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Counselling Change Strategies using a Developmental Systems Lens

I heard about this great change model recently and wanted to write about it in my journal because to be honest in counselling we learn about so many models but there are very few that stand out as being really good and practical. This particular change model makes sense and I can see from my own private practice that it follows a natural logical direction of change that I have experienced in my work. The white paper was called Pathways to Recovery: Promoting Change Within a Developmental-systemic Framework (2006). It draws from developmental psychology, systems theory and feminist ideology and the paper explore it in the context of working with eating disorders. I am going to explore a more general counselling context in this journal entry today.

The model describes 5 steps to move through the change process; ideally you work with your counsellor so you can dive deep and have someone to reflect with and contain you emotionally through the process. The five steps are explore, understand, accept, challenge and change. The 5 steps can be memorised by mnemonic that was developed, ‘exotic underwear always causes chaos.’ This can be certainly memorable for clients! The idea is that in holistic counselling sessions we focus on moving through these five steps quite thoroughly in order to achieve change but todays journal will describe ways to do this process in your self-healing journal writing. Let's have a closer look at each step and I encourage you to see if you can apply it to a small change you're hoping to make. A great strategy to use in your journal to record, monitor and reflect each of the steps as you go.


Gather all the information you can about your history in a timeline from a family and wider cultural context. You can put the date and age next to significant events but we are aiming to gather as much historical data and knowledge as we can about the onset of the exisiting problem you're trying to change. It's important to identify your support networks in this step also, be it family, community or professional support. If you need more support don't be afraid to reach out. That is why I offer my services and write about this topic because I have made a living from supporting people and it's what I find a sense of purpose in doing with my life.


This step to come to a formulation as to why you have these thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are problematic. It involves reflecting on and making sense of your emotional experience. Remembering emotions often carry information about what we value. You can also look to what current factors in your life maintain the problem within the partnership, family, culture etc. The main thing is to identify what lead to the problem and what now is perpetuating it or preventing progress toward healing. If this step is difficult on your own seek the support of a counsellor.


This step is very important and without it change can be compromised. Up until this point we've relied on logical reasoning to arrive at understanding of the presenting problem and it incorporates both developmental psychology and systems thinking. If it doesn't feel right at this point what you've accounted for then revise it. But it's important the problem is identified and it's development is known and understood as a logical reasoned response to your life. The impact of this can be empowering in terms of the healing outcome because logic is very comforting and can open the way for effective change. Try writing about your agreed on formulation as to the understanding and accepting of things, not in a fixed way but in a way that allows for natural change and deepening to emerge. This writing is designed to be a springboard to the next step, challenge.


The final two step can take change depending on how ready you're to make changes. The challenge steps requires you to question how things could be different, what the priorities for change are, considering the ripple effects of making change, reframing and exploring if at all possible to react and think differently. You can challenge your own response with the awareness of the insights you've gained from this process. You need to challenge the status quo and narrow your focus on change and begin to explore the possible personal and wider effects of making the change. This will include the things that will support and hinder your progress in order to move on.


The final stage is actively working on change by clearly identifying goals, ensuring they are achievable (get feedback if you need to) and making them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time framed). Use your journal to track and monitor your progress and actively engage in the action steps for achieving your goal, reviewing, reflecting and revising. If you struggle with any of these steps on your own enlist my support and let me help you through these 5 stages in my 8-week 1:1 holistic counselling package in Melbourne or online.

Bryant-Waugh. (2006). Pathways to Recovery: Promoting Change Within a Developmental-systemic Framework. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 11(2), 213–224.


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