Are you growing increasingly apprehensive as you prepare to relocate to a new town or state? Start a new job?
Take a new career direction?
Are you worried about how becoming a parent will affect your relationship or marriage?
Or perhaps you’re about to see your last child off to college and concerned that you and your spouse have lost each other through the years of parenting?
Is the thought of retirement accompanied by a sense of dread or emptiness?
Do you find yourself on the verge of committing to a relationship, only to back out as doubts overcome you? Is this a pattern in your life?
Major changes and transitions present themselves throughout a lifetime. Some of them, from promotions to marriage, to parenthood and even retirement, may be joyfully welcome. Other transitions, including divorce, being laid off, a newly diagnosed disability or chronic illness, are clearly more challenging. Still others such as relocation, becoming an “empty nester” and retirement may evoke mixed reactions. Yet, while the joyous situations present new opportunities even these can sometimes generating confusion, anxiety or fear. Change, even positive change, often requires courage, commitment and support from others.
For the vast majority of people, major change is inherently stressful. For some it can feel like the world as they’ve come to know it is no longer reliable. It can feel like leaving a secure nest and wandering in the wilderness, a wilderness with unknown circumstances and potential threats. Others experience a crisis of confidence in their abilities or, worse, in their very being and core sense of themselves.
Even if you’ve chosen this change and are excited about it, you may also be concerned about how you will navigate this new place, stage of life, relationship successfully. You may notice that you are sleeping more or less, irritable or short-tempered in a new and unfamiliar way, or wistful and longing for your former situation.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re on the cusp of making a change and are postponing decision-making to the point of feeling completely paralyzed. Maybe you’re debating about leaving your thankless job of ten years for a new venture that excites you but offers less security. Or you may be considering leaving your spouse of thirty years when, just on the verge of pulling the plug, you find yourself retreating back into the familiar emptiness of your marriage. Major life decisions can evoke fear, self-doubt, even a deep sense of dread. This can feel overwhelming, resulting in distractibility and preoccupation at work or with loved ones and sleeplessness and over- or under-eating at home.
Erik Erikson was an important contributor to our concepts of psychosocial development across the lifespan. We owe much to him for our current understanding that adolescence is a challenging period of time in large part because teens and young adults are trying to fashion a unique identity and, in the process, may need to experiment with new peer groups, interests, sexual preferences. With retirement and late adulthood, the developmental challenges change and may reflect concerns about meaning and legacy. Along the way, it is common for people to encounter obstacles or detours that challenge their fundamental view of themselves or the world.
How can therapy help with major life changes?
Within the context of an exploratory setting and a supportive relationship with a therapist, you can begin to sort through the aspects of change that are challenging you, addressing them in a careful and systematic way and identifying supports and resources to ease your way in this new life situation. In the case of indecision, therapy can help you identify the pros and cons that are keeping you on the fence and support you to take decisive action, in part by supporting you to trust your judgment and your instincts, while also increasing your tolerance for mistakes and acceptance of your choice and its accompanying consequences.
Successfully navigating change requires resilience, acceptance and, frequently, creative solutions and resourcefulness. Very often, therapists can help clients identify important resources or strategies to help them through the change. For example, a client anxiously anticipating the transition to retirement might benefit from developing some hobbies during the years leading up to that last day at work or might speak with friends and families to learn from others’ experience about what pitfalls to anticipate and what resources to draw from. This same person may nonetheless experience some anxiety and mild depression during the first months of retirement. Therapy can help this person by normalizing these feelings and by increasing the capacity to experience uncomfortable emotions, all the while underlining that these are transitional, temporary states of mind.
Will a therapist advise me?
Generally, I, like most therapists, do not advise you about specific solutions to thorny questions. Instead, I work with you with attuned and useful questions to uncover and articulate your hopes and concerns, to identify the costs and benefits to tough choices so that you become clearer and more confident about the direction you wish to take. I view my role as supporting you, be it by validating a core need you have, by drawing your awareness to important themes or trends in your past, or by challenging you to take courageous steps, so that you find your true north - that is, the decision best suited to your goals, values and beliefs.
What makes this a specialty of yours?
Over the years my clients have come to me with a host of life transition issues. Some have decided to switch careers midstream while others have prepared to relocate. My years working at Yale University’s counseling center back in the early nineties prepared me to grasp the challenges adolescents and young adults face as they work on developing identity and increasing their self-reliance, even while seeking and growing mature emotional connections. Some of my individual adult clients seek out my services when weighing relocation, career change, commitment to creating or ending marriage/life-long partnerships.
My specialized training in couples therapy has afforded me a good deal of experience helping couples going through major life transitions. Many couples and individuals I see in my practice are facing the transition to parenthood or “empty nesthood”, or are adapting to illness and loss of a partner. Being a mature therapist with more than 25 years of experience under my belt, I have also faced my own share of life’s key transitions and seeing my clients’ challenges through the lens of my own personal experience is often useful to them.
If you want to explore how I might be able to assist you with the particulars of your current transition or decision point, please call me at or email me.