Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

The Cycle of Change

Christian counseling and the cycle of change – knowing what and when to intervene for lasting results – by Dr. Willis Newman.

Knowing the cycle of change will reduce greatly the frustration Christian counselors encounter. Consider Jack. He loved to party and drink with his buddies. He had a new SUV, loved to cruise the bars, stay out late, come home drunk, and go to work with a hangover. 

The pattern started all over the next night. Oh, maybe for a while he would wait until the weekends.

Other friends and family pleaded with Jack to lighten up, to quit drinking, and straighten out his life. Even the family pastor! It was all to no avail. He would laugh, brush them off, and tell them to mind their own business. “Quit preaching to me,” was his favorite retort. 

Well, things changed. One night Jack and two buddies really tied one on. The bars closed, and they were having a hilarious time driving home. Party time! Suddenly, disaster struck! The SUV swerved off the road, rolled several times, and slammed against a tree. Jack was able to crawl out from the wreckage, and wave down passing cars for help.

When the wreckage was cleaned up, and Jack sobered up, he was faced with the fact that his two good buddies were dead. That’s right! Wake up call! Party time turned to funeral time, and potential jail time. And, that’s the night Jack’s life changed. Jack quit drinking, and has stayed sober for years. His life straightened out, and now church is part of his life. 

What happened? Why didn’t Jack quit before? Well, one answer is that he was in the wrong place in the cycle of change. Here is how the cycle works. The key is to determine where the person is in the cycle of change, and adapt intervention to that phase. Here they are.

The I'm OK Phase

This is where the person sees no need for change. Things are going well in their life – even though destructive patterns are forming, like storm clouds coming over the horizon. During this phase, don’t expect the person to change. They don’t want to. No motivation. Just keep the door open to them so when the landslide hits, they will know where to come for help.

The Landslide Phase

This is where the pain begins. The person’s life begins to unravel. Perhaps they may get fired from the job, bankruptcy hits from poor business decisions, a profligate lifestyle ruins health, the wife/husband finally gets fed up and walks out – crisis hits big time. The person is in shock, stunned, bewildered – but not yet ready for change. They may think it is a temporary setback. 

It may not be that a traumatic crisis has lambasted the person. It may be dissatisfaction with life. It could be a sense of guilt and futility with life, a sort of, “Is this all there is to life?” This is what occurred to me when I received Christ as my Savior. I was in my mid 20’s, drinking too much, and suddenly radically bored with life. I recall thinking, “Am I just going to keep doing this until I am 65, retire, and then die? What’s the point?” Christ did give meaning and purpose to my life.

The Denial Phase

A wide range of emotions hit at this point of the cycle of change. The person will deny the wakeup call (crisis event) is happening, blame others for their predicament, or minimize its importance. Maybe they will beg or bargain with God or whoever will listen. They are almost ready to accept responsibility – but they are not quite ready to let go, accept responsibility, or see any need for change on their part. The pain intensifies.

The Acceptance Phase

Finally, it dawns on the person that what they are doing simply does not work. They begin to gain insight on the true nature of the situation – they realize the dire straits of their predicament. They realize that things are not going to be the same. The husband/wife is not coming home. The money is gone. In Jack’s case, his friends were gone. The cycle of change is taking root.

The Searching Phase

The pain is too much, stark reality has set in; the person begins to look for a different way of life. This is where intervention in the cycle of change has its greatest success. The person will listen, read, and is open to advice. They are fed up with the way things are. Time your intervention to this phase – but still go slow with the person. The old way of life is still familiar and predictable. New things bring confusion and uncertainty. Proceed at the person’s own pace.

Make sure that God’s way is a clear option for the person. Rely on the Holy Spirit in this delicate phase. With tender compassion and sympathy along with clear insistent instruction give plain choices, clear instructions, and predictable consequences. 

The Decision Phase

Now the person has decided on and adopted a new course of action. It might be to accept Christ, enter into serious discipleship, learn and practice new behavior, and adopting new attitudes. They have decided upon serious change. Be sure to give the person adequate attention and direction at this point – it will put them on the path to a new life. Make sure it is right.

The Shaky Phase

Fear begins to afflict the person in this phase of the cycle of change. New ways of acting and thinking stir anxiety. The old way may be destructive, but at least there was a certain amount of comfort, predictability, and intimacy involved. Even the experience of depression is familiar, and the person knows what to expect. Change comes hard, and certainly has setbacks. Old habits of thinking and behaving are hard to break. Expect some setbacks. The proverb is true, “It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”

The Dropping Off Phase

Here is where old ways are progressively dropping off. The person has accepted their fate and mistakes, sought out something new, made the decision to take new, healthy action. Repentance is now bringing forth genuine fruit – at least in stopping some of the destructive forces buffeting the person. 

The Adopting Phase

This is when new behavior and thinking is beginning to become a habit. This phase is important, because learning just to avoid or not do certain things is only half the job. It must be replaced in real time experience with new behavior and thinking. For example, it is not enough to quit traveling with the wrong company, but one must take up new healthy relationships.

The Integration Phase

This phase of the cycle of change is where the new habits become solidly connected to a new world view, and carry across all phases of the person’s personality: emotionally, behaviorally, and thinking. Relapse is certainly possible, but it gets less likely. 

The Continous Change

God is not finished with us yet. While we still live on this earth, we need to constantly change. The cycle of change never stops. The theological term is, “progressive sanctification.” The Holy Spirit is constantly at work in our lives, conforming us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28). 

Knowing the general phases of the Bible teaching about the cycle of change will give you better results in your counseling. You won’t be disappointed when your efforts fail, but will know when to act, and when not to act, and what to do in each phase. Jack found out about the cycle of change the hard way, but it turned into something good.

All the best, Dr. Willis and Esmie Newman


1. According to 2 Peter 1:8, should we expect change in our lives?

2. Where do you suppose Nicodemus was in the cycle of change (John 3:1-10)?

3. Where do you gage Paul to be in the cycle in Acts 9:1, 2?

4. Which phase would you place Paul in Acts 9:3-9?

5. Where would you place Paul in Acts 9:17-19?

6. Where would you place Paul in the cycle of change in Galatians 1:16-18?

7. In what phase of the cycle of change would you place Paul in Philippians 3:12?

8. How should we view those “wake up” calls in life (1 Peter 1:6-9)?

9. What should be our realistic expectations in counseling other people (Matthew 13:18-23)?

10. What stood out to you the most in this study on the cycle of change? Explain.

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