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Leading the change Top psychologist speaks about altering unhealthy behaviors

James Prochaska, professor of clinical and health psychology at the University of Rhode Island, speaks to professionals and graduate students of the UTRGV School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling about his work in behavioral change last Thursday in Edinburg. JESUS ESPARZA/ THE RIDER
James Prochaska, professor of clinical and health psychology at the University of Rhode Island, speaks to professionals and graduate students of the UTRGV School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling about his work in behavioral change last Thursday in Edinburg. JESUS ESPARZA/ THE RIDER

 

What comes to mind when you think of “personal freedom”? Is that doing what you want, when you want, how you want?

The UTRGV School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling hosted its inaugural speaker series event Thursday at the International Trade and Technology Building in Edinburg as it welcomed James Prochaska, director of the Cancer Prevention Research Center and professor of clinical and health psychology at the University of Rhode Island. He spoke to a crowd of graduate students and faculty of the School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling about his work helping combat problems such as addiction and substance abuse using Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model.

“Think of behavior you want to change or should change. What is the No. 1 reason why people fail to change when they want to? It’s because people don’t know how. If we want people to change their behaviors, the first thing we have to change is the mind,” said Prochaska, one of the most preeminent psychologists in the United States. “Counseling cannot only enhance the health and well-being of many people, but can also increase personal freedom.”

There are four behaviors that research indicates account for about 70 percent of current diseases, disabilities and premature death: smoking, unhealthy eating, inadequate exercise and alcohol abuse. It is the duty of counselors and rehabilitation specialists to help people change these behaviors to increase their sense of well-being. The stages of behavioral change Prochaska developed include precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Helping people realize they always have the power and ability to progress through changing their harmful behaviors successfully might be one of the biggest factors in the process.

“The only mistake you can make about changing is to give up on your ability to change. Wherever you’re at, we can work with that,” Prochaska said.

Bruce Reed, professor and director of the School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling, spoke about how Prochaska’s work is more relevant than ever in today’s setting, in which unhealthy behaviors can lead to a bevy of problems.

“Dr. Prochaksa is very well known in the field of counseling as one of the primary innovators of stages of change, how people make behavioral changes,” Reed said in an interview before the event. “It’s his work that he’s been doing for over 30 years, including my generation, studied in school, and now our master’s students here at UTRGV continue to study today.”

The School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling is in its first year after being promoted from a department in the College of Health Affairs. Melissa Calderon, a graduate student and member of the Graduate Rehabilitation Counseling Association who helped staff the event, said she was undecided on which career path to take.

“I switched my major three times as an undergrad. When you find the major you’re meant for, you feel at home,” Calderon said. “Whatever you’re going to do for a career, it’s not going to feel like work, it’s not going to feel like a job. It’s going to feel like home and that’s what all the options of the School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling has done for me. I feel at home.”

Students interested in joining the School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling may call Fidencio Mercado, a clinical assistant professor and undergraduate coordinator for the School of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling, at 665-3074.

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