, we build more momentum into holding the change

Each behaviour we have will subjectively meet one or many needs and it’s important that if we are to truly change a behaviour that our needs are being met by healthy means and not by the means of a self-destructive addiction.

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