Change-Exploring Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model

For most of us making a change is a difficult process, even good ones. Change requires that we do something different and quite often demands that the people around us do something different. Many would argue that we are creatures who like routine and sameness. We get comfortable with the groove that we are in, even if it becomes a rut. So, as the research suggests, many of us feel stressed that we have to make changes in our life, even positive ones.

James Prochaska and his colleagues have been doing research on the change process for years. They have created what is called The Transtheoretical Model of Change which uses stages of change to integrate processes and principles of change that they have identified through their work. Prochaska became interested in the change process when he became involved in research on getting people to give up smoking. He soon realized that most of the existing programs were not terribly effective because they assumed that people were ready to make a change when most weren’t. In studying organizational change, Prochaska and his colleagues found that the majority of people in organization aren’t really ready to make changes when new management comes in. To be effective in creating change in an organization or an individual, the people involved in the process must be ready to change. This means that they have moved through the initial stages of the change process, what Prochaska has labeled as “pre-contemplation” and then “contemplation,” and finally have reached the decision stage where they can then make a decision and move into the action stage of actually making the change.

Most people in an organization, as I said, are often not ready to make a change because they haven’t really contemplated how the change would impact their lives or whether they can make a commitment to the change process. The same thing is true if someone is thinking about giving up smoking. They are often pre-contemplators. They aren’t even thinking seriously about making the change.

Pre-contemplators move to the second stage of change, contemplation, when you can get them to begin to think about the pros and the cons of making a change in their lives and whether they really have the efficacy, meaning the ability and motivation, to carry through with the change. Both are critical in determining whether people will make a decision to change and then follow through with an action plan.

So, how does all of this relate to dealing with adversity? To begin with, it may explain why people stay in bad situations — a bad relationship at work or a bad relationship at home, and why people continue to engage in behaviors, such as smoking, excessive use of alcohol and drugs when they “know” that these things are destructive to their health.

Understanding the change process could help people move out of difficult situations, give up bad habits and, in general, deal with adversity in their lives. We’ll talk more about this in the next post.

Ron Breazeale, PhD