Change is a certainty in everyone’s life. The manner in which people deal with change also changes. Through learning and life experience, individuals develop varied levels of flexibility towards transition, and these levels commonly dictate the person’s ability to productively cope with life’s challenges. Thus, readiness and ability to change are popular topics in therapeutic contexts such as counselling, life coaching and mentoring.
Essentially, change takes center stage in the counselling relationship
– a governing factor by which all effort is contingent upon. What
dictates a clients’ readiness to change, and how does that affect the
process of goal achievement in counselling? How to evoke change in
someone’s life, and at the same time, make sure the process is
self-directed and not imposed? What are the strategies and techniques
which enable counsellors to motivate their clients towards change?
In this article we attempt to answer these, and many other questions,
which hopefully will bring about positive change in your life, and the
lives of others.
Changing with a Purpose
Fundamentally, change is simply shifting from one state to another. But
change per se is not the objective of most individuals, and neither is
it the objective of counselling. Positive change, or optimization, is
the outcome we’re after.
Any process of optimization requires goals, motivation and a touch of
discipline. Individuals who are willing to change their lives will have
a reason for such, whether it is to impress others, to feel better
about themselves or to make things simpler or more complicated. There
is always a reason, thus a motive.
Furthermore, positive and meaningful changes in life require careful
planning and execution. It is much like running a business: things do
not happen overnight, there must be progressive development and
constant verification of goals and objectives.
Benefits of Positive
Most people, despite culture or orientation, are reserved about
changing their habits. Old habits can be challenges to proposed ones,
and getting out of the comfort zone may not be a pleasant activity. But
change can have its bright side.
Positive aspects may be overlooked as a result of negative thinking
patterns, but they are the primary motivators for the individual, who
can take advantage of any opportunity to visualise his/her own goals.
Life is a dynamic, cyclical balance of negatives and positives, and
focusing on the positives is a necessary task for optimization. So what
are some of the major benefits of change?
Novel opportunities: without change survival would be impossible.
Culture, agriculture, education, business would all fail. You don’t
have to like all aspects of change (there may be some disadvantages or
even teething problems with some changes) but there may be useful or
interesting benefits as well. Studies of some communities that have
denied change of any sort and prevented the flow of people and
information, and development of any new ideas, have been found to be
totally unsustainable and have survived no more than a few generations
before breaking up.
Maintaining flexibility: avoiding getting set in ways and trying to be
open to new ideas and ways of working and living is a major competitive
advantage in the road to success. New approaches may not always work,
but there is usually a lesson to be taken from each attempt.
Building self-confidence: change, personal growth and development have
been well established in research findings. Being in one’s own comfort
zone can lead to some contentment for a while, but as time goes on you
lose confidence and don’t acquire new abilities or skills. You become
out of touch. This can lead to social isolation and feelings of
marginalization or alienation.
Education: the most obvious area is learning from research and how this
can lead, for example, to exciting and important new scientific and
medical advances, or lead to understanding healthier ways of living. In
the extremely globalized world we live, learning new things supports
communication skills and adaptability.
Evoking Change in a Client
There are several therapeutic approaches which are useful to improve
clients’ readiness to change. It is important, however, to realize that
all these strategies are based on the same suggestion: motivation to
change is elicited from the client and not imposed from without.
Using coercion, persuasion or constructive confrontation will achieve
little if the client is simply “unready” to change. It is the client’s
task to articulate and resolve his/her own ambivalence in relation to
Stages of Change
Prochaska & DiClemente (1983) proposed a framework which
comprised various stages of change. Putting such stages into the
counselling perspective may help the counsellor understand the
challenges within the process of change. Six stages were proposed,
along with particular characteristics and techniques to support the
client in moving forward:
Pre-contemplati on: the client is not yet considering the option of
changing his/her life. Useful techniques in this stage include:
validating lack of readiness; encouraging re-evaluation of current
behavioural patterns; encouraging self-exploration and progressive
thinking; understanding the risks and limitations involved in the
process of change.
Contemplation: the client is undecided about changing. Immediate change
is unlikely to occur, however, it could occur within a month or so.
Useful techniques in this stage include: clarifying to the client that
the decision is his or hers; encouraging evaluation of benefits and
disadvantages; promoting accountability; visualising positive outcomes.
Preparation: change begins to develop, and the client is testing the
environment in order to ‘get a feel’ of the whole process. Useful
techniques in this stage include: assisting problem-solving and
identification of obstacles; developing supportive networks through
family, friends and others (particularly if the process of change is
radical); verifying the client’s skills towards change; encouraging
self-reward and gradual development.
Action: this is the critical phase in which the client will change or
return to his/her old habits. It usually lasts between 3-6 months.
Useful techniques in this stage include: assisting the client in become
more effective in the changing process and in conducting the behaviour;
assisting the client overcome feelings of loss and nostalgia, whilst
underlining the long-term benefits of the process.
Maintenance: this stage refers to the continued commitment to
sustaining the new behaviour. It is the classic period where new habits
develop into routinely tasks. Useful techniques in this stage include:
follow-up and motivational support; overview of values and benefits
derived from new behaviours; discussing coping with relapse.
Relapse: in this stage, old habits and behaviours resume which may
affect the client’s self-confidence and beliefs. This usually involves
a trigger, such as meeting an old friend from the period prior to
change, or doing an activity which is perceived to have been part of
the ‘old lifestyle’. Useful techniques in this stage include:
evaluating with the client was triggered the relapse; reassessing
motivation and establishing further goals and motivational sources;
planning more effective coping strategies.