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Transition Coaching


Transition coaching focuses on the process that people go through as they undergo their own life-shifts. It seeks to provide them with support, sharing, a sounding board, encouragement, questioning, goal-development, diverse planning and the like. The transition process involves two components - the physical changes and the psychological changes. Traditionally, coaching deals mainly with the nuts-and-bolts issues and concentrates on the motivational, stategic and planning aspects of transitions. In my clinical practice, my approach embodies the traditional coaching model, but my post graduate training in psychology (and my own personal experience) has equipped me with the specific and particular tools to hold and contain the crucial psychological aspects of transitions - loss, grief, trauma, anger and so on. I therefore concentrate on both areas of transitions - the 'coaching' and the 'therapeutic', in order to assist people in their realignment and transformation. The boundaries between these two aspects are often blurred and this has the fortuitous result of offering a positive connotation; some people are not comfortable with 'therapy' but are happy to engage in a 'coaching' relationship. The label really does not matter. What is important is the dynamic, trusting, supportive, therapeutic relationship which develops between my clients and me.

As mentioned previously on the first page of this site, I have followed closely on the work of Dr William Bridges who is considered the doyen in the field of transition work. A professor of English, he made his own transition to the field of transition management, following his own personal enquiry into the confusing aspects of his own experiences. "My original intent was to make sense out of unexpected changes in my own life, and only after that, to begin working with others who felt the same need".

So, too, it has been with me. I have had confusing and unexpected changes in my own life and I, too, have had to work through these changes and their implications in my own life, in order to make sense of them and frame them in terms of meaningful transformation. One of the end results for me is my own understanding of what transitions in peoples' lives may really encompass. As noted previously, I have established a niche area of transition coaching and counseling, in which I help people engage in their own seminal points in their lives and assist them in successfully navigating the often uncomfortable feelings and profound changes inherent in these transitions.

In summary, when change occurs, what began in hope too often leads to frustration. Change is often misunderstood because the stages of transitions are overlooked. The rest of this section deals with these stages. Following is a précis of the stages and implications of transitions and these are aligned with the stages as envisaged by Dr Bridges in "Transitions". He has delineated the various phases of transitions and these may be categorised as follows:

  • Endings
  • The Neutral Zone
  • The New Beginning

Endings - Letting Go Of The Old.

This stage is marked by the letting go of old realities. The fact is that throughout our lives, we deal constantly with endings and we go through the process without much thought at all. However, some endings trouble us greatly, often because we misunderstand them. We confuse them with finality, with 'the end', and we are blinded to the fact that these endings are merely the first phase of transition to a new beginning. We are frightened by the uncertainty of the change, we fear the unknown, and we desperately yearn for the known, the comfortable. Letting go of the old often embodies:

  1. Disenchantment with the old
  2. Disengagement from the previous
  3. Disidentification with what was
  4. Disorientation

Each of these D's needs to be looked at, addressed, understood and worked through in order to try to ensure a meaningful and fruitful transition.

The Neutral Zone

The neutral zone follows from the disorientation which often results from Endings and it is a place of limbo - where, ideally, we need to sit with our feelings and experience 'a moratorium from the conventional activity of our everyday existences'. It would be much easier if a transition, like a change, could occur within an hour or two. But the inner shift - the transition, does not happen as quickly as the outer shift - the change. We call that transitional phase, the neutral zone. It is a term that the traditional language of change doesn't recognize.

In the neutral zone, the old reality is gone but the new reality isn't functional yet. Despite this, it often may be a time which is marked by lots of activity. Conversely, this may also be an empty time in which not much seems to be happening. In either case, the neutral zone is a phase during which the future is not clear but the past is gone. The past may not be gone in a literal sense - the same people may still be around, much of the surroundings and support systems may be in place. Yet the import of all these elements may have radically changed with the consequent change in their underlying meaning.

To understand the neutral zone, imagine a move from one city to another. The move can happen so quickly that you may think there was virtually no neutral zone period. Yet, it is likely that you felt weird even before you left your old city, before the actual physical change occurred. During that time your psyche was undergoing change - you were starting to grieve, and you were confused about the future. Long after you have arrived in your new city, after the physical change has happened, you are still in somewhat of a limbo. In that sense, the neutral zone exists before the old situation ends and even after the new situation is in place.

While that's an easy process to explain, it's often a very uncomfortable one to manage, especially for those who like clarity and definition. In reaction, many people try to put the new in place as quickly as possible, even though they may not be emotionally ready. But structure isn't necessarily the answer - the panacea. Coaching in the neutral zone helps people understand what can be done, what should be done, why people feel the way they feel and what people need. And it helps people understand as well, what events signal that the transition is going poorly or well.

The New Beginning

It is clear therefore that the neutral zone is the area where the real transformations take place. At some point, imperceptibly, the neutral zone starts to do its work. During the neutral zone, the old and new realities begin to be absorbed and to be differentiated. It is during this stage that despite the fact that the changed rules and norms appeared to be clear, the necessary changes in behaviour were being formulated - it takes time for people to begin to acclimatise. So as things come into focus during the neutral zone, the new beginning doesn't start until people can identify with their new surroundings and what may be required of them. The new beginning is a new identity and a new reality.

Transition coaching helps people recognise the phases of transition and teaches them to act in the best ways to make the changeover successful. Other forms of coaching do not touch on these issues. Developmental coaching, for example, determines what new behaviours need to be adopted to be more successful. While that is very valuable, it doesn't address (except fortuitously) the critical issues necessary for navigating transition successfully.

The New Beginning, while seemingly a defined, final stage, is actually a series of coming to terms with the new in the light of actually living the new. It is an ongoing process which redefines itself over and over again until it no longer is a beginning.

It is the meat of the new life - comfortable, known and accepted.

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