It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

Transition Theory

Nancy K. Schlossberg 1984



Even though Schlossberg’s theory is fully focused on the transitions of adults, it can be applied to young adults and adolescents as well. It is based on the following premises (Anderson, Goodman, Schlossberg, 2012, p. 59):

  • [Adults] continuously go through transitions
  • Reactions to transition depends on the type of transition – Events and non-events – perception and context and also impact on their lives
  • A transition is a process over time and has no end point and includes phases of assimilation and continuous appraisal as people move in, through and out.

1. The first stage to transition can be perceived to be either:

  • Moving in: moving into a new situation or circumstances – e.g.: moving away from home and starting university.
  • Moving out: moving out of a situation or circumstances – e.g.: losing a job, which can include a grieving process.

2. When people have learnt how a new situation works, they go into the ‘moving through’ stage of transition. People try, balance and inte.grate the implications and demands of the new situation with the rest of their life.

3. What follows is the moving out stage where people end a series of transitions and look forward to the next thing. The transition becomes inte.grated within other aspects of their life and a there is a period of stability.Schlossberg moving in-moving out-moving through career guidance theory.

What can we do to support clients?

Linked to this, the model below attempts to offer professionals a systematic framework to support clients through the transition process (Anderson, Goodman, Schlossberg, 2012, p. 38). They posit that every story is unique and individual, but the framework remains the same:

Schlossberg’s Transition Theory in career guidance.

Following on from the 3 areas in the illustration above, supporting clients can happen in 3 stages (Anderson, Goodman, Schlossberg, 2012, p. 38):

  1. Approaching transitions: identification of the kind of transition and the transition process
    • Anticipated, not anticipated, non-event (an event that is expected to occur but does not (Anderson, Goodman, Schlossberg, 2012, p. 42))?
    • Type: understanding the nature of the transition and the best way or perspective for supporting the client with it. This is different for every individual even if the situation looks similar.
    • Context: what are the circumstances in which the transition is taking/took place – is it recent or not?
    • Impact: taking stock of reactions
  2. Taking stock of coping resources – the 4 S system
    • The 4 S system is a way of identifying the potential resources a client has to cope with the transition. Wherever a client is in their transition, the kind and level of resources will have an impact on how clients cope with the transition.
  3. Taking charge – strengthening resources
    • Involves using new resources to strengthen client responses to transitions, which includes using existing resources in different and new ways.


As the set of 4 key factors influencing transition, the 4 S system is a key part of the moving through stage and it bears to pay a bit more attention to these. As mentions above, the 4S system is a way of identifying the client’s resources. Exploring these with the client offers an idea of the client’s resources and how well they would cope with transition, or the transition they are expecting or one they are going through. The client’s perception of what they are going through will affect their view on their resources and their abilities. The 4S system in detail looks as follows: The 4s diagram of the transition theory of careers by Schlossberg.

How can you work with the 4 S system – a very brief example:

Linked to the 4Ss above, you could look at each of these with a client (or yourself!) and reframe the bullet points into questions. For instance – for the strate.gies box, you could ask the following questions:

  • Linked to changing what is going on: Can you change what is going on?
  • Reframing: Can you look at this in a different way?
  • Reducing stress: What can you do to take the stress out of the situation?
  • It’s sometimes better to do nothing: Should you take action? Or is it better to sit on the situation for a while?


Schlossberg’s model can also be slotted into the Cormier & Hackney model. The Cormier & Hackney model offers an additional functional structure to Schlossberg’s theory and following on from the illustration below, looking at this model in conjunction would be a really good step to complete the picture of Schlossberg’s model. : Combined Cormier Hackney and Schlossberg Transition model for career guidance theory.

Strenghts and weaknesses:

Schlossberg’s model seems to have a lot going for it and is comprehensive, allowing for different kinds of transition, which other models don’t allow to the same extent. Think of the Kübler-Ross model which is mainly focused on the grieving process. Like Kübler-Ross and Scott & Jaffe, Schlossberg proposes a process, going through different steps in the change or transition process. Unlike these models though, Schlossberg seems to allow a lot more fluidity in how the model is interpreted and used and she allows for a lot more fluidity in the kinds of transitions it attempts to describe. Do you agree? And if not, what are your reasons?

Additional questions you could ask yourself about this theory could be:

  • How easy would it be for you to use this theory with clients?
  • Could you think of examples of any clients you have worked with, you could have used this with? How would it have worked and worked out?
  • What would this model have contributed to the intervention?
  • Have a look at the other transition theories on this and other websites, how do they compare with Schlossberg’s model?
  • Do you agree that transition doesn’t end? Or is there a point where there is closure and are other transitions in the client’s future and past separate?
  • What is the scope of this model? How far does it reach?


Useful links:


  • Counseling Adults in Transition: Linking Schlossberg’s Theory with Practice in a Diverse World, Fourth Edition, Anderson, M. L., Goodman, J., & Schlossberg, N. K., 2012, Springer Publishing Co.