Skip to main content

We’ve found it is very useful to be thinking about a person stage of change when they are involved in violent extremism, or considering leaving violent extremism. We have seen with our family clients it is really helpful to learn this model to help understand where their loved ones are at. The stages of Change help explain where someone’s awareness and motivation to make change are.

So first, many people are at a precontemplation stage. This means that this person is not even aware that they have a problem. They’re often also saying “I’m not the problem, you’re the problem.” So for a loved one who has a family member involved in violent extremism, this is a person is saying “I don’t have a problem. There’s nothing wrong with my beliefs, there’s nothing wrong with my behaviors. There’s nothing wrong with these violent extremist social networks. It’s you that has the problem.” These are people, again, that are just unaware that they are the issue or that their behaviors are the issue.

Next, we have people who may be in a contemplation stage of change. And this is when they’re starting to recognize there might be something wrong and that perhaps something needs to change. They may not really be aware of what needs to change, but they are uncomfortable. They’re unhappy and something isn’t quite right often. People will come in this contemplation stage of change and it may look like they’re ready to make change, but they’re very ambivalent about making that change. They’re not actually committed to changing and leaving these violent extremist social networks or discontinuing the behaviors associated with violent extremism or even addressing and changing their beliefs. So they may be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to make change.

Eventually, we are able to move people to a preparation stage and this is when they are aware, there’s a problem, they know they need to make a change and they start to make changes, and they intend to take action. They start to say, “I think I need to do this and it might be something like I think I need to stop hanging out with these people or I think I need to stop going to these alternative media sites because they’re just making me feel angry all the time” or “I need to stop engaging in this behavior because I’ve gotten arrested.” This is when we start to hear people preparing to make changes.

Eventually, we want people to reach an action stage where they actually practice the behaviors that we want them to practice, where they actually change their behaviors, their social networks and their beliefs.

Eventually, people will move into a maintenance stage where they’re working just to sustain these changes, to prevent themselves from going back into these violent extremist social spaces and social networks. And this includes the online and the offline spaces and, and preventing them from going back to, antisocial or violent extremist behaviors.