What Can I Do to Progress in My Changing Process? Part 2

In this second part of the blog on the stages of change, a few techniques are presented to help you progress from one stage to another or support a loved one going through a process of change. However, note that returning to a previous stage is not a failure. Maybe it can be seen as a reminder that more work had to be done in this previous stage before progressing to the next stage. Humans are constantly changing and adapting to external and internal situations; therefore, it is normal that our motivation also fluctuates.

  1. Precontemplation: At this stage, as you may not be aware that the behaviour is problematic yet, it can be helpful to start by simply evaluating it and thinking about what you want or need. In other words, we want to develop a more conscious awareness of the behaviour.
    • How to help someone during the precontemplation stage:
      • Offer support and active listening.
      • Provide information about the impacts of the behaviour, in a non-judgmental way.
  2. Contemplation: As you are starting to recognize the impacts of the behaviour, you may want to identify the pros and cons of making a change. This can help to see how your life could be different, should you modify the behaviour in any way.
    • How to help someone during the contemplation stage:
      • Make space to discuss the pros and cons of change with the person.
      • Let the person decide for themselves if they want to change the behaviour.
  3. Preparation: At this stage we want to identify any obstacles that may get in the way of making a change, as well as the skills and steps needed to make it happen.
    • How to help someone during the preparation stage: 
      • Help the person identify any obstacles.
      • Encourage the person in their decision and planning.
  4. Action: Here we want to use your support system and coping strategies to make the plan happen for as long as you can. Remember, it is normal to return to the preparation stage (or another previous stage), and think of more pros and cons or identify other obstacles that made it difficult to follow through with the plan. 
    • How to help someone during the action stage:
      • Reach-out and check-in with the person.
      • Remind them of the long-term benefits of their goals.
      • Play a supportive role in the life of the person.
  5. Maintenance: After the action plan has been put in place and practiced, we want to identify strategies and coping tools to help maintain it for a longer period. The idea is to have tools that can be helpful to support you as you experience a whole range of emotions (e.g.: What/who will you turn to when you are happy? When you are sad? Do you feel at risk of going back to the old behaviour if you have a bad day?).
    • How to help someone during the maintenance stage: 
      • Remind the person of their strengths and what they have accomplished so far.
      • Help the person develop a plan to support them in the long-term.

If you are experiencing challenges in changing a behaviour or are finding it difficult to support a loved one in their own process of change, know that therapists at CFIR-CPRI are available to support you. Our professionals are trained to support you to better understand what prevents you from attaining the changes you are hoping for, and to develop your motivation to change. Contact us via admin@cfir.ca and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.

Natalie Guenette, M.A., R. P. is a Registered Psychotherapist who works with adults in both English and French. She works with an integrative framework and provides services to those experiencing a broad range of difficulties, including substance use, depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and trauma.  

Why can’t I change? Part 1

Have you ever found yourself feeling stuck and unable to change a behaviour? Not having the motivation to make the necessary change? Feeling like ‘it’s just not the right time yet’? This might be because you are still ambivalent about changing.

The stages of change model (Prochaska et al., 1992) describes 5 stages that individuals experience when trying to change. Research shows that this model is an effective tool to help change a broad spectrum of behaviours, including addictions (Rahian, N. & Cogburn, M., 2023). It is important to note that it is common, and normal, to switch between stages and fall back to a stage we had previously ‘completed’, as the changing process is NOT linear. 

  1. Precontemplation: At this stage, individuals may not see their behaviour as a problem, and therefore, may not think about changing it. There can be resistance to make any modification and/or to receive support. There is often denial about the problematic behaviour. 
  2. Contemplation: In this second phase, individuals are starting to recognize and acknowledge that the behaviour may be problematic and are starting to consider changing it. Due to the ambivalence felt towards the worthiness of the changing process, individuals can often remain stuck at this stage for some time. During the contemplation stage, individuals are usually considering the pros and cons of change, although, because the behaviour is still serving them in some way, the cons associated with the change continue to outweigh the perceived pros.
  3. Preparation: individuals are committed to change at this stage and have usually started taking steps toward change. An action plan is set, and the pros of changing are now outweighing the cons. 
  4. Action: While in the action stage, individuals are actively involved in modifying their behaviour. This is usually the shortest stage, and when they are at the highest risk to go back to the initial behaviour, or, in other words, to relapse. 
  5. Maintenance: This final stage is when individuals have maintained the changed behaviour for about six months. The risk of relapsing has reduced, and they are building their confidence in their ability to maintain the new coping strategies developed throughout the changing process.  

Therapists at CFIR-CPRI can help support you to better understand what may prevent you from attaining the changes you are hoping for, and also to develop your motivation to change. Contact us via admin@cfir.ca and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.

Natalie Guenette, M.A., R. P. is a Registered Psychotherapist who works with adults in both English and French. She works with an integrative framework and provides services to those experiencing a broad range of difficulties, including substance use, depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and trauma.  

Combatting Depression: Strategies for Your Relationships

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini and Tatijana Busic

Finding a path toward recovery from your depression symptoms can be challenging, but is doable! In this third post in our depression blogs, we provide strategies to help you deal with depression symptoms associated with your thinking and how you might be processing your feelings, emotions, and needs.

We’ve offered you some tips to help take the first few steps toward feeling better. We suggest that you start your recovery journey by employing strategies for your self first, and then once you’ve started on those, our fourth blog post offers you strategies for your relationships.

Strategies for Your Self: Develop Structure, Routine, and Self-Care into Your Life

When we are depressed, we tend to become depleted of energy. We move less and feel tired. These circumstances can drain us of important mental and physical stimulation that we need for our well-being.

Put structure and everyday routine back into your life and begin to increase your level of self-care. Create a routine. Make sure to schedule activities that are meaningful or pleasurable to you. Include 20 minutes of physical exercise each day. Prepare healthy meals that will nourish your body and mind. Get good rest. If you are having difficulties sleeping, consult resources that will assist you to develop a soothing nightly ritual that will help you to unwind and relax and ultimately improve your sleep.

Learn How to Regulate and Soothe Stress, Negative Feelings and Emotions

With depression, we can struggle with our feelings and emotions – we feel too much or too little. When we are overwhelmed by strong, intense feelings and emotions, it is important to develop practices and strategies to effectively deal with these internal reactions.

Pause before you act on your thoughts and feelings and try to restore a sense of calm and ease. Learning how to restore calm and ease within ourselves is an important life skill. Make a list of activities that are calming and soothing for you, and engage in these activities when you are emotionally distressed. For example, sipping tea in a peaceful place, going for a walk, engaging in deep body and muscle relaxation, taking a warm bath, learning how to breathe rhythmically and deeply, visualizing peaceful and tranquil settings, quietly reading a book, and listening to calming music are examples of ways to enhance coping.

Try to remember, intense feelings and emotions mellow with time. Try to reassure yourself that these feelings and emotions will pass and you will be okay once again. Once we are calmer, we can begin to think about the thoughts and feelings we are experiencing that are contributing to our depression.

Challenge Negative Thoughts and Feelings about Your Self and Others

Negative views of our ‘self’ and of other people can create a deep sense of hopelessness, as discussed previously. In the midst of feeling depressed, pay attention to the thoughts, interpretations, assumptions, and beliefs you have about yourself or others. Do you notice a negative bias in how you are thinking or feeling about yourself and others?

Try to challenge these negative views and find counter-examples to these negative thoughts. Try to recognize good things about yourself and others at home, work, and in play. Practice noticing positive attributes about you and other people—at least once a day. You can also develop a list of positive things about yourself and other people in your life. Have your list handy and read it whenever you are feeling negative. Do not be surprised if your list of good things begins to grow as you start to engage in this exercise of positive appreciation.

Sometimes our negative thoughts and feelings towards others are grounded in real experiences in which others are behaving inappropriately toward us. If people are behaving toward you in a negative manner that is harmful (i.e., verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse), it is important to seek out support and professional help to find a way to address these circumstances.

Develop Self-Compassion in Place of Harsh Self-Criticism and Perfectionism

Sometimes a negative, critical voice toward our ‘self’ and others may be at the root of our depression. When left unchecked, this voice can make life unbearable.

Do you notice a highly critical or perfectionistic inner voice that pervades your life? How do you feel while and after you have berated, attacked, or criticized yourself? Probably not very good. Try to develop a more compassionate and understanding counter-voice at these times. Making mistakes and not meeting expectations and demands are bound to happen throughout our lives. It is part of being human. Remind yourself that no one is perfect nor do we need to be in order to be worthy, lovable, and valuable as human beings. Ask yourself if you would be as harsh toward others, such as a family member, partner or friend if they had not met an expectation? Would you be more understanding of others? Try to develop a kind, gentle, understanding and reassuring voice toward yourself in these moments.

Try to lighten the impact of this oppressive voice by reframing the self-criticism in positive terms. For example, ask yourself what you can learn from the present situation that may help you grow as a person in the future as opposed to harshly attacking yourself. Try to find constructive solutions to your mistakes or problems, rather than senselessly depleting your energy and berating yourself.

Try to find ways to challenge harsh self-criticism. Ask yourself, “How realistic are the expectations and demands that I hold of myself and others?”. Remember that human beings are limited in terms of what we can achieve. We can’t always meet all of our or others’ expectations or needs. In addition to negotiating our needs with those of other people in our lives, we also have to balance a lot of competing needs in different contexts, including work, family, and play.

Find counter-examples that contradict the extreme and global way you are putting yourself down. Create a more balanced and accurate view of yourself. Think about what is good enough and possible in your current life situation rather than how things should be in order to be perfect.

Be Mindful, Build Awareness of the Present Moment

When we are depressed our thoughts are often focused on worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. Depression impedes on our ability to live in the present moment, which often further aggravates the cycle of worry and negative rumination.

Try to notice these moments as they are happening without any judgment. Simply notice your ‘self’ thinking or feeling something that is connected to worry about the future or rumination about something that happened in the past. As you notice what is happening, try to gently shift your attention to your body. For example, if you are walking notice how the soles of your feet feel with every step you take. Practice using your senses to notice how things look, feel, taste and smell around you.

By gently shifting your attention to the present moment, you rest your awareness in the here and now of being alive. This mindful practice can help you to build an inner sense of refuge from the stresses of life. Also, this practice can occur under any circumstances and over time, will help you to develop greater resilience and freedom from the negative thought and emotional patterns associated with depression.

Identify, Label, and Access Emotions and Needs and Make a Plan of Action

Emotions provide us with important information about what our concerns, goals, and needs are for ourselves and in our relationships with others in the world around us. Depression is a signal, calling for us to listen to what our feelings are telling us about what concerns or goals have gone unmet, or what we might want or need for ourselves or in our relationships with others.

Being able to identify, label, and express these feelings in words is important if we are to appreciate what our concerns are and what we might need as individuals and from our relationships. When we figure out what our emotions are telling us, we can then develop a plan of action toward taking care of ourselves more effectively. We can develop strategies to address our goals and concerns, and meet our wants and needs in a manner that does not create further difficulties for us.

Try to identify and label your emotions. Pay close attention to the feelings that underlie what you are experiencing. For example, you may be feeling numb, but masked underneath resides hurt and sadness. Or you may feel outwardly sad, but are also angry deep down. This may not be easy to do at first and takes practice.

Also, try to tune into what the concerns, unmet goals or needs are that come with these feelings and emotions. What do you need for yourself in your sadness or anger? Write about your feelings in a journal with a particular focus on what these feelings are telling you about what you might need for yourself or in your relationships with others.

Begin to plan and create strategies of how you can go about meeting your goals, wants, needs, or desires in a manner that is constructive for you and for those around you. You may require support from others to help you organize your thoughts and to develop plans to have your goals, wants, or needs met.

Seek out Professional Support: Consulting with your Physician and a Registered Clinical Psychologist

Consulting with a physician may also be an important first step to assess your current mental health status. Depression can be associated with many biological and medical causes that require medical interventions.

Seeking the professional support of a registered clinical psychologist may be important to help you address the negative thoughts and feelings you are having about yourself, or others. Learning how to address perfectionism, self-criticalness, and process your emotions and clarify wants, needs, and goals can be challenging. Contact a registered clinical psychologist if you find that dealing with your thoughts and feelings on your own has become unmanageable.

Read more additional posts from the ‘Depression’ series:

Learn more about our Depression, Mood & Grief Treatment Service.