BACKGROUND: Behavior change is integral to the prevention and treatment of many disorders associated with deleterious lifestyles. Rigorous scientific testing of behavior change interventions is an important goal for nursing research. APPROACH: The stage model for behavioral therapy development is recommended as a useful framework for evaluating behavior change strategies. The NIH model specifies three stages from initial testing of novel behavioral therapies to their dissemination in community settings. Definitions of each step in a Stage I trial and a case example of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in therapeutic community treatment are provided. RESULTS: It is feasible to adapt a behavioral therapy such as MBSR using the stage model framework. Steps in the process include: (a) determining pilot study design and describing the population; (b) modifying the intervention and developing the manual; (c) training the teachers; (d) implementing a pilot study; and (e) monitoring treatment integrity. DISCUSSION: The development of behavior therapies requires the same scientific rigor used in pharmacotherapy research. Stage I of the model enables consideration of the "dose" of a behavioral intervention necessary to achieve behavior change in a defined population. The stage model offers an excellent approach to achieving rigor in a variety of potentially useful therapies of interest to nurse researchers.