Clinicians know that change rarely happens quickly. Evidence shows that forming new habits can take a long time. One foundational study shows that an average person needs between two to eight months to incorporate a positive habit into their life or eliminate a negative one. Nor is change always linear. Stopping negative behaviors, or starting positive new ones, usually happens through a gradual process that includes setbacks and relapses.

The Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of behavioral change, commonly known as the Stages of Change model, was developed in the 1980s to examine this gradual process of change. While developers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente created the Stages of Change to observe how someone made the leap from substance use to abstinence, today this model is used in in a variety of industries (including mental health and physical healthcare) to assess how ready a client is to make any kind of change in their life.

There are five stages in this model:

  1. The person isn’t thinking about changing. If someone asks whether they want to change, the answer will likely be no. They don’t consider their current habit as a problem and will usually even defend it.
  2. The person is beginning to consider the possibility of changing their behavior. However, they feel ambivalent or unsure. Now, they’ll probably answer maybe if someone asks whether they’re ready.
  3. The person is considering what it will take for them to change and planning how they’ll go about the process. They are beginning to see how the pros outweigh the cons. Sometimes, they’ve even made a small attempt to change.
  4. The person actively starts implementing their plan of breaking a negative behavior or forming a positive new one.
  5. The person continues with their action plan. There is positive progress. If there’s a setback – or relapse – the process starts all over again.

Clinicians often utilize this model in conjunction with other counseling techniques and approaches, such as Motivational Interviewing, to help patients eliminate life-threatening or risky behaviors or adopt new, positive habits.