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Seven stages of process

Carl Rogers was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. He developed a humanistic approach to psychotherapy that emphasized the importance of personal growth and Self-actualization. One of his major contributions was his theory of the seven stages of process, which described how people change and develop in therapy and in life. In this article, we will explore what these stages are, how they relate to each other, and what they imply for counselling practice and research.

What are Rogers’ seven stages of process?

Rogers’ seven stages of process are a model of how people change and grow in therapy, according to the person-centred approach. They describe the different levels of openness, awareness and congruence that clients can experience as they move from a state of rigidity and defensiveness to a state of fluidity and authenticity. Here is a brief summary of each stage:

  • Stage 1: The client is very closed off and distant from their feelings. They tend to blame others for their problems and avoid taking responsibility for themselves.
  • Stage 2: The client is slightly more open, but still unsure about their own role in their situation. They may question their assumptions, but not act on them.
  • Stage 3: The client begins to accept some responsibility for themselves, but still generalizes and focuses on the past rather than the present. They may express some feelings, but not fully own them.
  • Stage 4: The client starts to describe their current feelings more accurately and less critically. They may show some willingness to change, but also some resistance and fear.
  • Stage 5: The client sees things more clearly and takes ownership of their actions. They are prepared to make changes and face the consequences. They may experience some relief and hope.
  • Stage 6: The client recognizes their own and others’ potential for growth and Self-actualization. They accept their pain and their joy, and are more open to new experiences and relationships.
  • Stage 7: The client is fully congruent, spontaneous and creative. They are in touch with their inner self and their outer world, and live harmonizing with both.
Why are they important for understanding human development and change?

Rogers’ seven stages of process are important for understanding human development and change because they describe how people can grow and transform themselves in response to their life experiences. They also provide a framework for facilitating change in others by creating a supportive and empathic environment that fosters self-awareness, exploration, choice, and integration.

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How are they related to person-centred therapy and positive psychology?

Rogers’ seven stages of process are closely related to his theory of person-centred therapy, which aims to facilitate the client’s movement from lower to higher stages by providing a supportive and empathic environment where the client can explore their feelings without judgment or direction. Rogers believed that the therapist’s role is to offer three core conditions: unconditional positive regard, congruence, and empathic understanding. These conditions help the client to feel accepted, valued, and understood, and to develop a more accurate and positive self-concept.

Rogers’ seven stages of process are also relevant to the field of positive psychology, which focuses on the scientific study of human flourishing and well-being. Positive psychology shares with Rogers’ approach a belief in the inherent goodness and potential of human beings, and a recognition of the importance of positive emotions, strengths, virtues, and meaning in life. This also draws on Rogers’ concept of Self-actualization, which refers to the realization of one’s unique talents and capacities. Positive psychology aims to help people achieve Self-actualization by identifying and enhancing their strengths, fostering positive relationships, finding purpose and direction in life, and cultivating positive emotions such as happiness, gratitude, hope, and love.

Stage 1: Stagnation

The stagnation stage of Rogers’ seven stages of process is the fifth stage in which the innovation diffusion process slows down or stops. This stage occurs when the innovation reaches a saturation point in the market or when it faces competition from other innovations. The stagnation stage can also be influenced by external factors such as social, economic, political or environmental changes that affect the demand or supply of the innovation. In this stage, the adopters of the innovation may experience dissatisfaction, dissonance or regret due to the performance, cost or obsolescence of the innovation. The stagnation stage can be overcome by modifying, improving or replacing the innovation with a new one that meets the needs and expectations of the adopters.

Stage 2: awareness

The awareness stage of Rogers’ seven stages of process is the third stage, where the person is beginning to consider accepting responsibility for self, but generalizes and focuses more on past than present feelings. For example, a person in this stage might say: “I felt angry, but then everyone does, don’t they?” This stage indicates a slight movement from rigidity and defensiveness towards openness and curiosity. However, the person is still not fully aware of their own feelings and needs, and may avoid confronting them in the present moment. The person may also lack trust in themselves and others, and may seek external validation or approval.

Stage 3: Exploration

The exploration stage is the fourth stage of Rogers’ seven stages of process, which describe the development of a person from a rigid and incongruent state to a fluid and congruent one. In this stage, the client begins to describe their own here-and-now feelings, but tends to be critical of self for having these. For example, a client might say: “I feel guilty about that, but I shouldn’t really.”

The exploration stage is characterized by a willingness and active seeking of involvement in the therapeutic relationship, but a lack of trust in the counsellor. The client may use humour or intellectualization to distance themselves from the full impact of their feelings. The counsellor’s role is to offer unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding, and to help the client become more aware of their feelings and less judgmental of themselves. The counsellor also needs to take care not to collude with the client’s defences or to impose their own solutions.

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The exploration stage is an important step towards becoming more congruent and accepting of oneself. It is also a challenging stage, as the client may experience anxiety, confusion or resistance as they face their feelings more directly. The counsellor can support the client by providing a safe and supportive environment, and by facilitating the client’s process without directing it.

Stage 4: Planning

The planning stage of Rogers’ seven stages of process is the fifth stage, where clients express that they are seeing things more clearly, and take ownership of their situation, being prepared to act. In this stage, clients move from being passive and reactive to being active and proactive, as they recognize their own power and responsibility to change their circumstances. They may make decisions that reflect their authentic self, such as quitting a job, ending a relationship, or pursuing a new goal. The planning stage is an important step towards becoming a fully functioning person, as Rogers defined it.

Some characteristics of the planning stage are :

  • Clients use statements that begin with “I” and express their own feelings and opinions.
  • Clients show congruence between their words and their non-verbal behaviour.
  • They acknowledge the reality of their situation and the consequences of their actions.
  • Clients demonstrate a willingness to experiment with new behaviours and attitudes.
  • Clients seek feedback from others and evaluate it critically.
Stage 5: Evaluation

The Evaluation stage of Rogers’ seven stages of process is the fifth stage, in which the client assesses the value and relevance of the new experiences and insights that have emerged in the previous stages. The client evaluates whether these new perspectives are consistent with their self-concept and congruent with their goals and values. The client also evaluates whether these new perspectives lead to positive outcomes and facilitate their growth and development. The Evaluation stage is important because it helps the client to consolidate their learning and to integrate their new awareness into their everyday life. The Evaluation stage also prepares the client for the next stage, which is Resolution or integration.

Stage 6: integration

The integration stage of Rogers’ seven stages of process is the sixth stage, in which the client begins to incorporate their new insights and experiences into their self-concept and behaviour. The client can accept and value both positive and negative aspects of themselves, and to express their feelings and thoughts more freely and congruently. The client also develops a more realistic and flexible view of themselves and others, and a greater capacity for intimacy and creativity. The integration stage is marked by a sense of harmony and wholeness within the client, as well as a more profound understanding of their own potential and purpose.

Stage 7: Actualization

Stage 7 of Rogers’ seven stages of process is the final stage, where the person becomes a fully functioning individual who can experience effective choices of new ways of being. This means that the person can live in the present moment, trust their own feelings and intuition, and act authentically and creatively. The person is also open to new experiences and challenges, and can cope with uncertainty and change. The person has a high level of congruence between their self-concept and their organismic experience, and can express their feelings freely and appropriately. The person is also empathic and accepting of others, and can form meaningful relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. Stage 7 is not a fixed state, but a dynamic process of growth and development that requires constant awareness and adjustment.

How can the seven stages of process help individuals and groups achieve their goals and overcome challenges?

The seven stages of process are a framework for understanding and facilitating change in individuals and groups. They are: awareness, exploration, identification, preparation, action, integration and evaluation. Each stage has its own purpose, challenges and strategies for success. Here is a brief overview of how the seven stages of the process can help individuals and groups achieve their goals and overcome challenges:

  • awareness: This is the stage where individuals or groups become aware of a need or desire for change. They may experience dissatisfaction, curiosity, frustration or inspiration. The challenge in this stage is to acknowledge the reality of the situation and the possibility of change. The strategy for success is to seek information, feedback and support from relevant sources.
  • Exploration: This is the stage where individuals or groups explore the options and alternatives for change. They may conduct research, brainstorm ideas, consult experts or experiment with different approaches. The challenge in this stage is to avoid being overwhelmed by too much or too little information, and to remain open-minded and flexible. The strategy for success is to compare and contrast the pros and cons of each option and to align them with their values and vision.
  • Identification: This is the stage where individuals or groups identify the specific goal or outcome they want to achieve and the steps they need to take to get there. They may set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) objectives, create action plans, assign roles and responsibilities or establish milestones and indicators. The challenge in this stage is to be realistic and optimistic about what can be accomplished, and to commit to the chosen course of action. The strategy for success is to communicate clearly, collaborate effectively and anticipate potential obstacles and solutions.
  • Preparation: This is the stage where individuals or groups prepare themselves mentally, emotionally, physically and materially for the change. They may acquire new skills, knowledge or resources, develop positive attitudes or beliefs, manage stress or emotions or address any barriers or resistance. The challenge in this stage is to overcome fear, doubt or inertia and to build confidence and motivation. The strategy for success is to practice self-care, seek encouragement and reinforcement, and celebrate small wins and progress.
  • Action: This is the stage where individuals or groups implement the change by taking concrete actions that move them closer to their goal or outcome. They may execute their action plans, monitor their performance or results, adjust their strategies or tactics or cope with any difficulties or setbacks. The challenge in this stage is to maintain focus, energy and momentum and to deal with any unexpected events or consequences. The strategy for success is to be flexible, resilient and persistent and to seek feedback and support from others.
  • integration: This is the stage where individuals or groups integrate the change into their daily lives by making it a habit, routine or norm. They may consolidate their learning, reinforce their behaviours, sustain their outcomes or transfer their skills or knowledge to other contexts. The challenge in this stage is to avoid complacency, regression or relapse and to cope with any resistance or opposition from others. The strategy for success is to review their achievements, acknowledge their efforts and rewards, and share their experiences and insights with others.
  • Evaluation: This is the stage where individuals or groups evaluate the change by assessing its impact, effectiveness and satisfaction. They may measure their progress, outcomes or results against their objectives, indicators or standards, identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats or solicit feedback from others. The challenge in this stage is to be honest, objective and constructive about what worked well and what could be improved. The strategy for success is to celebrate their successes, learn from their failures and plan for future changes.

The seven stages of process are not linear or sequential but rather cyclical and iterative. Individuals or groups may move back and forth between different stages depending on their needs, circumstances or preferences. The seven stages of process are not prescriptive or rigid but rather flexible and adaptable. Individuals or groups may modify them according to their goals, challenges or situations. The seven stages of process are not exclusive or exhaustive but rather inclusive and comprehensive. Individuals or groups may use them with other models, frameworks or tools that suit their purposes.

What are some examples of the seven stages of process in different contexts and domains?
  • Here are some examples of the seven stages of process in different contexts and domains:
  • In project management, the seven stages of process are also known as the project life cycle. The initiation stage involves defining the project scope, objectives, stakeholders and deliverables. The planning stage involves developing a detailed project plan, schedule, budget and risk management plan. The execution stage involves implementing the project plan and performing the tasks and activities. The monitoring stage involves tracking the project progress, performance and quality. The control stage involves identifying and resolving any issues or changes that may affect the project plan. The closure stage involves completing the project deliverables, closing the contracts and documenting the lessons learned. The evaluation stage involves assessing the project outcomes, benefits and impacts.
  • In software development, the seven stages of process are also known as the software development life cycle (SDLC). The initiation stage involves identifying the software requirements, feasibility and scope. The planning stage involves designing the software architecture, modules and interfaces. The execution stage involves coding, testing and debugging the software. The monitoring stage involves verifying and validating the software functionality and quality. The control stage involves managing any changes or defects that may occur during the development process. The closure stage involves deploying, installing and maintaining the software. The evaluation stage involves reviewing and improving the software performance and usability.
  • In scientific research, the seven stages of process are also known as the scientific method. The initiation stage involves posing a question or a problem that needs to be investigated. The planning stage involves conducting a literature review, forming a hypothesis and designing an experiment. The execution stage involves conducting the experiment and collecting data. The monitoring stage involves analysing and interpreting the data. The control stage involves evaluating and refining the hypothesis based on the data. The closure stage involves drawing conclusions and reporting the results. The evaluation stage involves discussing the implications, limitations and applications of the results.
What are some limitations and criticisms of the seven stages of process model?

The seven stages of process model has been widely used and applied in various fields of counselling and psychotherapy, as well as in education, health care, and social work. However, it has also been subject to some limitations and criticisms, such as:

  • It is too linear and sequential, implying that individuals move through the stages in a fixed order and at a uniform pace, which may not reflect the complexity and diversity of human experience.
  • It is too cognitive and rational, focusing on conscious decision-making and problem-solving, which may neglect the role of emotions, intuition, and creativity in the change process.
  • Furthermore, it is too individualistic and self-centred, assuming that individuals are autonomous agents who can initiate and control their own change, which may ignore the influence of social, cultural, and environmental factors on their behaviour and well-being.
  • It is too optimistic and idealistic, suggesting that individuals can achieve positive outcomes and become fully functioning persons, which may overlook the challenges and difficulties that they may encounter along the way.

These limitations and criticisms do not necessarily invalidate the seven stages of process model, but they indicate that it should be used with caution and flexibility, considering the context and characteristics of each individual and situation.

Recommendations for future research and practice

One possible direction for future research and practice regarding the seven stages of process model is to examine how different types of interventions can facilitate or hinder the transition between stages. For example, what kinds of feedback, coaching, mentoring, or training can help individuals move from awareness to interest, or from preparation to action? Another possible direction is to explore how contextual factors, such as organizational culture, leadership support, peer influence, or external pressures, can affect the motivation and readiness of individuals to engage in change processes. How can these factors be leveraged or mitigated to foster a positive and conducive environment for change? A third possible direction is to evaluate the outcomes and impacts of applying the seven stages of process model in various domains and settings. How can the model be adapted or customized to suit different types of changes, such as personal, professional, or organizational? What are the benefits and challenges of using the model in different contexts and situations? How can the model be integrated with other frameworks or tools for change management?

Further Reading

If you are interested in learning more about the seven stages of process, a theory developed by Carl Rogers to describe the changes that clients undergo in person-centred therapy, here are some weblinks that you can check out:

The 7 Stages of Process • counselling Tutor: This website provides a detailed explanation of each stage, with examples of typical client statements and tips for counsellors on how to work with clients at different stages.

Seven Stages of Process – Skill of reflectioncounselling Tutor: This website offers a podcast episode where the hosts discuss the seven stages of process and how to use them in supervision and case studies. They also discuss the skill of reflection and how it can help clients move through the stages.

7 Stages of Process: This is a PDF document that summarizes the main characteristics and challenges of each stage, as well as the counsellor’s role and interventions.

038 – Law in counselling and Psychotherapy – Seven Stages of Process …: This website features another podcast episode where the hosts explore the legal and ethical issues that counsellors and psychotherapists may face in their practice. They also revisit the seven stages of process and give some examples of how clients may present at each stage.

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