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Role Transition

Role Transition is chosen as the IPT focus area when psychological distress is associated with difficulty coping with changes in your current life circumstances. Role transitions may occur in many domains including employment, relationship status, physical health, living conditions, socioeconomic status, etc. Sometimes even positive changes in one’s life (marriage, parenthood, moving, job change) can be associated with negative feelings. The therapist will help you to better adjust to these changes and gain mastery in your new role

Indications of a Role Transition

  1. An important clue that transition should be the focus in therapy is if some kind of change occurred just prior or after the start of increased levels of stress or any difficulties with your mood.
  2. Remember that a change does not have to be negative. Any significant change that you have experienced can be related to low mood or distress. What is important is how you are adjusting to the change.
  3. Your social support system is important, as having a strong social network may help you better cope with changes in your life.

Examples of Role Transitions

  • Relationship break-up/separation/divorce
  • Marriage/Cohabitating
  • Coming out
  • Starting a new job
  • Losing a job
  • Moving
  • Graduation/Promotion
  • Pregnancy/childbirth
  • Infertility
  • Illness/disability
  • New roles with parents, children, spouses

Goals in IPT

The main therapeutic goals when dealing with a transition are to help you better adjust and accept the new role in your life. Restoring your self-esteem is important and can be done by helping you to develop a sense of mastery regarding the demands of new roles. The IPT therapist will also help you instil a sense of hope, as well as develop better ways to cope with whatever life brings. Often time we cannot change the circumstances of our lives, but what we do control is how we respond to what is happening in our lives.

Here are some important considerations when adjusting to a new role in your life.

  • Focus on what you can do not on what you can’t
  • Rediscover your strengths, and use those to help you adjust to the new role
  • Change your expectations about what you ‘should be doing or accomplishing’
  • Look for creative alternatives
  • Develop a strong social support
  • Use gratefulness or mindfulness to help you cope with change
  • Find small enjoyable activities that can temporarily improve your mood
  • Focus on nutrition, exercise, sleep, and healthy living habits

How IPT Works:

The first few sessions in IPT are used to review your mood, examine the important relationships in your life using an Interpersonal Inventory, and set the treatment goals. Once the focus of therapy has been determined to be a transition, then the middle sessions can begin. The middle sessions (usually 4-12) focus on helping you adjust to the new transition. As therapy progresses, you will have a better understanding of the connection between the role transition you are experiencing and why it is affecting your mood. Soon you will start to understand more clearly what you are doing that is keeping you ‘stuck’ in the transition and be able to recognize pitfalls more easily in the future. The ways in which people generally cope with things in their life (e.g., avoidance, withdrawal, determination, focus) often become magnified when dealing with problems. It is important to examine both positive and negative ways of coping, in order to eliminate or reduce negative coping strategies and optimize positive coping strategies.

Review the positive and negative aspects of the old role and possible new one, and realistic evaluation.

It is important to review both negative and positive aspects of both the old role and the new role, as people often focus on the positive aspects of the old role and the negative aspects of the new role. Once you fully explore both positive and negative aspects of both roles, you can more realistically evaluate the situation you are in. You have the power and the choice to react to the life event in a positive way. This realization will empower you and will increase their sense of self-mastery and efficacy.

Explore nature of and feelings about what was lost.

Accepting a transition, does not mean that you are not allowed to feel sad about a role that was lost. It is important to help you explore and mourn the loss of the old role. Allowing room for negative emotion and fostering a sense of awareness and acceptance, will help you better adjust to the new role.

Explore feelings about the change itself.

Often time people have a hard time adjust to change itself. Being inflexible about change does not allow growth and development to happen. It is important to recognize that learning and growth can only take place with change.

Explore opportunities in the new role.

Often with change come new opportunities. When someone is ‘stuck’ in a transition, they view of the situation becomes very narrow such that they are unable to see new opportunities. It is important to help you broaden their view within the problem state in order to explore new opportunities that you might not be able to recognize.

Encourage development and effective use of social support system and skills called for in the new role.

Encouragement of the use of a social support network is always a priority in IPT. ‘Who’ questions are important – for example, ‘who can you ask for help’, ‘who can you spend time with’, ‘who can offer you support’. When a person is in a new role (example after a divorce) it may be necessary to either develop a new social support network, or call on additional help from the current social network. New skills might also be needed to be developed. Therapy can help you define and practice these new skills.

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