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Understanding Transitions
In the non-profit world, we deal with change all the time, whether improving how a coastal community deals with a depleted fish stock, helping different religious and racial groups treat one another better, or preparing youth in foster care for life as independent adults. All of these actions can be considered changes.

But to make these changes successful and lasting, we need to address the emotional and psychological impact that they bring. The coastal community might be in denial, refusing to believe that the source of its livelihood could soon be gone. Different religious groups might want to get along but find they backslide into mutual mistrust whenever something goes wrong. And foster care youth might rebel out of fear over how to support themselves when they leave the child welfare system.

As community activists and social workers, we need to understand the range of emotions people experience as they confront change in their lives. In other words, we need to pay attention to the transitions people go through when dealing with change. While change is external and tied to a certain situation, transition is the internal emotional process of how you respond to and come to terms with that change. While a change can happen overnight, the emotional adjustments that take place alongside that change can take years to complete if not handled properly.

Because these emotional adjustments can be difficult to make, it is no wonder that many social changes meet with resistance – from the individuals and communities that the change is meant to improve and, even, from within the organizations that are charged with implementing the change. Understanding that people are resisting the potentially painful process of transforming themselves in light of the change and not the change itself, can allow social change agents to devise more effective strategies.

Management consultant William Bridges developed the three-point Transition Framework to explain the different phases a person experiences in transition.
They are…

Endings Endings
The first step in any transition is letting go. People need to acknowledge, end, and give up their old ways of behaving, their old attitudes and beliefs… more >
Neutral Zone Neutral Zone
After the old ways of thinking and behaving are gone—but before the new ways have become second-nature—there is an awkward in-between time called the Neutral Zone. The Neutral Zone is usually chaotic, and there is often a desire to return to what is old and familiar. But this can also be a very creative time... more >
New Beginnings New Beginnings
New Beginnings feel good. A New Beginning takes place when people are emotionally ready to do things in a whole new way... more >


Rearview mirror

Beware of Resonance

After spending most of his childhood in foster care, Michael couldn’t wait to leave his group home. But that first night in his new apartment, he felt uncomfortably alone—just like when his parents had given him up years earlier. To forget, he started drinking again and would stay out all night with friends or crash at other people’s places. more >

Costa Rica video

Video: Costa Rica

Experience Transition through the eyes of five DC youth who travel to Costa Rica as they prepare to become teachers in the Youth Business Initiative Summer Institute.
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Video 8-7

Video: Transitions Gives us a Common Language

Christopher Smith, Clinical Director for Concern of Durham, a Foster Care Residential Treatment Center, values how the Transition framework helps break down complicated experiences in simple terms that resonate with his young staff & mentors.
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