Join us for YTH Live Global! Learn More

ETR Logo ETR Logo ReCAPP logo

etr presents YTH LIVE Global 2021: October 4-6: Virtual. Register now at

Theories & Approaches

All Theories & Approaches

The Processes of Behavior Change

Once Prochaska and DiClemente identified the stages of change and their characteristics, the next challenge was to understand how one could move from one stage to the next. To explain this complex movement, they identified ten different processes and the stages where they seem most relevant.

The ten processes (and some examples of how the different forms they could take in an intervention) are:

  1. Consciousness-raising —finding and learning new facts and suggestions supporting the change (e.g., reading a book; watching a TV show; talking with a friend, teacher, or doctor)

  2. Dramatic Relief — experiencing and expressing negative feelings about one's problems such as worry or fear (e.g., communicating with a friend, partner, partner, counselor; writing in a journal)

  3. Self Re-evaluation — realizing that the behavioral change is part of one's identity (e.g., seeing yourself as a non-smoker or a fit person)

  4. Environmental Re-evaluation — assessing how one's problem affects the physical environment (e.g., realizing that second-hand smoke may affect non-smoking children and partners or even pets)

  5. Self Liberation — choosing and committing to act on a belief that change is possible (e.g., making a New Year's resolution); accepting responsibility for changing.

  6. Social Liberation — societal support for healthier behaviors (e.g., smoke-free workplaces; discussions about safer sex in school and communities)

  7. Counter-conditioning — substituting healthier alternatives for problem behaviors (e.g., using relaxation or meditation techniques instead of eating to deal with stress)

  8. Stimulus Control — avoiding triggers and cues (e.g., avoiding bars, friends who still smoke, dessert parties)

  9. Contingency Management — increasing the rewards of positive behavioral change and decreasing the rewards of the unhealthy behavior (e.g., buying new clothes after losing weight instead of eating dessert)

  10. Helping Relationships — seeking and using a strong support system of family, friends, and co-workers.1

The following table shows the stages at which each process seems to make the biggest difference.2

In addition to the stages and processes, the model features several other unique insights:

  • Decisional Balance: Weighing Pros and Cons. Prochaska and DiClemente understood that at each stage, a person weighs the pros and cons of adopting a new behavior. For precontemplators and contemplators, the cons loom large. They may feel the change is too difficult or not worth the effort. Giving up pleasures — be they food, alcohol, tobacco, or just the pleasure of being a couch potato — is a lot to ask. For most behavior changes, the sacrifices are immediate but the benefits are not.

    Prochaska and DiClemente call this weighing of pros and cons "decisional balance." For counselors, health educators, and others who want to intervene in the change process and help people move along its continuum, the task is to tip the scales: to make the pros outweigh the cons.

  • Self-efficacy. Self-efficacy — the confidence that one will be able to take action — is a feature of many health education and health promotion models. It is incorporated as a key element of the Stages of Change model since one of the pros that outweighs the many cons eventually takes the form of confidence that one can try the behavior change and sustain it. Confidence can be built in a variety of ways — such as role playing and preparing for situations that may be difficult, or practicing specific skills (such as negotiation or refusal), or even giving oneself pep talks ("You've done this before — you can do it again!").

  • Temptation. As mentioned previously, relapse is built into the Stages of Change model as a realistic sense that change is difficult and that a combination of cravings, emotional stress, and social situations or prompts can lead us back to old habits. Instead of viewing these events as failures, however, the model asks us to learn from each relapse: to recognize the signs of craving for what they are, to remove ourselves from social situations that don't support our behavior change, and/or to deal with stress in other ways.


1Prochaska, J.O., Redding, C.A., and Evers, K.E. The Transtheoretical Model and Stages of Change. In: Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2nd ed. Glanz, K., Lewis, F.M., and Rimer, B.K. (editors). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1997.

2Op cit, pg. 69.

Next: The Relevance of the Stages of Change Model >>