Models of Change

Small safe experiments seem well-suited to approaches to therapy seeking to initiate and monitor the processes of change.

One of the better-known models of change was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente. The process is clearly described in an on-line blog and the stages of change can be summarised as you see below:

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Prochaska and DeClemente

Looking at this stage-by-stage, the approach demonstrates that much effort goes into get things ‘kick-started’.  Change is not initiated just by asking for it. Human beings seem to be designed to go around in circles before moving forward. This early stage of denial is rather important and potentially more helpful than we realise. It stops us in our tracks in order to ask the question – do we need to change? What was that? Is it a temporary blip? Is it worth bothering with? Just get over it! How often have you had such thoughts!




Notice the similar ‘stage’ approach to change in Prochaska’s model and the rather well-known work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and others,  when recognising our response to loss and separation:


See the source image


There is a close link between models of change and our reactions to losses and bereavement. I talk about problems with ‘step’ or stage models of change elsewhere. It may take time before the need for change emerges. Getting to a state of ‘readiness’ is part of what I refer to as the scenic route’ to change. The move along that scenic road requires action – some release of energy.

At the same time, action can shift my way of thinking,  and yet it is ill-advised for me to act unless I have identified the options available to me. This requires me to make judgements about the situation in which I now find myself, BUT I cannot make those judgements unless I can think. It’s easy to get caught in a circular argument especially when my ability to think is one of the first casualties when I am lobbed into a shocking situation.

So, as with our road safety training from childhood – STOP, LOOK and LISTEN. A rather friendly way of thinking about this is represented in the next diagram. Note the need to go round-and-round for a time early on. Even later on, we need to review what we’ve achieved. Isn’t that exactly the same as our need to consider the results of any small, safe experiment?

Each turn around the green oval, below, is a safe experiment. Each safe experiment needs preparation and each result needs to be reviewed in order to hang on to – maintain – any forward movement.


best prochaska / stages of change handout I've come across! love it! Therapy Tools, Play Therapy, Art Therapy, Therapy Activities, Change Management, Cbt, Social Work, Social Skills, School Counseling

Also, please note that action can initiate change, but some people are better at maintaining change than others. Some safe experiments are easy to initiate, and some are not so easy to sustain.

Have you noticed that?

The classic example here is the New Year Resolution. These are easy to make but are often not thought through;  they are difficult to sustain in practice. This model shows that the failure of new years’ resolutions reflects our failure to respect the importance of preparation.

Virginia Satir and the Systemic view of Change

Virginia Satir offered another view of change. One that still relies on the scenic route to change!

Virginia Satir change_process by Michael Erickson
This model suggests we will go around blissfully unaware – until such time as something unusual enters our life. In my experience as a teacher, this was often entering a course of study.

Going to a therapist can be just such a ‘foreign element’. It can bring resistance and chaos. Fortunately, it does not have to do this, but it is not easy to transform ourselves without something ‘tripping us up’, as the left hand side of the illustration demonstrates.

What do you make of this model, when compared to the notion of the Window of Tolerance (WOT)–  that tempts us into catastrophising, ritualising, rigidity and chaos?

This brings me to the last model of change I want to include (there are many so you could look further in to this subject if you like!).

Here is a Gestalt perspective on change.


Gestalt therapy for the development of Emotional Intelligence and  leadership - alp-network

This is drawn from:

The seven stages are:

I. Arousal: we experience an initial sensation, motivation, desire or need seeking some satisfaction. Use the Body Scan to help with this focus. That experience momentarily pushes others into the background.

II. Awareness: This greater focus changes our awareness and this may manifest in improved clarity of thought. We make the sub-conscious, more conscious. We become more in touch with a need or desire.

III. Mobilisation: this improved awareness can get us going – to mobilise our energy to act differently in order to meet that clearer need.

IV. Action:  here’s a familiar word – see the inverted tree, for instance. This ‘stage’ is about making an effort to move on or to take steps to make things happen. This page provides a way of categorising the actions you could take.

V Contact:  making a contact is just one action I can take.  There is a risk here, in any communication  – a threat and an opportunity to make a difference.

VI. Satisfaction: This stage can complete a process by fusing today’s normal with a developing new normal. We absorb the views of others and we can alter the way we act.   We can make the not so well known, into the something a little more known. This, in turn, may get recognition from others.

VII. Withdrawal: This is the process of retreating back into a Window of Tolerance if the need has been met – or I am needing recovery time. This last phase of the cycle allows us to rest from the effort made,  and become ready for the appearance of a new sensation, prompting the process to start over again.

Is this another helpful road map for you? Each phase in any model of change will meet with resistance and interruption. Therefore, some unfinished ‘stages’ remain internalised and awaiting resolution at some future date.

As you look over different views on the processes of change, what things do they have in common? What impact do these common threads have on your plans for any further safe experiments?

I should say that I will develop this thinking further, in due time, as I have a lot of time for Pam Levin’s Cycles of Power. Watch this space!


What ideas transforming your life can you remember from your past? It is likely that you did not notice where that idea came from. If you did, however, write something down about that trigger – the thing that helped bring the transforming thought or action into existence.

If you did not notice what brought it about consider, instead, the outcome or consequence of the transformation? What bits helped and what bits ended up hindering you after the event?

Use the diagrams to recall anything that describes the chaos you experiences Can you write about how you walked out of chaos into a more ‘integrated’ life – assuming this is what happened? Perhaps you noticed rigidity, rather than chaos – or catastrophising, rather than ritual responses.

Are there things that you need – even today – to help things fit together in your life (integration is a fancy term for fitting things together)?

If it helps, remember a time when you did a jig-saw. Often there is a moment when a lot of pieces are fitted together but it looks big and still disorganised. Then, often all of a sudden, the picture shrinks and you can see the whole thing. The end result, fully fitting together, is most often smaller than you anticipated.

When you have completed this experiment, please visit this page on the ‘scenic route‘ and makes some notes on the journey you took and some of the obstacles you had to overcome.  If you want research further, where did your journey fit into the Learning Curve?

PS If you think this is a new idea, take a look at John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress (1678)!


Return to:


How to give yourself a nudge

Maybe its just about change?

An illustrated path to change

The scenic route to change

Obstacles to change

My letter to you – if you want to makes changes