Examples of Change Theories

The following examples provide a helpful resource on personalizing and/or reinforcing change in your life.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

American psychologist Abraham Maslow first introduced his concept of Hierarchy of Needs in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”.

His hierarchical pyramid with five levels proposes that individuals are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to meet higher level growth needs. The needs higher up the pyramid, are more complex as he or she progresses towards self-actualization.

Maintaining completeness at the top of the pyramid requires balancing or self-preservation of each of the five human needs for ongoing well-being.

These five levels of human needs consist of:

  1. Physiological Needs: Air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing and reproduction
  2. Love and Belonging: Friendship, Intimacy, Family, Sense of connection
  3. Safety Needs: Personal security, Employment, Resources, Health, Property
  4. Esteem: Respect, Self-esteem, Status, Recognition, Strength, Freedom
  5. Self-Actualization: Being enlightened by the use of one’s self-efficacy strengths/talents.

Personal Reflection:

What are you personalizing from the above hierarchy of needs that reinforces authenticity?

The Theory of Planned Behaviour

This theory is a revised version of the Theory of Reasoned Action that aims to predict an individual’s intention to engage in a particular behaviour.

It is important to note that this theory assumes that a person has the ability to exercise their self-control.

The theory links behavioural intentions with personal attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behaviour control to predict the likelihood of behavioural outcomes.

The theory is comprised of six elements that together feed into an individual’s control over their behaviour:

  • An individual’s beliefs of the behavioural outcome
  • Rewards of the behavioural outcome
  • A person’s normative beliefs
  • Motivation to comply
  • Self-efficacy and
  • External factors.

Personal Reflection:

In light of this theory, what are you learning about the intentions, behaviour and/or control of your False Self that hinders the life of your True-Self?

The Theory of Self-Efficacy

This theory states that for an individual to bring about a particular behavioural change or goal, personal belief in their capability to change is a primary focus for bringing change.

Personal self-efficacy can include:

  • Belief in your skills, talents or satisfaction of a job done well, focused objectivity, personal affirmation. healthy self-worth, stamina and emotional honesty, etc.

Personal Reflection:

  • Creating your own inventory of self-efficacy skills, talents and capabilities, how self-assertive or self-confident does this make you feel?

The Social Cognitive Theory

This theory is composed of three factors (cognitive, behavioural and environmental factors) that together determine behaviour. It stresses the use of personal observation, reinforcements, personal expectation and self-efficacy as a guide to behaviour.

People naturally observe the interactions of others and depending on the reward/punishment for a given behavioural outcome will in turn result in replicating the observed behaviour. Behaviour/s are observed within relationships, family or social settings and can be used as personal empowerment and motivation.

This theory is particularly important as it not only considers the particular initiating behaviour but the maintenance of the behaviour after it is initially performed.

Personal Reflection:

What personal meaning do you take from observing the way others live and how your life is influenced by their behaviour/s for better or worse?

The Health Belief Model

This model gives a frame of reference to an individual for determining one’s perceived advantage or disadvantage for the need for personal therapeutic intervention. It confronts an individual’s defences for not taking evasive action.

The model brings together an individual’s perceived benefits for challenging their destructive behaviour/s, and their perceived barriers that they feel could hinder them changing such harmful behaviour.

In addition to this, the individual’s self-efficacy belief in personal strength, perceived severity of consequences, and the particular internal or external triggers that could bring about change are used to predict behavioural change.

Personal Reflection:

In relation to this health belief model, what is your response to the statement: Perception can be more powerful than intention?

Trans-Theoretical Model of Behaviour Change (Stages of Change Theory)

This model posits five stages an individual will move through in order to bring about lasting change to their problem behaviour.

These stages are:

  • Pre-contemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance

These stages are sequential and link different processes with different transitions. It is important to note that progression is not linear/circular, that is, an individual can (and often does) re-enter at various stages depending on their particular individual progress/lapse/relapse.

Personal Reflection:

How do these ‘stages of change’ complement the monitoring progress of this retreat eg: Navigation, Invigoration and Celebration?

Relapse Prevention Model

The Relapse Prevention Model presents various components that either increase or decrease the probability of an individual relapsing. This could relate to an addictive substance or behaviour.

The model also introduces the concept of the ‘abstinence violation effect’ (lapses leading to full relapse). The most important components of the model include a person’s perceived control and high-risk situations.

The model defines three categories of high-risk situations, which include negative emotional states, interpersonal conflict and social pressure.

In order for an individual to avoid relapse, they must employ the use of effective coping responses and self-efficacy.

Personal Reflection:

How does this theory help in preventing a relapse back into disparity and what would trigger this?

The Theory of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is the process where individuals learn new behaviours through personal experience.

This theory presents four abilities that define the way we learn and gain genuine knowledge from experience:

  • Active involvement in the experience
  • Personal reflection on the experience
  • Conceptualization of the experience
  • Using decision and problem-solving skills to bring about new ideas

Together these abilities reflect an experiential or pragmatic approach for turning knowledge into creative outcomes.

American educational theorist David A. Kolb famously quoted that “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”. Kolb created an experiential learning cycle that can be applied in most areas of our lives.

Personal Reflection:

Try reflecting on where this theory is playing out in your life following this retreat?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a strategic way of understanding the connection between thoughts, feelings and related behaviour/s. It is a therapeutic tool that brings a structured methodology that enables an individual to challenge or change cognitive distortions (negative thoughts, beliefs and/or attitudes).

Changing maladaptive thoughts and beliefs means tracing their origins, events or experience where feelings of negativity and thinking errors are formed.

Exploring the possible cause and effect relationship between such relationships can help lead to emotional self-regulation of unhealthy emotions/behaviours such as anger, depression and/or anxiety, etc.

Personal Reflection:

What is your response to the idea that changing the way we think can impact on the way we behave?


Howard Clinebell’s book ‘Eco-therapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth’ is credited for popularizing an innovative approach to ecologically-grounded personality theory, spirituality, eco-therapy and education.

Nature provides many practical and metaphorical health benefits as a means of enhancing therapeutic outcomes in an individual’s life. Eco-therapy programmes are tailored to improve a person’s mental wellbeing.

Eco-activities include:

  • Physical activities in the great outdoors
  • Individual therapy that involves being in nature
  • Environmental conservation, arts and crafts inspired by nature
  • Gardening
  • Animal-assisted therapy
  • Adventure quests or wilderness therapy.

Eco-psychology is a developing social and intellectual movement that capitalises on the practical and therapeutic effects Nature has on human civilization. Eco-psychologists examine the psychological processes that both bond and alienate us from Nature.

Personal Reflection:

Consider and compile the health benefits of nature and their impact on your life?

Gestalt Therapy

The basic application of this therapy is to help individuals understand what is happening in their lives now, rather than what was, might be, could be, or should have been!

It is made up of several interpersonal and challenging dynamics. Only some of the constructs of this therapy are outlined:

  • Taking personal responsibility and being true to yourself while processing what that means in the here and now.
  • Experiencing individual moments with self-awareness, without being retrospective in the present-tense.
  • Processing sensory perceptions of body and the emotional response/s. The relationship these have to behaviour/s.
  • Evaluating what actions and attitudes are complementary or indifferent with one’s personal beliefs, decision making and behavioural outcomes.

Within this collective, Gestalt Therapy brings together interpersonal relationship, environment and values while living in community with others as vital parts of a whole person.

In other words, Gestalt theory emphasizes that the whole of anything is greater than its parts.

Personal Reflection:

Within the Retreat4Change Programme there are many similarities to the way this therapy works, list two of them?

Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis (TA) is a model of psychotherapy where the adult personality is influenced by three ego states:

  • Parent ego state
  • Adult ego state
  • Child ego state

Understanding the interplay between these states is the primary focus in analysing an individual’s dysfunctional behaviours.

Personal Refection:

What ego state has helped influence your False-Self persona and what ego state of your True-Self has helped to change it?

The Therapy of Emotional Regulation

Psychologist James Gross in his 2000 book Handbook of Emotion Regulation focuses on an individual’s control of their emotions in a way that abides by what has been deemed acceptable by society.

Leaning how to regulate maladaptive behaviours, and the effect that this has on others in society, is an important mechanism for individual success. Understanding how to self-regulate socially unacceptable emotional states, such as excessive anger, overwhelming resentment, unfounded jealousy, and depression etc, translates to an increase in social competence and the expression of socially appropriate emotions.

Exploring ways of moderating, regulating or challenging negative thought patterns is vital for changing such adverse behaviours.

Emotional regulation identifies powerful processes that include challenging not only an individual’s own emotions, but their responses to other people’s reactions.

Personal Refection:

Recall a personal life experience where you have been emotionally challenged and applied the meaning of this therapy to your circumstances?

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a cognitive ability that focuses on an individual’s capability to understand, recognize and process one’s own and other’s emotions.

It also includes the skill of labelling and differentiating between the various emotional forms. Communicating at an emotional level is an important quality in relationships, intelligent conversation and where emotional intimacy is valued.

The concept of emotional intelligence was popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 publication, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.

In his book Goleman outlies five components of emotional intelligence:


  • Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s moods, emotions and their effect on others.
  • Self-regulation: Using emotional knowledge to prevent moods or emotions from causing impulsive reactions or behaviour
  • Internal Motivation: Acting or making decisions as a result of an inner drive based on optimism, curiosity, a desire to achieve, or personal ideals, rather than for immediate rewards such as monetary gain.
  • Empathy: Understanding the emotions of others and using this knowledge to respond to people based on their emotional state/s.
  • Social Skills: Using one’s emotional intelligence to establish strong relationships and facilitate successful emotional interactions with peers, co-workers and others.

Personal Refection:

At a glance, this therapy provides an every-day practical guide for healthy living.

  • What aspects stand out as features of your Authentic-Self?
  • Which of the five characteristics have been absent due to the disparity between True and False-Self?

Narrative Therapy

This therapy centres on the self-narration of an individual’s life. It aims to rewrite an individual’s narrative by challenging their individual issues.

This person-centred therapy helps the individual to become the author of their own recovery or change, by creating a new story within the constructs of their personal relationships, family and community life.

Narrative therapy is a strengths-based methodology that draws on an individual’s ethics, personal motivation, emotional intelligence, and life skills as the inspiration for creating change.

This therapy is empowering as the individual uses each of the elements to reduce the various negative influences on problematic mindsets or behaviour.

Personal Reflection:

How empowering is it to be the author of your changes from the confines of disparity?

If you were to write a book based on your changes, give the name of your book and the chapters in your narrative?


Psychodrama is a group-therapy tool for role-playing real-life present or past experiences through the use of drama. Generally, the drama is made up of one or more protagonists and/or a facilitator/mediator role-playing a sequence of events or solitary experience.

In this form of therapy, individuals may take on the role of support actor/s or family members in the drama. Each participant in the drama uses the re-enactment as a metaphorical stage to explore their own issues by seeing themselves as both the protagonist (False-Self) and mediator (True-Self).

Within this mode of therapy there is a place of equal importance for those who find participation too painful. Sitting on the side-line as a drama unfolds may be confronting enough.

So, as the group debriefs, and individual responses are discussed, there is the inclusion of those who haven’t roleplayed but have been impacted nonetheless.

Allowing time to prepare for a particular drama/role is important as individuals are encouraged to confront problematic issues in the present tense or third person.

In this way, psychodrama initiates emotional honesty, spontaneity from the heart, and creative imagination is verbalized, enacted and reinforced by the group. This is especially true when creating a group exercise involving the metaphor of True and False-Self.

Personal Refection:

As chairperson of your True-Self, how do you intend to remain in that position given that old habits can reappear?


Mindfulness, in the context of this retreat, is knowing how to be in the present moment with ease or calm. It symbolizes a form of self-preservation or being instinctive about self-care.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to what you respect about being you, as defined in the character traits of your authentic-self.

Mindfulness is the practice of emotional composure particularly as it is regulated by healthy breathing patterns. It is non-judgmental, purposeful and concerned ultimately with mental, emotional and spiritual states of human being.

‘The practice of integrating the natural environment around you with authenticity, mindfulness and body awareness can be life-changing’.

Personal Refection:

While greater focus will be given to the practice of mindfulness during the retreat, what comes to mind when you consider that mindfulness can bring clam, helps to relieve stress, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, lifts mood and/or mental health etc?

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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