Art of Transition
Everyone experiences transition in their life. Transition is “movement or change from one position, stage, thought, plan or concept to another.” As you can imagine, there are many transitions that happen on a daily basis. Transition can be as simple as changing plans, e.g. you were going to jog in the park and now it is raining and so you can’t jog or they can be as complex as going off to college or dealing with the death of a loved one.
What is a Transition?
Change can be physical or behavioral. Transition is psychological. An example is moving across the country. Living in a new location or going to a new school is the change. The psychological adjustment to the change is the Transition.
The psychological act of transition accompanies every change in our lives. Most people who manage transitions poorly, focus only on the change and do not focus on the psychological adjustment to the change—the transition.
Evaluating the Impact of Transitions
Not all transitions are life changing. Going to the movies instead of jogging in the park because it was too rainy is hardly a life changing transition. But it can still cause frustration and could even ruin your day if you let it. How much a transition impacts you depends on a few factors:
- Is the change planned or unplanned?Most of us do better planning for changes instead of having the rug pulled out from underneath us at the last minute.
- Our own personal ability to cope with change.Do you have the skills necessary to roll with changes that occur or will the change lead to crisis? Developing the skill necessary to handle change will help make transitions easier.
- Our willingness to accept.Some things we need to accept. If it is raining you cannot change that. You can accept that it is happening and adjust your plans, but fighting it, cursing, or pouting will only make things harder on you.
3 Phases of Transition: An Overview
There are some very predictable problems as well as solutions to transition. William Bridges helped to define the process of transition, though he was speaking mostly of transition within a business. His same model applies to individuals as well as business.
Bridges teaches that there are three main phases to transition:
- Letting Go or Endings.
- Neutral Zone (which is anything but neutral and may be better described as the Stage of Unknowns).
- New Beginnings.
Importance of Small Transitions
At Fulshear, there are hundreds of small transitions that occur during a client’s stay. Sometimes, there will be a change in the expected schedule or a friend or roommate will transition. These many “smaller” transitions will require careful attention.
While these “smaller” transitions may seem like the small stuff to others, they can have a significant impact on your well-being. By giving these situations careful attention, Fulshear is able to provide a support system that is available, secure, and responsive.
3 Major Transitions at Fulshear
Besides the “small” transitions, you’ll go through three major transitions while you’re at Fulshear:
- Arriving at Fulshear.
- Moving to the apartments.
- Getting ready to leave.
Each of these transitions provide an opportunity to practice consistency and preparedness as the world changes around you. You won’t be able to predict or prevent every transition (nor should you). However, we want to make sure that you know how to navigate transitions when they arise. It is our goal to:
- Teach you to recognize and be aware during transitions.
- Coach you through the transition process.
- Empower you to predict and navigate changes and the accompanying transition.
It is easy to forget that your parents may also be struggling with transitions. They experience the same phases as described above. They will also need some guidance and coaching through the process. Be patient with each other as you work together to learn the transition process.
Three Phases of Transition: Letting Go/Endings
Every transition begins with an ending and ends with a beginning. During this ending phase, you’ll need help letting go of the old ways and dealing with any losses. This could come with a lot of fear, hurt, and pain.
At Fulshear, we’ll help you through the Letting Go phase in the following way:
1. Identify What You Will Be Letting Go Of
You will need to let go of attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, behaviors, expectations, roles, rules, relationships, and objects.
Think about this in terms of:
- What roles you are leaving behind.
- What behaviors do you need to change as you enter a new way of doing things?
- What beliefs are you changing about yourself?
We know that if you’re coming to Fulshear straight from another program, you’ll be letting go of a position and a role. You might have been a leader in your group and attained the highest position at your previous program. When you come to Fulshear from home you may be letting go of an old reputation and the role that has been following you.
You might also be adjusting to beliefs about yourself or others. Some of our clients have spent years addressing family problems. As old struggles return, they discover that there is a need for additional treatment. This challenges their belief about their progress and their relationships.
2. Gather Information
You need to know what the transition will look like. Gather as much information as possible. For example, as clients move from the ranch to the apartments the rules are very different. It is important that the structure and the rules are clear. Asking questions of others allows them to know what to expect and ease some of the unnecessary anxiety of change. This is true of other changes as well.
Many people hesitate to ask questions because they think they should somehow already know the answer. Even if you think you can guess what the answer is, find out for sure and eliminate the anxiety of not knowing. There is no way we retain all the information given to us. Repeating questions while you are going through the transition process is helpful. We will encourage you to “get information, and do it again and again.” (Bridges, Managing Transition).
3. Learn From Other’s Experience
You are not going through the transition process alone. Your family, the staff and the other young women at Fulshear are all people who can help you in your journey. You share common problems that they have faced and overcome in the transition process.
4. Take the Problem Seriously
Strong feelings might come out of nowhere. People might even say, “You’re over reacting!” But these are real losses you are facing. These are very real endings for you.
You should expect signs of grieving, including:
5. Treat Endings with Respect
It may be appropriate to honor endings with a ritual. You can also find peace by seeking to understand what hasn’t ended.
Again, you need to remember that your parents will be going through this same process. You must communicate clearly to them so that the transition can be as smooth as possible for both of you. Take time to consider what losses or endings they are facing as well.
Three Phases of Transition: The Neutral Zone
The neutral zone is the space between the ending or letting go and a new beginning. At this point, it isn’t the old or the new. Your knowledge, roles, beliefs, or expectations aren’t solid at this point. This is where you will see the most struggles occurring as you and your family work to figure out the transition. It is a place of crisis, opportunity and growth for you, your family and your support system.
What to Expect During the Neutral Zone:
- You may begin to get impatient with the process. As you struggle to get a grasp on your new roles, the rules, and expectations it is easy to lose patience with others and yourself.
- Your “core issues” will come up during the neutral zone. Often we see people who have progressed in addressing thoughts of worthlessness or of not being loveable only to find that those thoughts and beliefs arise during the change and transition period. There may be moments where you feel like you want to stop working and that you are temporarily taking a backward step.
- You will begin to see where the plans you have made and the plans your family has made need readjusting. Because you are learning a new way of doing things, what you thought would work before now seems inadequate. In the long run this will help you be stronger.
- You may begin to get your priorities mixed up. Because so much changes during the neutral zone you may find yourself focusing on something you thought was a priority only to find out that there are other more important issues to address. For example, when a client transitions to the apartment, they may focus on friendships and additional freedom as they explore the city instead of the therapeutic work that needs to be addressed.
- It becomes difficult to be unified with the new group that you are part of. This may lead to feelings of loneliness and to isolation.
Tips to Help in the Neutral Zone
- Normalize the neutral zone.Predicting the process is essential. Recognize that it will be slow going for awhile. Remember, this “isn’t a trip from one side of the street to the other. It’s a journey from one identity to another, and that kind of journey takes time.” (Bridges, Managing Transition)
- Identify the old beliefs, assumptions and issues that are being brought up and challenged. This is a time of new growth as these old beliefs are challenged in a new environment. Painting this picture helps you patiently grow through the neutral zone.
- Seek to find answers to difficult questions. The difficulty of the journey will help you ask questions that lead to increased understanding. Work with your therapist and family to find the right questions. Find the questions that help create change and growth versus those that keep you stuck and feeling like a victim of fate or circumstance. Embrace creativity.
- See this as a new experience.This is new for you. Perhaps instead of it being “the same old problems” it’s the “final push” or the last leg of the journey. See that you are going through something challenging that helps you to reach greater heights.
- Try to minimize any unnecessary changes or difficulties. Be as consistent as possible. Don’t do anything that adds to the challenges or puts undue stress on you or your family system.
- In the midst of challenges, identify your role, your core meaning, and your place in the community.
- Identify and work through your short-term goals as well as articulate long-term goals. Look at your life from a broader perspective.
- Do your best to feel connected to the treatment team, the community, and Fulshear as a whole.
- Enjoy yourself. Look for ways to do something new and powerful in your life. This time of crisis has the ability to bring great change.
Three Phases of Transition: New Beginnings
This phase is a time of “coming out of the transition and making a new beginning. This is when you will:
- Develop your new identity
- Experience the new energy that comes with positive change and
- “Discover the new sense of purpose that makes the change begin to work” (Bridges, Managing Transitions)
At Fulshear, we cannot force new beginnings, but we can encourage. People need four things to help lead them in this direction:
- Come to understand the purpose for the changes. What do you hope will be the end result of all of your work? Encourage those close to you to understand this as well. Common purposes for change include:
- Achieving independence
- Developing trusting relationships
- Feeling peace as you act out of your core meaning
- Paint a picture for how the changes you are making or thinking of making will look and feel. Seek to understand how this purpose looks in your world so you can be excited about it. (You may not feel this right away, especially if you are still “letting go”).
- Create a step by step plan for getting there. Your master treatment plan is part of this!
- Understand what your part is. Help your family understand their part as well. They will need to identify their role and where they fit into the plan to create change. This is true for work, family, and the community. This is an opportunity for you to see how you can influence others.
Be sure to notice the growth that occurs as you and your family move through the transition process. Acknowledge the hard work as you overcome challenges. Be kind to yourself as you go through changes and allow yourself to experience the natural struggle of transitions.
(Adapted from William Bridges PhD , Managing Transitions Making the Most of Change (3rd edition)