Surviving and Thriving: How Transition Psychology May Apply to Mass Traumas and Changes
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The transition process has fascinated me since 1971 when a Peace Corps volunteer in northern Uganda described the hazards of culture shock for people adjusting to life in a new country. The remote community had its own traumas and changes from a recent cholera epidemic, and the early months of Idi Amin’s regime. Since then they have suffered dictatorship, AIDS, drought, famine, and civil war. How do communities survive generations of wars, oppression, epidemics, and natural disasters? The fight and flight response is a recognized trait for surviving immediate threats. The task of successfully adapting to major life events, traumas, or changes is more complex. Surviving and thriving involves the remarkable self-healing and development process known as transition.
This article reviews the essential features of transitions for individuals and subsequently the hazards and opportunities of collective transitions for organizations and communities that experience mass traumas or changes. It reflects on transition theory and practice in individual and organizational settings since the 1970s, and in political and community settings since 1997. It builds on ideas exchanged with Peter Herriot, Ashley Weinberg, and Richard Plenty at a BPS symposium on Transition Psychology – the waves of change in 1999 (Herriot et al. 1999). It explores examples of other major events and potential mass transitions from 1999 to the latest political changes and economic crisis in 2009.