Updated: Nov 1, 2020
This change process was observed and elucidated by "the Mother of Family Therapy" Virginia Satir (1916-1988). A curious child, Satir taught herself to read by age three, and by nine had read all the books in the library of her small one-room school. When she was five years old, Satir decided that she would grow up to be "a children's detective on parents." She later explained that "I didn't quite know what I would look for, but I realized a lot went on in families that didn't meet the eye.
Virginia Satir's 6 Stages of Change:
Introduction of a Foreign (new) Element
New Status Quo
1. Status Quo
There is a need for change because you have not admitted you need to change, and you do not know what change looks like yet. You might be living in a way that no longer works for you. You might feel dissatisfied, unhappy, stuck, and this is often reflected in stress, overwhelm and even illness. Denying what is really going on, and you might be using unhealthy or outdated coping mechanisms such as working long hours, overuse of social media or television, alcohol, excessive shopping etc.
In Therapy: Until you are ready to outwardly acknowledge your need for change, there is nothing we can do in therapy.
2. Introduction of a Foreign (New) Element
You have recognized the need for change. A "foreign element" that is introduced in this stage is usually a person, it might be a friend, family member, colleague or someone else such as a therapist or a coach that challenges you. A foreign element can also be a life even that challenges your habitual way of dealing with life.
In Therapy: We will start by setting a positive context for change by building a safe and trusting relationship in our therapeutic relationship. At this stage, we will explore the possibility of positive change. The doing will come later. This is a time to build a strong vision of who you want to become. We will build upon your positive view of yourself, while also gently and non-judgmentally identify limiting beliefs and behaviours.
It is important to know that limiting beliefs and behaviours sometimes have a "secondary gain" that keeps you exactly where you are. So, it is always helpful to see how limiting beliefs have supported or protected you until now and to decide why you want to let them go. There always comes a time when limiting beliefs outgrow their usefulness. Once you let go of old ways of coping and protecting yourself it becomes much easier to replace them with higher functioning thoughts and behaviours.
Once you have begun exploring your beliefs, motivations, needs, vision and goals you are already moving to a state of chaos and the process of change has begun. Virginia Satir referred to chaos as "the system is now operating in ways we cannot predict." As you start to make shifts and changes, you will upset your "normal" equilibrium and move into a state of chaos or dysregulation.
In Therapy: This is a difficult stage in therapy and you might struggle and want to question the process. You might feel fearful and unsafe. We can slow down the pace in your therapy sessions if need be but it is helpful to know that the chaos stage is necessary for deep and lasting change.
Fear of change can be explored, normalized and worked through. Outdated rules, beliefs, and coping mechanisms can be explored and present-day inner and outer resources can be anchored during this turbulent phase of change.
Integration is the stage where you reevaluate and let go of old ways of being. During this stage you can get really creative and explore new ways of looking at yourself and your life. You will truly start to see who you are becoming, let go of what does not serve you and really become the change you want to see.
In therapy: This will be new place of being for you. This is a time to reflect upon all the positive changes you are making. New beliefs, habits and perspectives can be celebrated, and inner resources can be strengthened. At this stage you can come to notice the shifts in your body when you move from an old way of functioning to a new way thinking and being that is more joyful and true for you.
This is the stage where you implement and strengthen your new state of change through lots of practice. Anchoring a change can be challenging and disheartening in the beginning, and you might frequently forget to strengthen your new self through practices. Yet, as you continue to practice new ways of thinking and behaving, you will likely feel growing freedom, joy and self-respect.
In Therapy: As you implement, practice and become the best version of yourself, it is helpful to have reinforcement and support. You might feel very serious about your changes and need to concentrate on remembering new ways of being. The pull of old patterns can feel very strong, yet as you are reminded of your inner strength, and you become aware of when you are slipping into your old ways, you can more continuously practice your new ways of being.
At this point, you will likely establish new daily practices such as meditation, art or writing practices or a new exercise program. You might remind yourself of who you are becoming through written affirmations, journaling, or other tangible symbols that anchor your positive changes. This stage is all about sustaining regular practice and creating supportive life structures so that when the pull of old patterns reassert, you will have new positive ways of coping.
6. The New Status Quo
This stage is where you enjoy your new and improved way of being. At this point you will be mostly anchored in your new way of being, and will find it easier to stay on track even when you slip back. You will likely feel more energy, creativity, openness, joy and spontaneity.
In therapy: This is a time for celebration. Together, we can reflect back on the person you were, and celebrate the person you are becoming. At this point, you might feel like you are finished with therapy, or you can set a new vision and start to take steps towards a new goal. If you decide to begin the change process all over again, there is always something new to become.
It is important to note that change is never a non-linear path, and you might need to repeat or retract to different stages before going on to the next level. Some changes take weeks, months or even years.