Brewing Hope- let's talk about transitions
Transitions in life can be difficult, even wanted or welcomed changes in life often come with an element of grieving and adjustment attached. Whether you are transitioning from a desired change or you are struggling due to a completely unexpected change, we are here to help.
At Sanctuary Christian Counseling, we often see clients that are coping with significant changes in life. We all face transitions, some are welcomed and some are not, some are expected and some are not. Sometimes it is hard to know when to reach out for support and help in coming to terms with a transition in life. We thought it may be helpful to have a conversation about this topic, as it is sometimes minimized and not supported by society as we wished it would be.
In your experience working with clients struggling with life transitions, what are some of the most common transitions that bring clients to counseling and why?
Susan: “The ones I see most often are the loss of a loved one (spouse, parent usually) and empty nesting. Most clients seem to come to counseling because they want someone to walk with them through the transition and to let them know they aren’t crazy and that their feelings/reactions/etc. are normal. There is almost too much information out there on dealing with changes, a lot of it is misinformation, and even if someone is well connected in a loving community, the community doesn’t always know how to help.”
Ellen: “I agree with Susan, those are the most common transitions bringing clients to therapy in my opinion, too, with the addition of increasing their families -- having babies, adopting, having family members move into an existing situation. I think quite frequently, clients just want to know they will survive -- and even thrive -- in the changing atmosphere. Many times they feel displaced, overwhelmed and just stressed by life's transitions and need some help to process how to move forward.”
Andrea: “In addition to those mentioned, transitioning from high school to college can be a difficult time for many students. This time in life is often marked with the adjustments of gaining new independence and a time of self-discovery, as students try to find out who they are separate from their parents. This transition is often accompanied by levels of anxiety and feelings of missing home, while also trying to fit in and meet others. It can be a scary time, counseling can provide the additional support and tools needed to help process and cope with the feelings and emotions that come with these changes.”
What cultural impacts do you feel present obstacles and challenges in adjusting to life changes?
Ellen: “I think one of the biggest problems is that our culture really doesn't know how to help -- what to say or do to communicate care, concern and compassion to those in difficult transitions, especially ones including grief. Even people who genuinely care and wish to help are often at a loss to do so. Even those in transitions are often mostly clueless about what might be helpful.
Andrea: “I feel that our modern world is so fast paced, everything feels rushed including healing. There seems to be an unspoken timeline and expectation society places on healing and adjusting. Social media can play a role in this too, by silently whispering that others are perfectly moving forward and often masks the reality of how difficult change and loss can be.”
Susan: “The biggest one I think of is the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, you-got-this-don’t-be-weak ideal that is common in our individualistic Western culture. So often we’re programmed to NOT ask for help.”
What are some interventions you utilize to help your clients adjust and improve their resilience and coping strategies?
Andrea: “I want my clients to feel heard and accepted in their struggles. I feel it is essential to just be present with them while also offering validation. I try and help them come to terms with their loss or change on their own terms and in their own time. I think it is important to provide a safe and comforting place for them to grieve all of the pieces of what they are missing or leaving behind. Grief does not just come following the loss or death of a loved one, grief work is a part of coming to acceptance with many changes in life and that is okay.”
Susan: “I normalize and validate a lot. The feelings and thoughts that often accompany major changes are often to be expected and this client is not the only one to feel this way. Then we work on reframing (thinking about the “problem” from different angles) and redefining normal.”
Ellen: “Exactly. It's helpful for people facing changing circumstances to hear they are not alone, not crazy and to hear that "this, too, shall pass." I like to ask people to dream a little -- what things are now possible that were not before the transition? How could that be wonderful for them? I find it helps to give them hope and excitement about what's ahead instead of dread of the unknown.”
What are some common symptoms that may indicate additional support is needed?
Susan: “Grief in transitions is to be expected, as is overwhelm and anxiety. When these impact day to day living in big ways (someone is unable to function even close to normally, relationships fall apart, jobs are lost, etc.) professional help is recommended. Another sign (because it’s usually noticed by others) is an increase in unhealthy coping behaviors, things like drinking, smoking, or eating/not eating very differently than previously.”
Ellen: “I agree wholeheartedly. I think it's important to note that everyone moves through life transitions -- good ones like the birth of a baby and difficult ones like the death of a loved one -- differently, and what is normal for one is not necessarily normal for another. However, when the grief or distress is affecting them in everyday life, as Susan has noted, it is time to seek professional help.
Andrea: “I think it is also important to note that some people can experience several transitions or changes in short periods of time and that can be traumatizing. If you notice you are in shock or denial or are feeling disconnected or isolating yourself from others, these are important symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored and can be a sign that additional help and support is needed.”
We do offer packages to help support our clients with difficult transitions. Please visit our website for more information. www.sanctuarychristiancounseling.com
Sanctuary Christian Counseling
9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4
Shippensburg, PA 17257