Change is in all of our lives, at whatever stage of life, and wether we tend to seek it or avoid it.
What brings every human beings together is that we all suffer and yearn to be happy. We may not have the same definition of both suffering and happiness, but that is something one can find in all cultures across the world. What we share with the whole universe, as Heraclitus was quoted is that “the only constant of life is change”.
The thing is, though, that change can get really stressful, whether we seek it or not.
You see, no change is truly innocuous, even if there is a relative thrive for change in each individual. By disturbing the statu quo of our life, we send messages to our body, that will in return produce stress hormones to help us move, we disrupt an equilibrium, and each being tends to thrive towards maintaining that balance. Naturally and consequently, our mind will also create some mental resistance. This is a perfectly normal part of the process.
What that means is that change needs to respect our own personal pace. That is why it is very important for us to know where we are at when we want to change something, especially if it’s big, like an addiction or a mental illness.
Enters Prochaska and Di Clemente’s model of the stages of change, coined in 1983. We can skip a stage, go back at any point in the process, or stay stuck in one particular stage or a cluster of a couple of them back and forth. I see this as a guide, helping me to remember that each stage is a perfectly natural part of change, and that thinking about change is already very much change.
It was first used to help addicts quit their addiction. But it can be used in many different settings.
Each stage of change requires different communication from the helper who wants to accompany that change. We cannot talk about the same things, in the same way, depending on the person’s stage they are in. Otherwise, resistance will be too high, and creating defensiveness, even strengthen or create a refusal to budge.
As the Motivational interviewing (embracing that model) method states, we have to “roll with the resistance”, which can be very hard for professionals working with people suffering, especially when we want to help too badly. Being a good helper is a wonderful quality, precious in our lines of work. But, our best qualities can be our greatest flaws.
It can be a crucial insight as a professional working with individuals to know who you are a good fit with. A lot of us aspire to help as many people as we can, but the truth is we can’t help everyone. We might make it easier, and more fulfilling both for us, and the persons we are working with, if we know what kind of stages we are most suited to be helpful with.
I learnt how to work with every stages, enjoy supporting and guiding some planification, but my natural abilities are best used in the action and maintenance stage. That’s where I am doing my best work, that is why I focus on supporting people that are already in the process of change.
If I feel like someone want to change, but brings up a lot of resistance, I will redirect them towards colleagues helping them go smoothly and slowly towards solidfying their want to change enough to be able to let go of what they need to actually change while feeling safe. A lot of us want to change, without being ready to give up what’s keeping us stuck or without listening to our fear of change.
If you want to work in a more fulfilling way for each party involved, you may want to take the time to reflect on which stages appear in the times where you feel deeply fulfilled and energized. Where does the connection with the people you are working with feel the most fluid and engaging on both sides? It might help you calibrate where you might do your very best work.
This great article (including an audio description of the content) summaries very well which types of questions and conversations are helpful or detrimental depending on the stage of change people can be in. I also highly recommend the reading of Motivational interviewing from Rollnick and Miller if you want to explore this amazing tool.