The transtheoretical model of change Prochaska and Diclemente

Change is an individual and personal process, and nobody can change another person if they don’t want to change. This is why coaching has the complex mission of empowering people so that they are aware of their own ability to achieve their goals and make positive and lasting changes in their lives.

For several decades, a theoretical model of change has been applied in many areas (addictions, unhealthy lifestyle changes, etc.) to help understand why people often fail when they want to implement change that s ‘operates in his life.

The process of personal change seen from psychology

There has been little work in the literature regarding specific changes in the field of coaching, but psychotherapeutic theory has been very effective in this regard, as it not only offers a description of the phases or stages of change, but also provides a frame. conducive to appropriate intervention. This theory was proposed by James prochaska (In the picture) i Carlo Diclemente and is called Transtheoretical model of change.

This model explains the steps a person needs to take in the problematic behavior change process (Or behavior that is destined to change) to one that is not, by considering motivation as an important factor in this change, and by giving the subject an active role, since he is conceived as the main actor of his Changing behaviour.

The model also takes into account variables other than motivation which, in the opinion of the authors, influence behavior change. These elements are: stages of change, process of change, decision-making balance (for and against) and self-confidence (or personal effectiveness).

Since any personal change requires clear and realistic commitment, time, energy, and strategies, it is important to recognize that this process can lead to challenges. This theory warns that he is likely to experience relapses and return to earlier stages. Therefore, it brings hope to individuals, because accepting failures as normal positively affects the perception of self-confidence (self-efficacy).

Coaches should make clients aware of this aspect of the theory, as it is a useful tool to hold them accountable in the face of change.

The stages of the Prochaska and Diclemente change model

this model this gives us the opportunity to understand that human development is not linear but rather circular and that human beings can go through different phases, and even stagnate and fall back on the path of change.

Below are the different stages of the Prochaska and Diclemente model, and for better understanding we will use as an example a person who wants to start exercising to improve their health and leave behind the sedentary life they were in. used to:

  • precontemplation: At this stage, the person is not aware that they have a problem, and it is common for there to be defense mechanisms such as denial or rationalization. In our example, the individual would not be aware of the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle or would repeat to himself “something he has to die”.
  • contemplation: At this point, the person realizes that they have a problem, begins to look at the pros and cons of their situation, but has not yet made the decision to do something. In our example, this would be a person who is aware that a sedentary lifestyle causes a lot of health problems, but who has not made the decision to join a gym or who repeats “that you will already register ”.
  • preparation: The person has already made the decision to do something and is starting to take a few small steps. In our example, it would be a person who goes to buy sports clothes or registers in the municipal swimming pool.
  • action: The person taken and the necessary steps, without excuses or delays. In our example, the person begins to exercise.
  • maintenance: The new behavior is established, it starts to be a new habit. In our example, the person has been swimming or “running” regularly for more than six months.

Maintenance phase

In the maintenance phase, the person can move on to the “ending” phase in which the new habit is already solid and it is difficult to give up because it is part of their life; or he may relapse (although he may relapse at any stage), but never return to the “precontemplation” stage.


In the event of a relapse, the person may:

  • Reconnect for a change, acknowledge your progress, learn from the experience, and try not to make the same mistake again.
  • Think of the relapse as a failure and stagnate forever with no change.

Therefore, in the event of a relapse, the coach must make the client understand that it is not a failure and must encourage them to move forward with the change.

Phases and levels of change

This dimension of the transhasoric model of Prochaska and Diclemente it tells us what changes are needed to give up problematic behavior and tells us the content of that change. All behavior is given a context and conditioned by certain environmental factors.

The different conditions are organized into five interdependent levels, on which the coach intervenes in a hierarchical order, from the most superficial to the most profound. To be related, changing one level may lead to a change in another and it may also not be necessary to intervene at all levels, as all levels do not necessarily have to affect the behavior that is supposed to change.

the five levels of change son:

  • Symptom / situational (Pattern of harmful habits, symptoms, etc.).
  • maladaptive cognitions (Expectations, beliefs, self-assessments, etc.).
  • Current interpersonal conflicts (Dadic interactions, hostility, assertiveness, etc.).
  • Systemic / family conflicts (Family of origin, legal problems, social support network, employment, etc.).
  • intrapersonal conflicts (Self-esteem, self-concept, personality, etc.).

Coaching applied to personal change processes

The intervention usually begins at the most superficial level, and as we progress, it is possible to intervene at deeper levels. The reasons why the intervention is usually initiated in the most superficial situation are:

  • Change tends to happen more easily at this more overt and observable level.
  • This level is usually the main reason you come to the coaching session.
  • Since the level is the most conscious and the most common, the degree of interference required for an assessment and intervention is lower.
  • Since these levels are not independent, changing one is likely to lead to changes in others.

A decisive balance

the decisive balance it is the relative weight between the pros and cons of behavior change, which each individual attributes in their process of awareness. The model predicts that for individuals in the precontemplation phase, the downsides of change will be more obvious than the benefits, and that this decisional balance will gradually be reversed as individuals move through the rest of the stages.

For individuals in the action and maintenance phase, the advantages of the change will outweigh the disadvantages.

Another key: self-efficacy

the self-efficacy these are the judgments and beliefs that a person has about their ability to successfully accomplish a given task and therefore orients the course of its action. It helps to cope with different difficult situations without relapse. Therefore, it is positive to deal with the various problematic situations that may arise during the change process and it is positive to maintain the desired behavior.

The model predicts that self-efficacy will increase as individuals move through the stages of change.

If you want to know more about the concept of self-efficacy, we invite you to read the following article:

“Self-efficacy of Albert Bandura: Do you believe in yourself?”

Trading strategies

In the transtheoretical model of change, steps are useful in helping to place the client at a certain point. However, little would be accomplished by knowing this and ignoring the strategies that could be implemented to move the subject forward.

Change processes are activities that encourage the individual to move towards a new stage, but it should be mentioned that they are not limited to coaching. In fact, this theory stems from psychotherapy, as this model is the result of a comparative analysis of the theories that led to psychotherapy and behavior change in the 1980s.

Following the works, Prochaska identified 10 processes that occur in people who change their behaviorSuch as the “awareness” of the Freudian tradition, the “contingency management” of Skinner’s behaviorism, and the establishment of “helping relationships” by the humanist Carl Rogers.

Change related processes

The processes presented below characterize people at stages of change, and each works best at a given stage:

  • Increased awareness: It has to do with individual efforts in finding information and corresponding understanding in relation to a certain problem.
  • Environmental reassessment: It is an appreciation by the subject of the behavior to be changed and its effect on interpersonal behavior and on those close to them. Recognition of the benefits of these relationships arising from behavior modification.
  • dramatic relief: Experimentation and expression of emotional relationships brought about by observing and / or warning of negative aspects associated with behavior modification.
  • self evaluation: Affective and cognitive assessment of the impact of behavior change on individual values ​​and self-concept. Recognizing the benefits that behavior change brings to your life.
  • social liberation: Awareness, availability and acceptance by the subject of alternatives.
  • counter-conditioning: It is the replacement of alternative behaviors to the behavior to be changed.
  • Help relationships: It is the use of social support to facilitate change.
  • Reinforcement administration: Modifies the structure that supports the problem.
  • self liberation: Commitment of the individual to change his behavior, including the idea of ​​taking ownership of his change
  • Stimulus control: It is the control of situations and the avoidance of situations triggering undesirable behavior.

Strategies applied to coaching

The intervention a person needs to have effective change depends on what stage they are at. At each stage, there are specific interventions and techniques that have a greater impact in helping the person move on to the next stages of behavior change. Here are some strategies the coach can use in each phase:


  • When the client is unaware of the negative effects of the change, it is necessary to provide appropriate information about the benefits of the change, i.e. why the change may be beneficial to the person. It is important that the information is provided informally.


  • Help visualize the pros and cons of change.
  • Encourage reflection on the different options for change and their positive effect.
  • Encourage consideration of the first steps to start making changes, in a rational and realistic way.


  • Plan the change carefully together, before making any visceral decisions.
  • Divide the action plan into achievable goals.
  • Use an employment contract to change.
  • Help think of ways to move forward with the action plan.


  • Follow the plan, monitor the progress.
  • Reward and congratulate for the successes achieved (even the smallest ones).
  • Remember the benefits that will be produced if the goals are met.
  • Help identify the benefits when they occur.
  • Help the client stay in an ideal state of motivation.
  • Help him learn from things that don’t go as planned.


  • Maintain and revise the plans until you are absolutely sure they are no longer needed.
  • If it does relapse, try not to go back to the starting point. Instead, it helps recognize progress and encourages learning from failures so that they don’t happen again.
  • Help them think about the possibility of helping others make positive changes based on the experience of the change.

To conclude

From this perspective, behavior change is explained according to its stages (when), process (how) and levels (what). Special attention is also paid to self-efficacy and motivation, understanding that the latter varies depending on the stage in which the person is, and understanding that it is mediated by multiple aspects of the subject (the desire to avoid failure or to remain in control of one’s life). ), which lead to approach motivation from a global point of view, understanding it as a process.

In coaching, this intervention model can be useful, as it provides knowledge about the stage at which the coachee is in and information on the processes of change appropriate for each step, at the level or levels concerned. Therefore, it produces a gradual change in the person who seeks to change, tackling the more superficial aspects first, and gradually dealing with the deeper ones.

To find out what stage the individual is at, there are different questionnaires that provide this information, but the coach can use verbal questions for the same purpose.

A theory that equips the coach with tools

Finally, in this theory, there are also aspects that are of great importance for the coach:

  • The coach should not treat everyone as if they were in action.
  • People who are in the action phase are more likely to achieve better and faster results than those who are in contemplation or in preparation.
  • The coach must facilitate the passage of introspection and action.
  • The coach must anticipate relapses and make the client understand that they are part of the change.
  • The coach must encourage the self-regulation of action plans by the coachee.

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