On Your Mark... Get Set... Change!

On Your Mark... Get Set... Change!

Author: Dr. Julie T. Kinn is a clinical psychologist and the Deputy Director of the Mobile Health Program at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2).

In my last post Beg, bribe, or badger: How do I convince my spouse to get help?, I wrote about how difficult it is to force people to seek treatment for addictions or other mental health issues like depression and anxiety. This week I’m focusing on the overall ways people change for the better.

 

Not everyone makes life changes in the same way. For example, a lot of folks like to quit unhealthy behaviors “cold turkey” whereas others slowly taper down. However, there does appear to be a consistent way in which we wonderful humans think about and get ready to change. The way many mental health professionals think about behavior change is through the lens of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. According to this model, there are five stages we go through when we change our behavior:

  • Precontemplation: Not yet considering a change
  • Contemplation: Thinking about whether or not to try changing
  • Preparation: Getting ready to make a change
  • Action: Changing the behavior, and sticking to it for about six months
  • Maintenance: The changed behavior has become part of the individual’s life, but he or she still needs to prevent relapse

According to this viewpoint, people generally don’t skip stages, so you can’t rush your loved one through this process. That said, this model can help you understand the best type of support you can provide, and when to provide it.

 

Here’s an example to help paint what these stages look like. Let’s say your best friend’s drinking has reached a problematic level. In this hypothetical situation, she has confided to you that she sometimes misses work due to her drinking, and you have noticed that she is no longer dependable when you want to get together. Let’s go back through the stages of change listed above to identify the best kind of support for her.

  • Precontemplation: Your friend may not yet realize her drinking is a problem, or she may not think she has the power to change her behavior. Try clearly stating that you’re concerned about her drinking and let her know that you are standing by to help when she is ready. In the meantime, focus on taking care of yourself. The precontemplation stage is a particularly difficult time for loved ones.
  • Contemplation: Your friend is aware that her drinking is a problem, but is not yet certain that she is willing (or able) to change her behavior. As she weighs the pros and cons of changing how much she drinks, be available for support and to be her sounding board.
  • Preparation: Your friend is starting to think about how to cut down on her drinking and could use help identifying potential roadblocks. For example, if her family traditionally celebrates July 4th with lots of alcohol, she might want help coming up with a strategy in advance to avoid drinking.
  • Action: All right! She has started to reduce her drinking. For the next few months, sticking to the action stage will be difficult for her, especially around times when she previously drank a lot (holidays, stressful workdays, etc.). You can help your best friend by praising her success and helping her to see the positive results she is experiencing.
  • Maintenance: In addition to continuing your support of your friend’s behavior change, be prepared to help her if she slips a bit. If she drinks more than is healthy, try helping her reframe it as a small event instead of a major failure. This way, it will be easier for her to get right back up on the horse (or wagon – pick your favorite metaphor).

 

Now that you know what the stages of change look like, you can apply them in other situations. Consider healthy changes you have made in life – did your experience follow this pattern? And to learn more about behavioral health options open to the military community, consider calling the DCoE Outreach Center at 866-966-1020. There is even a live chat option.

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