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The Stages of Change

and Ibogaine Treatment

The Stages of Change and Ibogaine Treatment
  • Ibogaine is just one part of an action plan for making major life changes.
  • Thinking about the stages of change is a useful for connecting with the big picture of how we make and anchor those changes in our lives.

The Long View

Addiction is many things, but least of all does it feel like a choice. Most of the time people experience addiction as a loss of choice altogether. Yet, even from the most difficult circumstances, there are people who have been able to make significant and lasting changes. Ibogaine is far from a cure, but it has made some of the more difficult parts of this transition more accessible. For many its also helped to provide positive momentum for the future.

Over the past 10 years I’ve had many experiences with iboga and ibogaine, mostly in smaller doses. I’ve also taken larger doses a few times, similar to the ones that clinics give during detox. The most significant of those was during my initiation into Bwiti, the traditional practice surrounding iboga in Gabon. Thinking back that experience led to a total change of worldview. It caused me to re-assess even the most central roles and relationships in my life, many of which changed in the years that followed.

The experience that this set in motion unfolded as I started to navigate through my life with this new foundation. For me this helps to highlight the importance of thinking about the iboga or ibogaine experience as part of a much deeper process. It starts long before and continues long after the actual session.

The Stages of Change Model

The Stages of Change is based on the work of Prochaska and DiClemente who looked at people who had successfully made significant long-term changes in their behavior. They outlined the stages that people passed through and what in each of those stages contributed to their success. Their original research followed people who were attempting to quit smoking, but it has since been assessed in other groups of people attempting to stop using alcohol, cocaine, opioids, and even other behaviors.

Stages of Change Infographic

The Five Stages of Change

  1. In the Pre-contemplation phase there is generally no awareness that any change needs to happen. It may already be obvious to others that things are not working exactly how you think they are working, but change is not yet on the table.
  2. In the Contemplation phase awareness of the need to change starts to sink in. Previous strategies for coping are no longer leading to the outcomes that you had intended. That is now obvious, even to you. Still, in this phase it might not be clear how that change could take place, or even if it is possible.
  3. Planning is when we start to collect ideas about how that change could take place. More importantly, we start to think about actually taking those steps. Here it still might be difficult, if not impossible, to see what will happen on the other side. At least you’re thinking about taking the first few steps.
  4. The Action phase is putting plans in motion. This is usually a period of concerted effort that requires and determination to pass through. People generally seek out ibogaine treatment because it makes many aspects of this phase much easier. It doesn’t do all the work, and it’s still important to think about it as a process. Many people say this phase can take 1-3 months, if not more.
  5. Maintenance is usually when things start to even out. That isn’t to say that things are always easier, or that there won’t still be challenges. However, with some new strategies in place it doesn’t take as much concerted effort. Here the plan is still very much in effect. After a few years, some say up to 2, it starts to become much easier to remain consistent.

Lapses and Relapses

If you google “stages of change” many of the images will include relapse as a phase between Maintenance and Pre-contemplation. However, even some basic common sense can tell you that these are poorly designed. Not everyone who makes it through a long period of successfully maintaining a new lifestyle falls back to the Pre-contemplation phase. As we grow we will constantly find new areas of our lives that call us to change. We will pass through the cycle again, but it isn’t relapse that inspires new emerging growth.

I think this reflects general misconceptions about use and relapse in general. But reframed, Lapses and Relapses can become informative parts of the same change process. Change is not linear and a lapse doesn’t need to represent a return to square one. It can provide an opportunity to think about how we are approaching change, perhaps in a different way. These types of questions can help us return to the Planning stage, or the Action stage, and continue to move forward:

  • What new perspectives can I bring to my plans now?
  • Was there some need that I wasn’t meeting, or that I need to think about now in a new way?
  • What worked before in helping to maintain motivation that might be easy to return to again?
  • What new resources, internal or external, are available now?

The Stages of Change in Ibogaine Treatment

In my work with clients I mention these stages to help emphasize the importance of taking a broader view of what it takes to accomplish long-term goals. I meet some people who arrive at ibogaine clinics two or three days after hearing about the treatment. This may be as far into the planning process as they have gotten. Often people are unsure about what they will do, or what they will need to do, afterwards. For some people this works out. The dissatisfaction with not having that personal agency is enough of a motivating factor to figure things out as they go.

Other people will benefit from thinking about ibogaine as a middle step in the Action phase. Taking a few weeks or months to prepare fully before arriving can go a long way. Making a clear plan for change, beginning counseling, stabilizing or tapering use, and starting a nutritional protocol are all things can help to lay a strong foundation.

It may be difficult to see what will be required afterward, but you will also thank yourself for making space afterwards for the physical, emotional and mental journey that follows. For some, that might involve taking time at an inpatient aftercare center, arranging for counseling, or joining some kind of recovery support network. Other times it might involve a major life transition, leaving a relationship, a job, a city. For others it might look like reconnecting with family in a new way, exploring ancestral roots, or a spiritual practice.

Taking Time to Plan

Planning to make space for this change can be difficult while focused mostly on the short term. As the process unfolds, and as you start to believe that change is possible, it is helpful to connect with that larger picture. What are the things that you value most in your life? What motivates you to move forwards? Where do you feel that you life is rooted, or could be rooted, to draw nourishment and inspiration?

The same thing can be helpful for family members to consider if they are encouraging a loved one to get help. Some people believe, or hope, that the ibogaine experience alone will bring up enough motivation to change. For some people that may be true, but in a lot of cases it is helpful to take things one step at a time.

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