In Search of How People Change
Applications to Addictive Behaviors
James O. Prochaska
Carlo C. DiClemente
John C. Norcross
Cancer Prevention Research Consortium,
University of Rhode Island
University of Houston
How people intentionally change addictive behaviors with
and without treatment is not well understood by behavioral
scientists. This article summarizes research on self-ini-
tiated and professionally facilitated change of addictive
behaviors using the key transtheoretical constructs of
stages and processes of change. Modification of addictive
behaviors involves progression through five stages—pre-
contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and
maintenance—and individuals typically recycle through
these stages several times before termination of the ad-
diction. Multiple studies provide strong support for these
stages as well as for a finite and common set of change
processes used to progress through the stages. Research
to date supports a transtheoretical model of change that
systematically integrates the stages with processes of
change from diverse theories of psychotherapy.
Hundreds of psychotherapy outcome studies have dem-
onstrated that people successfully change with the help
of professional treatment (Lambert, Shapiro, & Bergin,
1986; Smith, Glass, & Miller, 1980). These outcome stud-
ies have taught us relatively little, however, about how
people change with psychotherapy (Rice & Greenberg,
1984). Numerous studies also have demonstrated that
many people can modify problem behaviors without the
benefit of formal psychotherapy (Marlatt, Baer, Donovan,
& Divlahan, 1988; Schachter, 1982; Shapiro et al., 1984;
Veroff, Douvan, & Kulka, 1981a, 1981b). These studies
have taught us relatively little, however, about how people
change on their own.
Similar results are found in the literature on addic-
tive behaviors. Certain treatment methods consistently
demonstrate successful outcomes for alcoholism and other
addictive behaviors (Miller & Hester, 1980, 1986). Self-
change has been documented to occur with alcohol abuse,
smoking, obesity, and opiate use (Cohen et al., 1989; Or-
ford, 1985; Roizen, Cahaland, & Shanks, 1978; Schachter,
1982; Tuchfeld, 1981). Self-change of addictive behaviors
is often misnamed "spontaneous remission," but such
change involves external influence and individual com-
mitment (Orford, 1985; Tuchfeld, 1981). These studies
demonstrate that intentional modification of addictive
behaviors occurs both with and without expert assistance.
Moreover, these changes involve a process that is not well
Over the past 12 years, our research program has
been dedicated to solving the puzzle of how people in-
tentionally change their behavior with and without psy-
chotherapy. We have been searching for the structure of
change that underlies both self-mediated and treatment-
facilitated modification of addictive and other problem
behaviors. We have concentrated on the phenomenon of
intentional change as opposed to societal, developmental,
or imposed change. Our basic question can be framed as
follows: Because successful change of complex addictions
can be demonstrated in both psychotherapy and self-
change, are there basic, common principles that can reveal
the structure of change occurring with and without psy-
This article provides a comprehensive summary of
the research on the basic constructs of a model that helps
us understand self-initiated and professionally assisted
changes of addictive behaviors. The key transtheoretical
concepts of the stages and processes of change are ex-
amined, and their applications to a variety of addictive
behaviors and populations are reviewed. This transtheo-
retical model offers an integrative perspective on the
structure of intentional change.
Stages of Change
One objective of treatment outcome research in the ad-
dictions is to establish the efficacy of interventions. How-
ever, study after study demonstrates that not all clients
suffering from an addictive disorder improve: Some drop
out of treatment, and others relapse following brief im-
provement (Kanfer, 1986; Marlatt & Gordon, 1985). In-
adequate motivation, resistance to therapy, defensiveness,
and inability to relate are client variables frequently in-
voked to account for the imperfect outcomes of the change
enterprise. Inadequate techniques, theory, and relationship
skills on the part of the therapist are intervention variables
frequently blamed for lack of therapeutic success.
In our earliest research we found it necessary to ask
Bernadette Gray-Little served as action editor for this article.
This research was supported in part by Grants CA27821 and
CA50087 from the National Cancer Institute.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
James Q Prochaska, Cancer Prevention Research Consortium, University
of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881.
September 1992 • American Psychologist
Copyright 1992 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0OO3-066X/92/$2 00
when changes occur, in order to explain the relative con-
tributions of client and intervention variables and to un-
derstand the underlying structure of behavior change
(DiClemente & Prochaska, 1982; Prochaska & Di-
Clemente, 1983). Individuals modifying addictive behav-
iors move through a series of stages from precontempla-
tion to maintenance. A linear schema of the stages was
discovered in research with smokers attempting to quit
on their own and with smokers in professional treatment
programs (DiClemente & Prochaska, 1982). People were
perceived as progressing linearly from precontemplation
to contemplation, then from preparation to action, and
finally into maintenance. Precursors of this stage model
can be found in the writings of Horn and Waingrow (1966),
Cashdan (1973), and Egan (1975). Variations of and al-
ternatives to our stage model can be found in more recent
writings of Beitman (1986); Brownell, Marlatt, Lichten-
stein, and Wilson (1986); Dryden (1986); and Marlatt and
Several lines of research support the stages of change
construct (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1992). Stages of
change have been assessed in outpatient therapy clients
as well as self-changers (DiClemente & Hughes, 1990;
DiClemente & Prochaska, 1985; DiClemente, Prochaska,
& Gilbertini, 1985; Lam, McMahon, Priddy, & Gehred-
Schultz, 1988; McConnaughy, DiClemente, Prochaska,
& Velicer, 1989). Clusters of individuals have been found
in each of the stages of change, whether the individuals
were presenting for psychotherapy or attempting to
change on their own. Stages of change have been ascer-
tained by two different self-report methods: a discrete
categorical measure, which assesses the stage from a series
of mutually exclusive questions (DiClemente et al., 1991),
and a continuous measure, which yields separate scales
for precontemplation, contemplation, action, and
maintenance (McConnaughy et al., 1989; McConnaughy,
Prochaska, & Velicer, 1983).
In our original research we had identified five stages
(Prochaska & DiClemente, 1982). But in principal com-
ponent analyses of the continuous measure of stages, we
consistently found only four scales (McConnaughy et al.,
1983, 1989). We misinterpreted these data to mean that
there were only four stages. For seven years we worked
with a four-stage model, omitting the stage between con-
templation and action (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983,
1985, 1986). We now realize that in the same studies on
the continuous measures, cluster analyses had identified
groups of individuals who were in the preparation stage
(McConnaughy et al., 1983, 1989). They scored high on
both the contemplation and action scales. Unfortunately
we paid more attention to principle component analyses
rather than the cluster analyses and ignored the prepa-
ration stage. Recent research has supported the impor-
tance of assessing preparation as a fifth stage of change
(DiClemente etal., 1991; Prochaska &Diclemente, 1992).
Following are brief descriptions of each of the five stages.
Precontemplation is the stage at which there is no
intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future.
Many individuals in this stage are unaware or underaware
of their problems. As G. K. Chesterton once said, "It
isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't
see the problem." Families, friends, neighbors, or em-
ployees, however, are often well aware that the precon-
templators have problems. When precontemplators pre-
sent for psychotherapy, they often do so because of pres-
sure from others. Usually they feel coerced into changing
the addictive behavior by a spouse who threatens to leave,
an employer who threatens to dismiss them, parents who
threaten to disown them, or courts who threaten to punish
them. They may even demonstrate change as long as the
pressure is on. Once the pressure is off, however, they
often quickly return to their old ways.
In our studies using the discrete categorization mea-
surement of stages of change, we ask whether the indi-
vidual is seriously intending to change the problem be-
havior in the near future, typically within the next six
months. If not, he or she is classified as a precontemplator.
Even precontemplators can wish to change, but this seems
to be quite different from intending or seriously consid-
ering change in the next six months. Items that are used
to identify precontemplation on the continuous stage of
change measure include "As far as I'm concerned, I don't
have any problems that need changing" and "I guess I
have faults, but there's nothing that I really need to
change." Resistance to recognizing or modifying a prob-
lem is the hallmark of precontemplation.
Contemplation is the stage in which people are aware
that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about
overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to
take action. People can remain stuck in the contemplation
stage for long periods. In one study of self-changers, we
followed a group of 200 smokers in the contemplation
stage for two years. The modal response of this group was
to remain in the contemplation stage for the entire two
years of the project without ever moving to significant
action (DiClemente & Prochaska, 1985; Prochaska &
The essence of the contemplation stage is commu-
nicated in an incident related by Benjamin (1987). He
was walking home one evening when a stranger ap-
proached him and inquired about the whereabouts of a
certain street. Benjamin pointed it out to the stranger
and provided specific instructions. After readily under-
standing and accepting the instructions, the stranger began
to walk in the opposite direction. Benjamin said, "You
are headed in the wrong direction." The stranger replied,
"Yes, I know. I am not quite ready yet." This is contem-
plation: knowing where you want to go but not quite
Another important aspect of the contemplation stage
is the weighing of the pros and cons of the problem and
the solution to the problem. Contemplators appear to
struggle with their positive evaluations of the addictive
behavior and the amount of effort, energy, and loss it will
cost to overcome the problem (DiClemente, 1991; Pro-
chaska & DiClemente, 1992; Velicer, DiClemente, Pro-
chaska, & Brandenburg, 1985). On discrete measures,
individuals who state that they are seriously considering
September 1992 • American Psychologist
changing the addictive behavior in the next six months
are classified as contemplators. On the continuous mea-
sure these individuals would be endorsing such items as
"I have a problem and I really think I should work on
it" and "I've been thinking that I might want to change
something about myself." Serious consideration of prob-
lem resolution is the central element of contemplation.
Preparation is a stage that combines intention and
behavioral criteria. Individuals in this stage are intending
to take action in the next month and have unsuccessfully
taken action in the past year. As a group, individuals who
are prepared for action report some small behavioral
changes, such as smoking five cigarettes less or delaying
their first cigarette of the day for 30 minutes longer than
precontemplators or contemplators (DiClemente et al.,
1991). Although they have made some reductions in their
problem behaviors, individuals in the preparation stage
have not yet reached a criterion for effective action, such
as abstinence from smoking, alcohol abuse, or heroin use.
They are intending, however, to take such action in the
very near future. On the continuous measure they score
high on both the contemplation and action scales. Some
investigators prefer to conceptualize the preparation stage
as the early stirrings of the action stage. We originally
called it decision making.
Action is the stage in which individuals modify their
behavior, experiences, or environment in order to over-
come their problems. Action involves the most overt be-
havioral changes and requires considerable commitment
of time and energy. Modifications of the addictive behav-
ior made in the action stage tend to be most visible and
receive the greatest external recognition. People, including
professionals, often erroneously equate action with
change. As a consequence, they overlook the requisite
work that prepares changers for action and the important
efforts necessary to maintain the changes following action.
Individuals are classified in the action stage if they
have successfully altered the addictive behavior for a pe-
riod of from one day to six months. Successfully altering
the addictive behavior means reaching a particular cri-
terion, such as abstinence. With smoking, for example,
cutting down by 50% and changing to lower tar and nic-
otine cigarettes are behavior changes that can better pre-
pare people for action but do not satisfy the field's criteria
for successful action. On the continuous measure, indi-
viduals in the action stage endorse statements such as "I
am really working hard to change" and "Anyone can talk
about changing; I am actually doing something about it."
They score high on the action scale and lower on the
other scales. Modification of the target behavior to an
acceptable criterion and significant overt efforts to change
are the hallmarks of action.
Maintenance is the stage in which people work to
prevent relapse and consolidate the gains attained during
action. Traditionally, maintenance was viewed as a static
stage. However, maintenance is a continuation, not an
absence, of change. For addictive behaviors this stage ex-
tends from six months to an indeterminate period past
the initial action. For some behaviors maintenance can
be considered to last a lifetime. Being able to remain free
of the addictive behavior and being able to consistently
engage in a new incompatible behavior for more than six
months are the criteria for considering someone to be in
the maintenance stage. On the continuous measure, rep-
resentative maintenance items are "I may need a boost
right now to help me maintain the changes I've already
made" and "I'm here to prevent myself from having a
relapse of my problem." Stabilizing behavior change and
avoiding relapse are the hallmarks of maintenance.
Spiral Pattern of Change
As is now well-known, most people taking action to mod-
ify addictions do not successfully maintain their gains on
their first attempt. With smoking, for example, successful
self-changers make an average of from three to four action
attempts before they become long-term maintainers
(Schachter, 1982). Many New Year's resolvers report five
or more years of consecutive pledges before maintaining
the behavioral goal for at least six months (Norcross &
Vangarelli, 1989). Relapse and recycling through the stages
occur quite frequently as individuals attempt to modify
or cease addictive behaviors. Variations of the stage model
are being used increasingly by behavior change specialists
to investigate the dynamics of relapse (e.g., Brownell et
al., 1986; Donovan & Marlatt, 1988).
Because relapse is the rule rather than the exception
with addictions, we found that we needed to modify our
original stage model. Initially we conceptualized change
as a linear progression through the stages; people were
supposed to progress simply and discretely through each
step. Linear progression is a possible but relatively rare
phenomenon with addictive behaviors.
Figure 1 presents a spiral pattern that illustrates how
most people actually move through the stages of change.
In this spiral pattern, people can progress from contem-
plation to preparation to action to maintenance, but most
individuals will relapse. During relapse, individuals re-
gress to an earlier stage. Some relapsers feel like failures—
embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty. These individuals be-
come demoralized and resist thinking about behavior
A Spiral Model of the Stages of Change
PRECONTEMPLATION (CONTEMPLATION PREPARATIO|
PRECONTEMPLATION CONTEMPLATION PREPAHATIOI
September 1992 • American Psychologist
change. As a result, they return to the precontemplation
stage and can remain there for various periods of time.
Approximately 15% of smokers who relapsed in our self-
change research regressed back to the precontemplation
stage (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1986).
Fortunately, this research indicates that the vast ma-
jority of relapsers—85% of smokers, for example—recycle
back to the contemplation or preparation stages (Pro-
chaska & DiClemente, 1984). They begin to consider
plans for their next action attempt while trying to learn
from their recent efforts. To take another example, fully
60% of unsuccessful New Year's resolvers make the same
pledge the next year (Norcross, Ratzin, & Payne, 1989;
Norcross & Vangarelli, 1989). The spiral model suggests
that most relapsers do not revolve endlessly in circles and
that they do not regress all the way back to where they
began. Instead, each time relapsers recycle through the
stages, they potentially learn from their mistakes and can
try something different the next time around (DiClemente
On any one trial, successful behavior change is lim-
ited in the absolute numbers of individuals who are able
to achieve maintenance (Cohen et al., 1989; Schachter,
1982). Nevertheless, in a cohort of individuals, the number
of successes continues to increase gradually over time.
However, a large number of individuals remain in con-
templation and precontemplation stages. Ordinarily, the
more action taken, the better the prognosis. Much more
research is needed to better distinguish those who benefit
Percentage Abstinent Over 18 Months for Smokers in
Precontemplation (PC), Contemplation (C), and
Preparation (P/A) Stages Before Treatment (N = 570)
Pretest 1 6 12
from recycling from those who end up spinning their
Additional investigations will also be required to ex-
plain the idiosyncratic patterns of movement through the
stages of change. Although some transitions, such as from
contemplation to preparation, are much more likely than
others, some people may move from one stage to any
other stage at any time. Each stage represents a period of
time as well as a set of tasks needed for movement to the
next stage. Although the time an individual spends in
each stage may vary, the tasks to be accomplished are
assumed to be invariant.
Professionals frequently design excellent action-oriented
treatment and self-help programs but then are disap-
pointed when only a small percentage of addicted people
register, or when large numbers drop out of the program
after registering. To illustrate, in a major health mainte-
nance organization (HMO) on the West Coast, over 70%
of the eligible smokers said they would take advantage of
a professionally developed self-help program if one was
offered (Orleans et al., 1988). A sophisticated action-ori-
ented program was developed and offered with great pub-
licity. A total of 4% of the smokers signed up. As another
illustration, Schmid, Jeffrey, and Hellerstedt (1989) com-
pared four different recruitment strategies for home-based
intervention programs for smoking cessation and weight
control. The recruitment rates ranged from 1% to 5% of
those eligible for smoking cessation programs and from
3% to 12% for those eligible for weight control programs.
The vast majority of addicted people are not in the
action stage. Aggregating across studies and populations
(Abrams, Follick, & Biener, 1988; Gottleib, Galavotti,
McCuan, & McAlister, 1990; Pallonen, Fava, Salonen, &
Prochaska, in press), 10%-15% of smokers are prepared
for action, approximately 30%-40% are in the contem-
plation stage, and 50%-60% are in the precontemplation
stage. If these data hold for other populations and prob-
lems, then professionals approaching communities and
worksites with only action-oriented programs are likely
to underserve, misserve, or not serve the majority of their
Moving from recruitment rates to treatment out-
comes, we have found that the amount of progress clients
make following intervention tends to be a function of
their pretreatment stage of change (e.g., Prochaska &
DiClemente, 1992; Prochaska, Norcross, Fowler, Follick,
& Abrams, 1992). Figure 2 presents the percentage of
570 smokers who were not smoking at four follow-ups
over an 18-month period as a function of the stage of
change before random assignment to four home-based
self-help programs. Figure 2 indicates that the amount
of success smokers reported after treatment was directly
related to the stage they were in before treatment (Pro-
chaska & DiClemente, 1992). To treat all of these smokers
as if they were the same would be naive. And yet, that is
what we traditionally have done in many of our treatment
September 1992 • American Psychologist
If clients progress from one stage to the next during
the first month of treatment, they can double their chances
of taking action during the initial six months of the pro-
gram. Of the precontemplators who were still in precon-
templation at one month follow-up, only 3% took action
by six months. For the precontemplators who progressed
to contemplation at one month, 7% took action by six
months. Similarly, of the contemplators who remained
in contemplation at one month, only 20% took action by
six months. At one month, 41% of the contemplators
who progressed to the preparation stage attempted to quit
by six months. These data demonstrate that treatment
programs designed to help people progress just one stage
in a month can double the chances of participants taking
action on their own in the near future (Prochaska &
Mismatching Stage and Treatment
A person's stage of change provides proscriptive as well
as prescriptive information on treatments of choice. Ac-
tion-oriented therapies may be quite effective with indi-
viduals who are in the preparation or action stages. These
same programs may be ineffective or detrimental, how-
ever, with individuals in precontemplation or contem-
An intensive action- and maintenance-oriented
smoking cessation program for cardiac patients was highly
successful for those patients in action and ready for action.
This same program failed, however, with smokers in the
precontemplation and contemplation stages (Ockene,
Ockene, & Kristellar, 1988). Patients in this special care
program received personal counseling in the hospital and
monthly telephone counseling calls for six months fol-
lowing hospitalization. Of the patients who began the
program in action or preparation stages, an impressive
94% were not smoking at six-month follow-up. This per-
centage is significantly higher than the 66% nonsmoking
rate of the patients in similar stages who received regular
care for their smoking problem. The special care program
had no significant effects, however, with patients in the
precontemplation and contemplation stages. For patients
in these stages, regular care did as well or better.
Independent of the treatment received, there were
clear relationships between pretreatment stage and out-
come. Twenty-two percent of all precontemplators, 43%
of the contemplators, and 76% of those in action or pre-
pared for action at the start of the study were not smoking
six months later.
A mismatched stage effect occurred with another
smoking program. An HMO-based self-help smoking
cessation program for pregnant women was successful
with patients prepared for action but had negligible im-
pact on those in the precontemplation stage. Of the
women in the preparation stage who received a series of
seven self-help booklets through the mail, 38% were not
smoking at the end of pregnancy (which was approxi-
mately 6 months posttreatment). This was triple the 12%
success rate obtained for those who received regular care
of advice and fact sheets. For precontemplators, however,
6% of those receiving special care and 6% receiving regular
care were not smoking at the end of pregnancy (Ershoff,
Mullen, & Quinn, 1987). These two illustrative studies
portend the potential importance of matching treatments
to the client's stage of change (DiClemente, 1991; Pro-
Stage Movements During Treatment
What progress do patients in formal treatment evidence
on the stages of change? In a cross-sectional study we
compared the stages of change scores of 365 individuals
presenting for psychotherapy with 166 clients currently
engaged in therapy (Prochaska & Costa, 1989). Patients
entering therapy could usually be characterized as pre-
pared for action because their highest score was on the
contemplation scale and second highest was on the action
scale. The contemplation and action scores crossed over
for patients in the midst of treatment. Patients in the
middle of therapy could be characterized as being in the
action stage because their highest score was on the action
scale. Compared with patients beginning treatment, those
in the middle of therapy were significantly higher on the
action scale and significantly lower on the contemplation
and precontemplation scales.
We interpreted these cross-sectional data as indi-
cating that, over time, patients who remained in treatment
progressed from being prepared for action into taking
action. That is, they shifted from thinking about their
problems to doing things to overcome them. Lowered
precontemplation scores also indicated that, as engage-
ment in therapy increased, patients reduced their defen-
siveness and resistance. The vast majority of the 166 pa-
tients who were in the action stage were participating in
more traditional insight-oriented psychotherapies. The
progression from contemplation to action is postulated
to be essential for beneficial outcome, regardless of
whether the treatment is action oriented or insight ori-
ented (also see Wachtel, 1977,1987).
This crossover pattern from contemplation to action
was also found in a longitudinal study of a behavior ther-
apy program for weight control (Prochaska, Norcross, et
al., 1992). Figure 3 presents the stages of change scores
at pre- and midtreatment. As a group, these subjects en-
tering treatment could be characterized as prepared for
action. During the first half of treatment, members of
this contingent progressed into the action stage, with their
contemplation scores decreasing significantly and their
action scores increasing significantly.
The more clients progressed into action early in
therapy, the more successful they were in losing weight
by the end of treatment. The stages of change scores were
the second best predictors of outcome; they were better
predictors than age, socioeconomic status, problem se-
verity and duration, goals and expectations, self-efficacy,
and social support. The only variables that outperformed
the stages of change as outcome predictors were the pro-
cesses of change the clients used early in therapy.
September 1992 • American Psychologist
A Longitudinal Comparison of Stages of Change
Scores for Clients Before (Week I) and Midway
Through (Week 5) a Behavioral Program for Weight
STAGES OF CHANGE-WEIGHT
Processes of Change
The stages of change represent a temporal dimension that
allows us to understand when particular shifts in attitudes,
intentions, and behaviors occur. The processes of change
are a second major dimension of the transtheoretical
model that enable us to understand how these shifts occur.
Change processes are covert and overt activities and ex-
periences that individuals engage in when they attempt
to modify problem behaviors. Each process is a broad
category encompassing multiple techniques, methods,
and interventions traditionally associated with disparate
theoretical orientations. These change processes can be
used within therapy sessions, between therapy sessions,
or without therapy sessions.
The change processes were first identified theoreti-
cally in a comparative analysis of the leading systems of
psychotherapy (Prochaska, 1979). The processes were se-
lected by examining recommended change techniques
across different theories, which explains the term trans-
theoretical. At least 10 subsequent principal component
analyses on the processes of change items, conducted on
various response formats and diverse samples, have
yielded similar patterns (Norcross & Prochaska, 1986;
Prochaska & DiClemente, 1983; Prochaska & Norcross,
1983; Prochaska, Velicer, DiClemente, & Fava, 1988). Ex-
tensive validity and reliability data on the processes have
been reported elsewhere (Prochaska et al., 1988). The
processes are typically assessed by means of a self-report
instrument but have also been reliably identified in tran-
scriptions of psychotherapy sessions (O'Connell, 1989).
Our research discovered that naive self-changers used
the same change processes that have been at the core of
psychotherapy systems (DiClemente & Prochaska, 1982,
1985; Prochaska & DiClemente, 1984). Although dis-
parate theories will emphasize certain change processes,
the breadth of processes we have identified appear to cap-
ture basic change activities used by self-changers, psy-
chotherapy clients, and mental health professionals.
The processes of change represent an intermediate
level of abstraction between metatheoretical assumptions
and specific techniques spawned by those theories. Gold-
fried (1980, 1982), in his influential call for a rapproach-
ment among the therapies, independently recommended
change principles or processes as the most fruitful level
for psychotherapy integration. Subsequent research on
proposed therapeutic commonalities (Grencavage &
Norcross, 1990) and agreement on treatment recom-
mendations (Giunta, Saltzman, & Norcross, 1991) has
supported Goldfried's view of change processes as the
content area or level of abstraction most amenable to
theoretical convergence. Although there are 250-400 dif-
ferent psychological therapies (Herink, 1980; Karasu,
1986) based on divergent theoretical assumptions, we have
been able to identify only 12 different processes of change
based on principal components analysis. Similarly, al-
though self-changers use over 130 techniques to quit
smoking, these techniques can be summarized by a much
smaller set of change processes (Prochaska et al., 1988).
Table 1 presents the 10 processes receiving the most
theoretical and empirical support in our work, along with
their definitions and representative examples of specific
interventions. A common and finite set of change pro-
cesses has been repeatedly identified across such diverse
problem areas as smoking, psychological distress, and
obesity (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1985). There are
striking similarities in the frequency with which the
change processes were used across these problems. When
processes were ranked in terms of how frequently they
were used for each of these three problem behaviors, the
rankings were nearly identical. Helping relationships,
consciousness raising, and self-liberation, for example,
were the top three ranked processes across problems,
whereas contingency management and stimulus control
were the lowest ranked processes.
Significant differences occurred, however, in the ab-
solute frequency of the use of change processes across
problems. Individuals relied more on helping relation-
ships and consciousness raising for overcoming psycho-
logical distress than they did for weight control and
smoking cessation. Overweight individuals relied more
on self-liberation and stimulus control than did distressed
individuals (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1985).
Processes as Predictors of Change
The processes have been potent predictors of change for
both therapy changers and self-changers. As indicated
earlier, in a behavioral weight control program, the pro-
September 1992 • American Psychologist
Titles, Definitions, and Representative Interventions of the Processes of Change
Increasing information about self and problem: observations,
confrontations, interpretations, bibliotherapy
Assessing how one feels and thinks about oneself with respect to
a problem: value clarification, imagery, corrective emotional
Choosing and commitment to act or belief in ability to change:
decision-making therapy, New Year's resolutions, logotherapy
techniques, commitment enhancing techniques
Substituting alternatives for problem behaviors: relaxation,
desensitization, assertion, positive self-statements
Avoiding or countering stimuli that elicit problem behaviors:
restructuring one's environment (e.g., removing alcohol or
fattening foods), avoiding high risk cues, fading techniques
Rewarding one's self or being rewarded by others for making
changes: contingency contracts, overt and covert reinforcement,
Being open and trusting about problems with someone who cares:
therapeutic alliance, social support, self-help groups
Experiencing and expressing feelings about one's problems and
solutions: psychodrama, grieving losses, role playing
Assessing how one's problem affects physical environment:
empathy training, documentaries
Increasing alternatives for nonproblem behaviors available in
society: advocating for rights of repressed, empowering, policy
cesses used early in treatment were the single best pre-
dictors of outcome (Prochaska, Norcross, et al., 1992).
For self-changers with smoking, the change processes were
better predictors of progress across the stages of change
than were a set of 17 predictor variables, including de-
mographics, problem history and severity, health history,
withdrawal symptoms, and reasons for smoking (Pro-
chaska, DiClemente, Velicer, Ginpil, & Norcross, 1985;
Wilcox, Prochaska, Velicer, & DiClemente, 1985).
The stages and processes of change combined with
a decisional balance measure were able to predict with
93% accuracy which patients would drop out prematurely
from psychotherapy. At the beginning of therapy, pre-
mature terminators were much more likely to be in the
precontemplation stage. They rated the cons of therapy
as higher than the pros, and they relied more on willpower
and stimulus control than did clients who continued in
therapy or terminated appropriately (Medieros & Pro-
Integrating the Processes and Stages
The prevailing Zeitgeist in psychotherapy is the integration
of leading systems of psychotherapy (Norcross & Gold-
fried, 1992; Norcross, Alford, & DeMichele, 1992). Psy-
chotherapy could be enhanced by the integration of the
profound insights of psychoanalysis, the powerful tech-
niques of behaviorism, the experiential methods of cog-
nitive therapies, and the liberating philosophy of existen-
tialism. Although some psychotherapists insist that such
theoretical integration is philosophically impossible, or-
dinary people in the natural environment can be re-
markably effective in finding practical means of synthe-
sizing powerful change processes.
The same is true in addiction treatment and re-
search. There are multiple interventions but little inte-
gration across theories (Miller & Hester, 1980). One
promising approach to integration is to begin to match
particular interventions to key client characteristics. The
Institute of Medicine's (1989) report on prevention and
treatment of alcohol problems identifies the stages of
change as a key matching variable. A National Cancer
Institute report of self-help interventions for smokers also
used the stages as a framework for integrating a variety
of interventions (Glynn, Boyd, & Gruman, 1990). The
transtheoretical model offers a promising approach to in-
tegration by combining the stages and processes of change.
A Cross-Sectional Perspective
One of the most important findings to emerge from our
self-change research is an integration between the pro-
cesses and stages of change (DiClemente et al., 1991;
September 1992 • American Psychologist
Stages of Change in Which Particular Processes of Change Are Emphasized
Norcross, Prochaska, & DiClemente, 1991; Prochaska &
DiClemente, 1983,1984). Table 2 demonstrates this in-
tegration from cross-sectional research involving thou-
sands of self-changers representing each of the stages of
change for smoking cessation and weight loss. Using the
data as a point of departure, we have interpreted how
particular processes can be applied or avoided at each
stage of change. During the precontemplation stage, in-
dividuals used eight of the change processes significantly
less than people in any of the other stages. Precontem-
plators processed less information about their problems,
devoted less time and energy to reevaluating themselves,
and experienced fewer emotional reactions to the negative
aspects of their problems. Furthermore, they were less
open with significant others about their problems, and
they did little to shift their attention or their environment
in the direction of overcoming problems. In therapy, these
would be the most resistant or the least active clients.
Individuals in the contemplation stage were most
open to consciousness-raising techniques, such as obser-
vations, confrontations, and interpretations, and they were
much more likely to use bibliotherapy and other educa-
tional techniques (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1984).
Contemplators were also open to dramatic relief expe-
riences, which raise emotions and lead to a lowering of
negative affect if the person changes. As individuals be-
came more conscious of themselves and the nature of
their problems, they were more likely to reevaluate their
values, problems, and themselves both affectively and
cognitively. The more central their problems were to their
self-identity, the more their reevaluation involved altering
their sense of self. Contemplators also reevaluated the
effects their addictive behaviors had on their environ-
ments, especially the people with whom they were closest.
They struggled with questions such as "How do I think
and feel about living in a deteriorating environment that
places my family or friends at increasing risk for disease,
poverty, or imprisonment?"
Movement from precontemplation to contemplation
and movement through the contemplation stage entailed
increased use of cognitive, affective, and evaluative pro-
cesses of change. Some of these changes continued during
the preparation stage. In addition, individuals in prepa-
ration began to take small steps toward action. They used
counterconditioning and stimulus control to begin re-
ducing their use of addictive substances or to control the
situations in which they relied on such substances
(DiClemente et al., 1991).
During the action stage, people endorsed higher lev-
els of self-liberation or willpower. They increasingly be-
lieved that they had the autonomy to change their lives
in key ways. Successful action also entailed effective use
of behavioral processes, such as counterconditioning and
stimulus control, in order to modify the conditional stim-
uli that frequently prompt relapse. Insofar as action was
a particularly stressful stage, individuals relied increas-
ingly on support and understanding from helping rela-
Just as preparation for action was essential for suc-
cess, so too was preparation for maintenance. Successful
maintenance builds on each of the processes that came
before. Specific preparation for maintenance entailed an
assessment of the conditions under which a person was
likely to relapse and development of alternative responses
for coping with such conditions without resorting to self-
defeating defenses and pathological responses. Perhaps
most important was the sense that one was becoming the
kind of person one wanted to be. Continuing to apply
counterconditioning and stimulus control was most ef-
fective when it was based on the conviction that main-
taining change supports a sense of self that was highly
valued by oneself and at least one significant other.
September 1992 • American Psychologist
A Longitudinal Perspective
Cross-sectional studies have inherent limitations for as-
sessing behavior change, and we, therefore, undertook
research on longitudinal patterns of change. Four major
patterns of behavior change were identified in a two-year
longitudinal study of smokers (Prochaska, DiClemente,
Velicer, Rossi, & Guadagnoli, 1992): (a) Stable patterns
involved subjects who remained in the same stage for the
entire two years; (b) progressive patterns involved linear
movement from one stage to the next; (c) regressive pat-
terns involved movement to an earlier stage of change;
and (d) recycling patterns involved two or more revolu-
tions through the stages of change over the two-year pe-
The stable pattern can be illustrated by the 27
smokers who remained in the precontemplation stage at
all five rounds of data collection. Figure 4 presents these
precontemplators' standardized scores (M = 50, SD =
10) for the 10 change processes being used at six-month
intervals over the two-year period. All 10 processes re-
mained remarkably stable over the two-year period,
demonstrating little increase or decrease over time.
This figure graphically illustrates what individuals
resistant to change were likely to be experiencing and
doing. Eight of 10 change processes, like self-reevaluation
and self-liberation, were between 0.4 and 1.4 standard
deviations below the mean (i.e., 50). In brief, these subjects
were doing very little to control or modify themselves or
their problem behavior.
This static pattern was in marked contrast to the
pattern representing people who progressed from con-
templation to maintenance over the two-year study. Sig-
nificantly, many of the change processes did not simply
increase linearly as individuals progressed from contem-
plation to maintenance. Self-reevaluation, consciousness
raising, and dramatic relief—processes most associated
with the contemplation stage—demonstrated significant
decreases as self-changers moved through the action stage
into maintenance. Conversely, self-liberation, stimulus
control, contingency control, and counterconditioning—
processes most associated with the action stage—evi-
denced dramatic increases as self-changers moved from
contemplation to action. These change processes then
leveled off or decreased when maintenance was reached
(Prochaska, DiClemente, et al., 1992).
Progressive self-changers demonstrated an almost
ideal pattern of how change processes can be used most
effectively over time. They seemed to increase the partic-
ular cognitive processes most important for the contem-
plation stage and then to increase more behavioral pro-
cesses in the action and maintenance stages. Before over-
idealizing the wisdom of self-changers, note that only 9
of 180 contemplators found their way through this pro-
gressive pattern without relapsing at least once.
The longitudinal results of the 53 clients completing
a behavior therapy program for weight control provide
additional support for an integration of the processes and
stages of change (Prochaska, Norcross, et al., 1992). As
mentioned earlier, this group progressed from contem-
plation to action during the 10-week therapy program.
Figure 5 presents the six change processes that evidenced
significant differences over the course of treatment. As
predicted by the transtheoretical model, clients reported
significantly greater use of four action-related change
processes: counterconditioning, stimulus control, inter-
personal control, and contingency management. They
also increased their reliance on social liberation and de-
creased their reliance on medications, wishful thinking,
and minimizing threats. In other words, these clients were
substituting alternative responses for overeating; they were
restructuring their environments to include more stimuli
that evoked moderate eating; they reduced stimuli that
prompted overeating; they modified relationships to en-
courage healthful eating; and they paid more attention
to social alternatives that allow greater freedom to keep
Our search for how people intentionally modify addictive
behaviors encompassed thousands of research participants
attempting to alter, with and without psychotherapy, a
myriad of addictive behaviors, including cigarette smok-
ing, alcohol abuse, and obesity. From this and related
research, we have discovered robust commonalities in how
people modify their behavior. From our perspective the
underlying structure of change is neither technique-ori-
ented nor problem specific. The evidence supports a
transtheoretical model entailing (a) a cyclical pattern of
movement through specific stages of change, (b) a com-
mon set of processes of change, and (c) a systematic in-
tegration of the stages and processes of change.
Probably the most obvious and direct implication
of our research is the need to assess the stage of a client's
readiness for change and to tailor interventions accord-
ingly. Although this step may be intuitively taken by many
experienced clinicians, we have found few references to
such tailoring before our research (Beutler & Clarkin,
1990, Norcross, 1991). A more explicit model would en-
hance efficient, integrative, and prescriptive treatment
plans. Furthermore, this step of assessing stage and tai-
loring processes is rarely taken in a conscious and mean-
ingful manner by self-changers in the natural environ-
ment. Vague notions of willpower, mysticism, and bio-
technological revolutions dominate their perspectives on
self-change (Mahoney & Thoreson, 1972).
We have determined that efficient self-change de-
pends on doing the right things (processes) at the right
time (stages). We have observed two frequent mismatches.
First, some self-changers appear to rely primarily on
change processes most indicated for the contemplation
stage—consciousness raising, self-reevaluation—while
they are moving into the action stage. They try to modify
behaviors by becoming more aware, a common criticism
of classical psychoanalysis: Insight alone does not nec-
essarily bring about behavior change. Second, other self-
changers rely primarily on change processes most indi-
September 1992 • American Psychologist
Use of Change Processes (T scores) for 23 Smokers Who Remained in the Precontemplation Stage at Each of
Five Assessment Points Over Two Years
* - - - # CONSCIOUSNESS RAISING Q O HELPING RELATIONSHIPS
A- - -A S6LF LIBERATION £ & ENVIRONMENTAL REEVALUATION
• - - - • DRAMATIC RELIEF O — - < > SOCIAL LIBERATION
_ V - — • • COUNTER CONDITIONING V V SELF REEVALUATION
• • STIMULUS CONTROL D Q REINFORCEMENT MANAGEMENT
cated for the action stage—reinforcement management,
stimulus control, counterconditioning—without the req-
uisite awareness, decision making, and readiness provided
in the contemplation and preparation stages. They try to
modify behavior without awareness, a common criticism
of radical behaviorism: Overt action without insight is
likely to lead to temporary change.
We have generated a number of tentative conclusions
from our research that require empirical confirmation.
Successful change of the addictions involves a progression
through a series of stages. Most self-changers and psy-
chotherapy patients will recycle several times through the
stages before achieving long-term maintenance. Accord-
ingly, intervention programs and personnel expecting
September 1992 • American Psychologist
Change Processes That Significantly Increased or
Decreased During a 10-Week Behavioral Program for
Weight Reduction on a Likert Scale Ranging From 1
(Newer Use; to 5 CAImost Always Use; (N = 53)
people to progress linearly through the stages are likely
to gather disappointing and discouraging results.
With regard to the processes of change, we have ten-
tatively concluded that they are distinct and measurable
both for self- and therapy changers. Similar processes ap-
pear to be used to modify diverse problems, and similar
processes are used within, between, and without psycho-
therapy sessions. Dynamic measures of the processes and
stages of change outperform static variables, like demo-
graphics and problem history, in predicting outcome.
Competing systems of psychotherapy have promul-
gated apparently rival processes of change. However, os-
tensibly contradictory processes can become comple-
mentary when embedded in the stages of change. Spe-
cifically, change processes traditionally associated with
the experiential, cognitive, and psychoanalytic persuasions
are most useful during the precontemplation and con-
templation stages. Change processes traditionally asso-
ciated with the existential and behavioral traditions, by
contrast, are most useful during action and maintenance.
People changing addictive behaviors with and without
therapy can be remarkably resourceful in finding practical
means of integrating the change processes, even if psy-
chotherapy theorists have been historically unwilling or
unable to do so. Attending to effective self-changers in
the natural environment and integrating effective change
processes in the consulting room may be two keys to un-
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Correction to Williams
The article "Exploitation and Inference: Mapping the Damage From Therapist-Patient Sexual
Involvement," by Martin H. Williams (American Psychologist, 1992, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 412-421),
contained an error on page 419. The sentence "In this case, the odds that a patient will become
sexually involved with his or her psychoanalyst are 1 in 1,129 or a likelihood of 0.9%" should read
"In this case, the odds that a patient will become sexually involved with his or her psychoanalyst are
1 in 1,129 or a likelihood of 0.09%."
September 1992 • American Psychologist