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Change: Transition Psychology and The Family Life Cycle

There aren’t many people who embrace change. Yet, the truth of the matter is that all of life is changing—constantly. And, adapting to chage is not easy. There is a wise man who once said, “All change is loss.” While this may sound a bit pessimistic to some there is truth that is captured in the sentence, “All change is loss.” The reality about change is, when it comes, even good change comes with some level of grief. Why? Well imagine if you will, a young couple has their first child. With the joy of that first child comes the realization that the couple must now make decisions (usually sacrifices) with that child’s well-being in mind. The couple will, at some point, mourn the days when they could just take off and go out to eat or take a vacation. With the joy comes the sacrifice. The same is true for taking a new job, starting a new career, entering into retirement, helping children move out of the home and other changes that happen to us individually and as families. With the new and exciting changes comes some loss which is important to recognize.

What is Transition Psychology?

Transition psychology is an approach to looking at changes that occur across the lifecycle of individuals. The info-graphic below from the Eos Life~Work resource center is a depiction of a phase of life change. On the left is the “life event” that precipitates change. As one looks across the graphic the change is depicted as either “a” a positive event of “b” as a trauma. The top of the graphic depicts phases of adjustment while the bottom of the graphic depicts the amount of time it could take to adjust to the precipitating event.

Phases and features of the Transition Cycle, adapted from Hopson*

Family Life Cycle

*For more information on Transition Psychology see The Eos Life~Work resource center at

Standing at a Cross Roads-Growth and Change

Everyone is going to face change in life. What is important to realize is that change does not have to be a traumatic event. Change can foster growth. Often, the dilemma for a couple or family facing change is that one or more of the family members struggles with the change while another family member (or family members) embrace the change. For instance, a mother or father takes a new job and can’t wait to get to work in their new position. With the job comes a move to a new town. At first, the children in the family are excited about the move. But later adjusting to a new school or a new set of friends becomes difficult—anxiety producing. The mother or father that takes the new job has not idea that their child is stressed by the move. The only indications a parent may see are poor performance at school, withdrawing from relationships or refusal to participate in family activities. The situation can be perplexing and the family can be challenged to embrace the change and look forward to growth.

What can you can do when you or your family face significant life changes?

Be open, honest, proactive with each other and always be ready to hear the concerns of another.

  • If you spouse is facing unemployment, listen to her or his anxiety about finding the new position.

  • If you’re facing a move and your children are not adjusting well remind them that the most important thing to remember is that you are together.Assure them that you will always be available to them no matter how hectic life becomes.

  • Are you or your significant other facing the dreaded “mid-life crisis”? This period doesn’t have to be a crisis at all but a good time to look at what you have accomplished together and take a fresh look at your future goals.

  • Is it time to “launch kids”—help them move out of the home—and now you and your spouse are facing “empty nest”?Now is a good time to go back over that retirement plan and revisit your dreams of what life would look like to grow old together.

In any of life’s changes there some level of anxiety and “grief” when facing that change. The good news is that change does not have to be a crisis. Change can be an opportunity for growth. If you or your family are facing a significant life change and need some help developing skills to talk about the change or just feel overwhelmed with trying to figure out what to do with the change and you feel like a therapist can help contact Jim Workman at Olive Branch Family Therapy by phone at (919) 428-7746 or self-schedule online through the client portal at

Hopson B & Adams J (1976) Transition - Understanding and managing personal change.

Dai Williams (1999) Life events and career change: transition psychology in practice. A paper presented to the British Psychological Society’s Occupational Psychology Conference, January 1999. Published Jan 2008 by The Eos Life~Work resource center at

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