Sunday, August 3, 2008

Change and transition...

This week I packed up - literally and figuratively -  an eighteen year trauma counselling practice to focus, full time, on teaching wellness oriented workshops to family caregivers and to helping professionals.

As with all changes, it was a time of mixed emotions.  I was quite sad, knowing that I would miss many things - daily conversations with my office partner,  watching the seasons change along the Capilano River outside my window and, most of all,  accompanying the clients with whom I've been privileged to work.  At the same time, I was excited to fully embrace a future in teaching rather than working at it part time, as I'd done for so many years. It was the classical bittersweet time of change.  

Change, the experts say, is the only constant in life.  Author and organizational consultant, Bill Bridges, defines change as an external situational shift - getting a new job, losing a job, becoming ill, having a child, moving.   Transition, on the other hand, is the internal process of adjusting to that change - a process of letting go of what was and of taking hold of something new, with an uncertain limbo, a confusing and potentially creative "neutral zone," in between. This three phase journey of adjustment - ending, neutral zone and beginning - is transition.

When we resist transition, we resist one or more of the three phases - the grieving and letting go of the endings phase, the anxiety and chaos of the neutral zone, or the risks and fears of beginning again.  Why do we resist them?  Well, for many reasons, including the length of the process and its inherent discomfort.  Transition can last much longer than the change, itself, and the losses of the ending phase can resurrect painful experiences of the past. For example, current illness in a loved one can trigger memories and feelings of past losses; a current move can unearth "forgotten" anxieties of a childhood move over which one had no control.

Although we do resist them sometimes, our transition processes are healthy, healing journeys of adjustment and they deserve to be honoured.  Resisting important transitions can lead to consequences ranging from an incomplete adjustment to the change to physical illness to ongoing difficulties with anxiety or depression.  (That is not to say that we should push ourselves to work through transition at the time of every change. Sometimes it is entirely reasonable to set transition aside as we deal with a crisis and then return to it later.  The important thing is that we get back to it eventually.)

The process of transition involves opening - opening to the flow of our adjustment process; opening to the grieving and letting go of the endings phase; opening to tolerating the chaos, uncertainty, and possibilities of the neutral zone; and opening to the risks, fears and demands of the new beginnings.

Whether you are a family caregiver or a helping professional, or both,  your life is probably full of change.  Think back over the past year - 

*  How many situational changes have you experienced, large or small, positive or
    negative?  (Even positive changes involve losses.  Think of all the losses you 
    experienced when you first left home or when you had your first baby.)

*   Where are you in the transition journey for each change? 
  *   Is this a good time to make some space for consciously facilitating your transition 
     process?  A time to journal, to talk with a friend or counsellor, or to plan an ending
     ritual to work through some losses?  A time to learn some new skills or to seek
     some support to see you through the neutral zone?  A time to make a baby-step 
     plan to guide you into a new beginning?

If you are interested in reading more about the process of transition, try one of Bill Bridges books -  Managing Transitions, a book about organizational change and transition, or The Way of Transition,  Bill's personal and very honest account of his journey through family caregiving and his bereavement after the death of his wife, Mondi.   



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