Written by Guest Blogger Karen Walker, Peer Education Intern
On the path to recovery and a healthier lifestyle, one must always remember that change does not occur overnight. When one decides to make changes in the relationship(s) to their drug use, their likelihood of success requires them to be consciously aware of their individual goals, any internal or external influences that might help or hinder their progress, potential alternative solutions, and available resources for support. Seeking support from a qualified professional, such as a therapist familiar with problematic drug use, can also help the individual make such changes. In order to best move toward the desired lifestyle, it is helpful to create a plan with specific actions to take, identify and prepare for personal triggers, and weigh the benefits and costs of making this change. Understanding the Cycle of Change (also referred to as the Transtheoretical Model of Change or the Stages of Change) can help those seeking to change risky behaviors. While the specific path to recovery for each individual will vary greatly, the Cycle of Change is general enough to allow for those unique journeys, and can be useful as a guideline for analyzing one’s own process of change. The first stage is Precontemplation. During this stage, the individual is not yet ready to change, because they are not questioning their behavior, nor are they aware of its problematic nature. As a peer, helping others to identify their problematic behavior and bringing the impact of their behavior to their attention is the first step in supporting change. It is also helpful to recommend healthier alternatives that they may not have considered. This can help lead the individual towards the second stage: Contemplation. During Contemplation, the individual is thinking about potentially making a change, and is weighing the benefits and costs of that choice. Because of the ambivalence between the potential gains and losses of changing their behavior, an individual can remain in this stage for an extended period of time. Using the same strategies to support the individual in the Precontemplation stage, you as an SSDP Peer Educator can encourage the change by emphasizing the benefits and encouraging the individual to make a commitment to themselves. Once the individual has made a commitment to change, they will have entered the Preparation stage. During this stage, the individual can create a plan of action (often with the help of a professional) to follow in the immediate future. SSDP Peer Educators should encourage them to express this commitment to others and create a network of social support through their efforts. The following stage is Action. During this stage, the individual has been making observable changes towards their new lifestyle. During this stage, it will be important to reinforce positive behaviors that affirm the desired lifestyle and create and maintain an external environment that encourages healthier behavior and decisions. The individual is now beginning to realize their new self-image, and with continued support from peers and healthier decision-making, the individual will move on to the Maintenance stage. During the Maintenance stage, the same processes and actions from the Action stage are being followed, but with more confidence. The individual is well equipped to maintain their new lifestyle, but the potential for Relapse (the alternative stage to Maintenance in the Cycle of Change) still exists. Relapse is most likely to occur in the first five years of change, but should not discourage those who are working to improve their lifestyle. Once an individual passes the Maintenance stage, the new behavior is now automatic and mechanisms for handling stress and other challenges have been successfully replaced with healthier alternatives. In order to best support another during their Cycle of Change, it is immensely beneficial to review the stages and processes throughout recovery. Using this information, SSDPers can meet their peers where they are in the Cycle and use the resources in this lesson to help them build a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. You can get 10 points for responding to the Reflection Questions from this Training Curriculum module. Check out ssdp.org/justsayknow for more information on peer education! Interested in earning CAT points and getting involved?
- Think through each of the phases of the Cycle of Change: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance, Relapse. For each of these phases, how can you meet someone where they’re at and guide them through the cycle?