What is a Change Analysis?

The purpose of a Change Analysis in substance abuse treatment is to try to open up an honest conversation about what is really going in the mind of those we are trying to help. More about what a Change Analysis involves, and major points of discussion here.

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There are many tools for addiction recovery used by licensed psychologists and clinical social workers. Here, we review Change Analysis. The purpose of a Change Analysis is open up an honest conversation about what is really going regarding drug or alcohol use. The idea is to use a straightforward, genuine, and nonjudgmental approach to allow psychotherapy clients to assess, analyze, and possibly change behaviors which no longer serve them well. How to perform a Change Analysis here, and a section for your questions at the end.

Change experiments help assess substance use issues

The concept of a “Change Experiment” is a well-known, effective and practical tool included in a lot of different methods for overcoming substance use issues. A Change Experiment is mainly used with a person who does not believe they have a problem or perhaps they are on the fence about it. That person is asked to try abstinence for a predetermined period (like a week or two or longer depending upon the circumstances) on a trial basis.

Whether or not the person stays abstinent during that period or not, the counselor can then use the outcome of the Change Experiment for insight-building discussion. For example, if the substance user is unable to abstain during the trial period, the challenges and other barriers to success can be discussed. Or, if the person was able to abstain during the trial period, then future counseling sessions can involve discussing how it felt not to use and what worked, then ultimately build from there. Most counselors already know about using the Change Experiment strategy and have found them to be quite effective.

Change Analysis can be the next step

However, as most counselors are also aware of, our substance abusing clients are not always honest with us which can inhibit the effectiveness of a Change Experiment. Another option to try is what I call a “Change Analysis”.

The purpose of a Change Analysis is to try to open up an honest conversation about what is really going in the mind of those we are trying to help. Of course, someone can still choose to be disingenuous but the Change Analysis too looks at things from multiple perspectives which often serves as a good guideline for generating as honest of a conversation as possible when used with a straightforward, genuine, nonjudgmental approach. (This tool is great for individual or group therapy)

What does a Change Analysis consider?

A Change Analysis involves considering significant life areas from three different perspectives:

1. The Actual – What are you are actually doing right now in your life. Where you are at today?

2. The Ideal – How would you define the best case scenario? What do you think is commonly considered as the ideal situation?

3. The Real– What are you most likely really going to do when there is no pressure on you and no one is watching you and you can do what you want? (Think about what kind of choices you will make in the near future)

For example, consider the topic “friends”. Below is an example of a change analysis on this topic:

ACTUAL – “I still hang around with most of my friends who smoke weed but I let them know that I am being drug tested so they try not use right in front of me most of the time and usually that works to keep me clean for now”

IDEAL – “Ideally, I shouldn’t be associating at all with any of my friends who use drugs, or at least that is what everyone tells me”

REAL – “Once everyone gets off my back I still may be friendly with some of my close pot smoking friends but I will try to spend some more time skateboarding with Jim, my friend who is on probation and doesn’t smoke, and hopefully that will help keep me out of trouble.

Practice for Change Analysis

So, the best way to try out a new tool is to actually go through the steps yourself. Now try to map out the Actual, The Ideal, and The Real from the point of view of someone struggling with substance use. Try this out with some other topics – Discuss some of these areas in terms of the Actual, the Ideal, and the Real

  • Alcohol Use
  • Drug use
  • School/Employment
  • Friends
  • Sex
  • Relationships
  • Drug Dealing/Criminal activity
  • Family
  • Emotions
  • Honesty
  • Spirituality
  • Medication
  • Work
  • Counseling (Getting Help)
  • Others: (Make up your own)

Questions to consider:

1. Which areas stood out to you as areas where you really are most unwilling to consider changing? (For example “Medication- there is no way I will ever try taking meds” or “Friends – My wife wants me to stop hanging out with Larry, but he is my best friend since childhood and there is no way I am going to change that”)

2. When you look at what you are actually doing now, which areas stand out as some of your strongest, most positive areas? (For example – “Alcohol – I know I still struggle with drugs but when it comes to alcohol, I haven’t had a drink in years”)

3. After you take some time to honestly think this over, which areas might you consider making some changes in because you can understand some of the good behind making that change? You do not have to be ready to make those changes, just identify a few areas. (For example, Emotions – “I realize that I could benefit from learning to manage my anger better” or Family – “I wouldn’t mind improving my relationship with my parents and siblings”)

4. Identify a few areas that interest you now that you may want to change.

5. After doing this change analysis and reviewing your thoughts, is there anything specific to substance use that you would be willing to try to adjust at this time?

6. Define the following: I would be willing to change the following with regard to my substance use:

Questions about Change Analysis

Counselors, if nothing else, when used properly, even with challenging and unmotivated clients, this Change Analysis tool can get your clients talking about change, which is a great place to start. Please leave us your questions about Change Analysis in the comments section below. We will try to respond to you personally and promptly.

About the author
Kenneth Pecoraro, LCSW, LCADC, CCS has worked directly providing treatment for individuals with substance use and coexisting emotional-behavioral issues for over 20 years using a motivational, skills and strengths based, individualized client-centered perspective. The techniques explained in his method, Taking the Escalator: An Alternative to the 12 Steps, help individuals who are resistant to traditional approaches gain the tools needed for learning to increase insight and motivation for positive change.
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