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Article Published June 7, 2019
Tending to Change
This story and photograph were provided Cathleen Adams, Ph.D, whose psychotherapy practice is located at 837 Boston Post Road, Suite 10, Madison

Have you ever felt stuck in a pattern of unwanted behavior? Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes in your life?

"Many people describe themselves as having a difficult time with change but, in fact, it is transition they are resisting," says Cathleen Adams, a licensed clinical psychologist and psychotherapist with an office in Madison.

So what's the difference between change and transition?

"Change is a shift in something you are used to," says Adams. "A break in habit or routine, an unexpected event. It can be as simple as a new diet or exercise program, or more eventful such as a break-up or divorce, a promotion, or a move. Change can be positive as in starting a family, or painful as in losing a loved one. Transition, on the other hand, is letting go of the way things used to be, and then opening up to the way things can become. Transition is not just a change in situation but is a psychological event, and therefore demands our attention and mental effort."

Handling Life Transitions

"Coming to terms with life transitions usually occurs in phases," says Adams. "First, we experience the change in circumstance, which is an ending of what went before. Then, we experience a middle phase where we are confused or in a state of not knowing what comes next.  Finally, if we keep on our path, a new beginning emerges. The key to success in moving through a life transition, and not getting stuck in the first two phases, involves a psychological journey.  You can move to a new home, have a child, start a new job, and make positive changes in all aspects of your life. But if you don't let yourself pass through phases of your transition with mindful awareness, thoughtfulness, and intention, you may not let go of the past in a way that truly allows a new beginning."

Getting Unstuck

So, why do we get stuck and hold on to something that we are actually eager to change? Adams explains this holdup.

"We often fear the unknown and the unpredictable, and may try to avoid or deny dealing with them," she says. "Yet, while the unknown can seem full of risks to avoid, it is where we encounter opportunities for growth. People ask, 'But if I let go of the past, won't I be betraying that (person, place or thing)?' On the contrary, when we let go of the past, we give it the honor it deserves as a significant time or experience of our lives that has led us to the present. 'Letting go' isn't feeling any less for a loved person or place. Moving into the future doesn't erase connection or memory. We move forward changed by new realities."

"Whether we want to make some changes for ourselves, or whether unwanted change arrives to confront us, we will be better able to turn change into opportunity if we understand how to face fear, let go of the past, and open up to a new self-definition," says Adams. "Change is what we encounter in life. Transition is how we come to terms with it."

This story and photograph were provided by Cathleen Adams, Ph.D, whose psychotherapy practice is located at 837 Boston Post Road, Suite 10, Madison. She offers a second location in Manhattan, NY. For more information, call 203-464-3554 or visit www.cathleenadams.com.