One of the techniques our counselors use as part of our teen recovery programs is helping an adolescent move through the stages of change. The six steps in the stages of change are founded on the belief that major life changes are rarely successful in one movement. Making progress and effecting lasting change is a process.

In recognizing the process, we can more carefully help teens navigate through their recovery and help them take an active role in their progress. The six key stages are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination.


In this stage, your teen may wish to change, but don’t have any immediate or specific plans to do so. This apathetic behavior is often due to discouragement because of past failed attempts to get clean, or because they don’t see enough benefits to kicking their addiction. There is a lot of weighing out the pros and cons of changing behavior during this phase, and it is a healthy part of the stage.


People in the contemplation stage are open to new information and are considering taking action, though they have probably not done anything about it yet. The pros and cons scales are usually feeling about even now, and the counselor will have the opportunity to help your teen tip them the right way. Since people in this phase are open, it is the time to focus on internal, unique motivators that can help get your teen actually interested or even excited about the change.


Now is the time for action! People who have moved into this stage are committed to developing a plan and may even take a few small steps. The pros of change have tipped the balance and now outweigh the cons. This stage is about building confidence in your teen that they can overcome obstacles and succeed!


This is when all of the small steps or choices start to pay off. This is when a person will start to do a lot of things differently and start to implement their plan. The action stage can be an emotional roller coaster. People are excited and feeling empowered as they start to walk out their plan, but they will also be exposed to situations that can trigger old habits. This is the time they continue to work with their counselor, family, and friends, teachers, etc., to develop coping skills.


People enter into the maintenance phase when, over the course of time, they have successfully avoided or overcome situations that would normally cause them to relapse. They have been employing the coping skills they have developed and are enjoying a new status quo.


While this sounds ominous, it is the ultimate goal of the whole change process. Counselors consider a teen to have entered into this phase when they have been successful in the maintenance phase for at least two years and the new behaviors have been completely integrated into life, it is now second nature.

It is common for people to hit walls at any one of these stages and need to “fall back” to a previous one. Sometimes your teen will go through many of these stages each day as they work through decisions and embrace the new behaviors and patterns. It is ok to fall back, everyone learns from each process and carries that new experience into the next phase.