We all go through many changes in our lives, some intentionally and some unintentionally. While a lot of changes are out of our control (such as a family member passing away or losing your job), there are some we can plan for. If you are planning a change in your life, whether it is getting rid of a bad habit, pursuing a dream or goal, or making a lifestyle change, it’s helpful to know what the process of change looks like so you can recognize where you are in the process and learn how to move forward well.
When does change start?
I am a psychotherapist who truly enjoys what I do. My journey didn’t start when I went back to school to take classes in junior college, nor when I started to look into going back to school, and not even when I was talking to my best friend or husband about what I wanted to do. It started long before then.
More than fifteen years ago I was a stay-at-home mother raising my two young children. I wanted to be a mother so much that I prioritized raising my children and put my career on pause. However, staying at home helped me think about what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had to go through the process of change to get there.
Stages of Change
According to the study of behaviors, change is a six-step process:
In this first stage there is no intention of changing a behavior. You are essentially in denial that there is a problem or that something needs to be changed. Making a change is probably too overwhelming to think about at this point.
This is when you are aware that a problem exists but there is not yet any commitment to action. This stage may last a long time as you consider the costs and benefits of making the change. It can be scary to consider the costs and what you may have to give up in order to make the change.
In this stage you are intent on finally taking action to address the problem. You have decided the benefits outweigh the risks and that it’s time to start the process. This can look like writing down concrete steps to achieve your goal or planning the incremental changes you are going to make leading up to the big change. It could be as simple as running a mile if your eventual goal is a marathon.
After you have prepared for the change, it’s time to make it. This step is exactly what
it sounds like: taking action. You’ve made your lists and planned your course, so now you actually have to do the thing. Make sure you seek out lots of support and accountability as you embark on this step, because you won’t be able to do it alone.
The fifth step of maintenance simply means sustained change. As you continue to take action and implement your new change or behavior, it will eventually replace the old one and become second nature. It will be tempting to fall back into old patterns, but if you stay consistent, you don’t have to fall into the sixth step.
Not everyone goes through a relapse (or falling back into old patterns), but it is fairly common, and nothing to be ashamed about. If you experience a relapse after you have implemented your change, simply get back up and keep trying. Change is often a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. The key is not to give up– you can do this!
Self-Reflection About My Process
My personal process of change started when I was dreaming about what I wanted to do in my career and imagined myself counseling others (Pre-contemplation). During this time in my life, I was a volunteer alongside my husband at the local church we attended. I would hear about people’s problems and feel like I wanted to do more, but I didn’t know what or how (contemplation). I didn’t take action yet.
I later became aware of another problem. I was so ready to go back to work. I would often think, “I can’t wait to go back to work and move forward in my career” (contemplation). But I still didn’t take action.
I shared about my dreams to my best friend, Mireya, and she totally agreed that I would be a great counselor (preparation). This gave me a boost to my desire, but I still didn’t take action.
Then Mireya passed away from cancer. That hit me like a truck. I was so sad because I also knew her dreams and that she was now never going to be able to fulfill them. That’s when I decided to do something with my dreams to honor her memory. I immediately enrolled in the junior college to increase my proficiency in English and fulfill class requirements to transfer to the next program (action). I started telling my other friends I was going back to school and what I wanted to do.
I often felt afraid and insecure. In 2010 I received The Dean’s Honor Award from Mission College. This helped me build a little more confidence. I had so many questions, such as which university to transfer to, how many more units I needed, and what major I needed to become a counselor. I reached out to several universities, but one phone conversation with a university of Phoenix enrollment counselor made my decision for me. She told me I could use the BA in Business Administration I had obtained from the PUCMM, a private university in the Dominican Republic. I followed her recommendations, and in 2011, I enrolled in the Master’s of Counseling with a Specialization in Marriage, Family and Child Therapy program.
This has not been an easy journey. There were so many requirements to complete the program, and to eventually get my license in California. It took seven years (maintenance).
I keep looking forward to and implementing the calling God has put in my heart. My goal has always been the same: “to restore families and help future generations have healthier lives.”
During my many years of counseling work with children and families, I identified the great impact pregnancy and motherhood brings to women’s emotions and consequently to their marriages, and the emotional development of their children. As an older mother I can recall my own anxieties when I first became a mother. These experiences have guided my focus to specialize on working with women to help them with the emotional changes that motherhood brings and help them overcome these and thus help families improve and create stability for a more peaceful and secure home.
I don’t recall experiencing a relapse in my journey of change. Once I made a commitment, I followed through, with fear and all. My journey has been one of moving forward, conquering my fears, and continuing to dream about what I want to do. Thus, change starts with a dream!