University saddened by loss of Professor Emeritus James O. Prochaska

Known around the world for his research on behavior change, its impact on improving human health

July 17, 2023

A founder of the University of Rhode Island’s Cancer Prevention Research Center, world renowned researcher, behavior change expert and University of Rhode Island Professor Emeritus James O. Prochaska died Sunday, July 9. Born in Detroit, Michigan Aug. 6, 1942, he was 80 years old.

The University extends its deepest condolences to Jim’s wife, Janice Prochaska, Ph.D., a clinical social worker and adjunct faculty member at URI who worked with Jim in developing world-class research and behavior change programs dedicated to helping people take steps to lead healthier lives. Jim’s entire family, his colleagues at URI and around the world and his friends remain in our thoughts.

In 1969, Jim joined the faculty in the Psychology Department at the University of Rhode Island, and during his 50 years of service, he was an engaging teacher of essential topics in clinical and health psychology. He was the principal developer of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change and, with colleagues at URI’s Cancer Prevention Research Center, Jim was awarded more than $80 million in grant funding. He has been identified as one of the highest impact authors in psychology and public health and his work has been cited 133,400 times.

He began as an assistant professor of psychology and was promoted to associate professor in 1974. He was granted full professor status in 1977 and was appointed director of the Cancer Prevention Research Consortium in 1990. He retired in 2020, and received professor emeritus of psychology status.

An understanding and kind member of the URI community, he was a master at explaining his and his colleagues’ behavior change theory in plain language. An unassuming, soft-spoken man, Jim was a great teacher and listener.

Jim was the author of more than 400 publications–many with his wife Janice, including four books, Changing to Thrive, Changing for Good, Systems of Psychotherapy, and The Transtheoretical Approach. He is internationally recognized for his work as a developer of the stage model of behavior change for the prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases. He is the founder of ProChange Behavior Solutions.

Jim won numerous awards, including the Top Five Most Cited Authors in Psychology from the American Psychological Society, an Innovator’s Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is the first psychologist to win a Medal of Honor for Clinical Research from the American Cancer Society. Jim was recognized as one of the top three most preeminent clinical psychologists.

His work on the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change integrates stages, processes and levels of change. The model has been used to understand how people change health-related behaviors such as smoking, diet, exercise, and safe sex practices and mental health related behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse, stress and distress. Interventions are based on this model to accelerate changes in problem behaviors.

Praised for his leading ideas about population reach and impact, they continue to challenge the field and clinical research. His challenging spirit, and his keen innovative research programs moved the field of health psychology forward. Many of his students have gone on to become respected clinical and health psychologists and scientists in their own right. His many distinguished scientific collaborators have clearly helped to challenge, replicate, elaborate, and extend his ideas.

In addition to his many professional accomplishments, Jim and his wife Janice provided generous philanthropic support to URI for decades, culminating in creation of the College of Health Sciences first endowed professorship, the Prochaska Professor in Population Health. He was committed to improving health and wellness across society, and this endowment was designed to provide immediate prominence for the University and increase student-based knowledge and understanding of population health through instruction and research.

Dedicated to his family, Jim was a loving husband of 56 years to Janice; cherished father to J. Xavier and Judith and father-in-law to Gabrielle and Mark Martini; and proud grandfather of Xavier, Bailey, Zakary, Walker, and Andrew. He is survived by his sister Lois Fuse and brother-in-laws Tom, Gary, and Michael Michalek

Jim earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Wayne State University in Detroit.

A memorial service for Jim will be held Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin, 240 Channing Way, San Rafael, CA 94903. See the full obituary.

Condolences may be sent to Janice Prochaska, 188 Florence Ave., Mill Valley, CA  94941 or