Six ways counselors can help clients dealing with major change

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Even though everyone goes through change, it sometimes can be difficult without help. Consequently, it is common for individuals experiencing major life changes to seek assistance navigating these transitions through counseling.

Identifying major life changes

Major changes can come in a number of different forms. They can include moving to a different city, venturing into a new job, starting or ending a relationship, dealing with the loss of a loved one or beginning a new phase of life in some other form. Depending on the type of transition and how the individual copes with change in general, major life alterations can be a time of significant stress and anxiety.

There is growing recognition of the pressure and strain that can result when navigating the period between childhood through young adulthood, from 18 to 29. This period is a crucial development time when individuals undergo a number of significant changes in their life, often in rapid succession. According to The Professional Counselor, the peer-reviewed journal of the National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc., common transition periods that have been identified among young adults of this age include:

  • High school graduation
  • Transition to professional life (non-college attendees)
  • Freshman transition (college attendees)
  • Senior year
  • Life after college

Whether a client is dealing with the loss of a job or loved one, or struggling to adjust to a new stage of adulthood, as a counselor, you can play a part in helping to navigate this period in a healthy manner.

The role of a counselor

An important part of being a counselor is helping people to walk through challenging seasons of life, which often involve some sort of change. While there are various techniques and strategies that others in your profession have found to be successful for working with clients in these situations, you may find it beneficial to help your clients through these major life transitions by encouraging the following six practices:

1. Manage expectations.

Adjusting to major change does not happen overnight, and it rarely occurs without stress, even if the change ultimately will be for the best. The Mayo Clinic reported that for those with acute adjustment disorder, even with professional help it may take up to six months for symptoms such as anxiety and trouble sleeping to ease. If the person is still experiencing symptoms after that period, the condition is usually defined as chronic. Encouraging your client to manage expectations is an important first step. In an article in Psychology Today, Robert Taibbi, L.C.S.W. wrote that recognizing that adjusting to change takes time and patience not only will help your client survive but also thrive through this time of transition.

2. Focus on opportunities.

Sometimes, change seems particularly difficult because something is being taken away, whether it is a career, loved one or just the security of a familiar home. While those concerns should not be ignored or taken lightly, focusing on them rarely will lead to anything positive. Choosing to think of the opportunities that could come from the change can have a significant impact on improving state of mind and optimism about the future.

3. Develop realistic goals.

Once a person starts to look to opportunities that can come from a transition period, setting goals is important. But, it is critical that these objectives are achievable. In his article, Taibbi stated that setting realistic, specific goals and developing a plan for their completion are all factors associated with successful change.

4. Take time for self-care.

Whether it is the result of the busy schedule of major changes that are occurring or depression associated with a loss, sometimes self-care falls to the side during a transition. By taking care of themselves physically and mentally, your clients will be better equipped to deal with the emotions that result from the changes they are going through, according to the American Psychological Association.

5. Accept change.

Change is a part of being human. sound trite, but it is true. The sooner clients are able to accept that fact, the sooner they will be able to start handling the resulting emotions more effectively. Refusing to make the decision to accept change will only keep them from moving forward. Counselor Natosha Monroe wrote in a blog post for the American Counseling Association that sometimes people are hesitant to make decisions because once the choice has been made, the other options are eliminated. This hesitancy can not only trap the person in his or her current state but prevent positive change from occurring.

6. Keep going.

While it may be best to put off making any major life decisions right after experiencing a major change, time cannot stand still. The American Psychological Association reported that taking decisive actions — while more difficult — ultimately is better than detaching from the situation and simply wishing that any problems would go away. Acting on adversity helps to develop resilience, which will help your clients to deal with hardships more effectively in their current situations, as well as in the future.

Pursue your online master’s in counseling with Bradley University.


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