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Why is it so hard to change? The 5 stages of Change for men in therapy

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

First Step Men's Therapy helps men across Ontario, Canada develop healthier relationships with themselves and others. We offer individual, couples, and group counselling to men and their families online using our secure telehealth platform.

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Many men want to experience breakthroughs in therapy but struggle with change

When many men first come to therapy, they know and identify that something needs to change, yet many men ultimately leave therapy early or don't get the change they have been seeking. For many, therapy may be a relieving, cathartic experience, while for others, it can be extremely overwhelming, anxiety-producing, and triggering.

Coming to therapy can open a "can of worms"

We often call this the "cans-of-worms" effect, when individuals start to unpack or share difficult, traumatic, or adverse experiences and realize that a can of worms has been opened and exposed. It is not uncommon to see clients leave after 1, 2, or even a few sessions. Ultimately, many men leave therapy without actually understanding these experiences and processing them in healthy ways. Often, we find that it may be the stage of change that a man is in that can best provide an indication for how long, and how successful, therapy might be.

What are the "stages of change"?

The stages of change, also known as the transtheoretical model, was developed in the 1970's by a team of scholars who recognized that change happens within a process of stages.

These stages include:

1) Precontemplation: individuals are either unaware of, or do not intend to take action on, a problem or issue

2) Contemplation: individuals begin to recognize that a behaviour is problematic, but are unaware of how to proceed. They may also start to assess the pros and cons of such behaviour.

3) Preparation: People intend to take action in the near future, and may take small steps forward towards change.

4) Action: Specific behaviours are modified and the healthier behaviours may replace old, problematic behaviours.

5) Maintenance: Change, and action has been made for at least 6 months and routines and habits are in place to avoid slipping back to old behaviours and ways.

Men often get stuck in the contemplation stage

Often, men come to therapy in the contemplation stage where a problem exists, but they are uncertain of what to do or how to approach the issue. They may have tried ways to overcome it on their own, or feel stuck or lost after trying to change without help or support. After a few therapy sessions, men may move from contemplation to preparation, which may lead to improvements in overall health and behaviour.

Many men may feel resistance once in therapy

It may also lead to resistance, which is typically when clients are most likely to leave therapy. Clients that typically succeed have been through several cycles of the contemplation-preparation stages several times over, and are more motivated to take action. This action might include increased therapy sessions, more willingness to attempt new activities or habits, and determination to work through the pain and discomfort of change rather than slip back to contemplation and routine.

Therapy can often help one move through the stages of change

Therapy can help men to understand the stages of change, what each stage might look like for the client, and help to create actionable steps toward moving from inaction to intention. We often encourage men to push through the resistance, explore the discomfort, and use the stages as an opportunity to learn and grow. Change is difficult, however, it can also set us on a path of healing as we learn more about ourselves and others.

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