An insight into transitional coaching

As Williams Bridges’ said, “Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture” 


We often use the words change and transition interchangeably but there is an important distinction. Change is something that happens to us – typically an external event, whereas transition is the psychological process people go through in response to that change.  

As we progress through life, changes are inevitable. Changes can be forced upon you with life events like bereavement, redundancy or illness or they can be self-directed like changing career, becoming a parent or retiring. There are also silent changes that are clear to the individual but not necessarily noted by the outside world. These can be moments in time where something is recognised internally, perhaps a lost opportunity to get closure, or a lost chance to become a parent. Transitional coaching is person-centred so is unique to the individual but sometimes it is helpful to explain the client’s lived experience with insight from theoretical models. 

There are three models I find myself using most often

1. Bridges' three-stage transition model

He called the three stages: Ending, neutral, then beginning. Paradoxically, this starts with endings – when losses are acknowledged and choices are made about what continues and what doesn’t. The neutral zone is the in-between time which feels confusing – the old way of living has gone but the new chapter hasn’t quite yet begun. Beginnings signify the start of a  new direction, often including a renewed energy or a new identity. Although originally designed around organisational change, this model reflects the changes that often happen at an individual level. 

It is the middle stage when most work with the coach is done when the psychological adaptations are underway. 

2.  Many of the changes people experience involve an element of grief

this can be literal with grief for someone who has passed or figurative e.g. grieving for an old identity when retiring from work. The Kubler-Ross grief model was developed to demonstrate the process that people who had a terminal diagnosis experienced.

The model offers important insights into what is often experienced in this middle phase. There are a series of five emotional responses that are cited as often occurring but not always in the same order. The first response is denial, then anger, then bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Just being aware what others have experienced and understanding your own emotional responses can be incredibly helpful.     

3. Other transition models

Other models offer useful insights into self-directed change, recognising that there can be a long period of thinking about the change before actually making it. The Transtheoretical model of change was developed by researchers observing the patterns in addictive behaviours.

Prochaska and Diclemente recognised that there was a pre-contemplation stage where the problem is recognised subconsciously. Contemplation happens next when they start examining the pros and cons of their actions. Next, there is the preparation stage when the conditions align so the individual feels ready for change, then the change occurs – the action phase e.g. when the act of drinking, smoking or drug-taking ceases. Maintaining the change is the next and, for some, the final step. But this is not always achieved with addiction so there are two options – to maintain the change or to relapse and the cycle starts again. 

Whatever prompts the change, whether it is out of the blue or self-directed – the transition process to adjust to the new situation takes time and for many, this process is very unsettling. Often, change brings into question your sense of self and challenges your identity.

Coaching can be immensely helpful in acknowledging and celebrating your prior situation, making sense and meaning of what you are thinking and feeling, and stepping into your new chapter with a more positive outlook.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Banbury, Oxfordshire, OX15
Written by Tessa Dodwell, (BSc in Psychology, MA in Coaching and mentoring)
Banbury, Oxfordshire, OX15

My chosen area of specialism is transition coaching. I find it immensely rewarding as it involves such rich exploration covering decision-making, identity, values, emotions and meaning-making.

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