This article looks at how a model of how people make changes proposed by the psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente can be used by life coaches as a framework for structuring coaching intervention, particularly in situations where a client is seeking to break away from a habitual form of behaviour which is creating repeated problems for them.

Prochaska and DiClemente’s model has been applied to working with a range of habitual problems, including:

- Smoking or misuse of alcohol
- Difficulties in relationships where there are repeating patterns
- Lack of assertiveness
- A tendency to procrastinate
- Situations where a person repeatedly jumps to erroneous assumptions or interpretations of events

The model proposes that people go through a number of stages on the way to changing a habitual behaviour, which may be listed as follows:

Pre-Contemplation: The person is not thinking at all about changing their behaviour. After Pre-Contemplation, at some point the client then moves into Stage 1:

Stage 1 – Contemplation: Here the person is in a state of ambivalence – i.e. they can see some benefits in changing but they are also aware of or experiencing the benefits of not changing, so as yet they haven’t started to change and are a stage of indecision.

Stage 2 – Decision: The person makes a decision to change. Usually this occurs after some specific triggering event, which increases their motivation to change – for example, if smoking cigarettes is the problem behaviour, then an event such as a relative or friend experiencing serious health problems from smoking might trigger the person to decide to cut down their own smoking.

Stage 3- Action: The person now begins to act. This may be by stopping the problem behaviour altogether (e.g. by ceasing smoking) or by reducing it (e.g. not giving up smoking altogether, but reducing it).

Stage 4 – Maintenance: If things are going well, then the person maintains their progress in stopping or cutting down the problem behaviour.

Permanent Exit – If the person is able permanently to avoid returning to the problem behaviour then they can be said to have permanently exited from the sequence of stages. Usually they may be said to be controlling or managing the problem rather than that it has disappeared. For example, they might still get cravings to smoke, but so long as they avoid actually smoking in practice they will avoid the harmful physical effects associated with smoking.

However, in most cases before they achieve permanent exit, the person will experience Stage 5, sometimes several times:

Stage 5: Lapse: The person slips back temporarily into the problem behaviour (e.g. perhaps they are particularly stressed one night and they have a cigarette).

If the client does lapse, then the coach can encourage them to respond to the situation practically – rather than see the lapse as a sign of failure, just see it as a natural stage in the process of change and encourage the client to see that they have a choice about whether to get back on track.

To view a flowchart depicting the different stages of the change model go to:

A coach can use this model of change in working with a client who is seeking to change a habitual behaviour, by showing the client the model of change, asking them to locate what stage they feel they are at currently and what stages they have moved through, and to elaborate on circumstances and their thoughts about this.

Different strategies are appropriate for different stages of the model. For example:

At the Pre-Contemplation phase, information as to why change may be helpful for the client, provided in a non authoritarian manner by way of simple information, may be of use.

When the client is experiencing Ambivalence, the coach can encourage them to:

- Analyse the arguments for and against change
- Reflect on different options for change and the likely effect of them
- Consider whether there are any very small ways they could begin to make changes in the direction of change, which seem reasonable and achievable to them.

At the Decision Stage, the client can be encouraged to:

- Plan change carefully rather than make a decision as a knee-jerk reaction
- Break the plan down into achievable goals
- Write down their commitment to change
- Think about where they can get support for following their plans.

At the Action and Maintenance Stages, the coach can encourage the client to:

- Follow their plan, monitor and review progress
- Reward and congratulate themself on successes (even small successes)
- Remind themself of the benefits that will ensue if they achieve goals and acknowledge & identify those benefits as they happen (even if only partially achieved)
- Pace themself at a level where they will be able to sustain motivation & if possible allow themself some time to relax when they are not focusing on their plan – Recognise they have a life outside the plan
- Try to learn from things which don’t turn out as they expect
- Make use of appropriate support.

If the client lapses at any stage, they can be encouraged not to relapse and return back to where they started from, but instead to recognise the progress they have made, revise their plan if necessary, learning from the lapse, and then get back on track.

Finally, for the client who has reached the Maintenance Stage, the coach may help them to:

- Recognise that development is an ongoing process
- Maintain and review plans until they are absolutely sure the plans are no longer required
- Think about whether there is a way they can help others make positive changes.

Author's Bio: 

David Bonham-Carter, MA, DipSW, CPE is an international life coach and stress consultant with over 15 years experience in the field of personal change management who has been featured on BBC radio giving expert life coaching advice.

Life Coach London, Bristol, UK and Worldwide.

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