Derrick Shirley is a Registered Psychologist with a private practice based in Calgary, Alberta. Derrick’s work focuses on career counselling, men’s mental health, youth transitioning to adulthood, relationship health, and anxiety and depression.

Derrick works with Cenera and Career Partners International as part of the Career Transition team. With Cenera, Derrick leads workshops and monthly group sessions for people in our Career Transition program. His sessions focus on mental health during transition and make space for individuals to work through their emotions and experiences and feel a sense of community and connection.

Today, we’re sitting down with Derrick to discuss the role that mental health plays in career transition and how we can better support ourselves and our colleagues who may be going through a period of transition.

Hi Derrick, thanks for chatting with us today! What are some of the most common challenges people in career transition face when it comes to mental health and emotional well-being?

Loss. And everything that comes with loss. With a career transition, there are multiple levels of loss. Loss of the job, yes, but also loss of identity, loss of the social connections you had at work, loss of meaning and purpose — the losses multiply, and they are significant.

For parents in career transition, there can also be the added pressure because their family relies on them, and it can be difficult to work through multiple losses when others are depending on you. A parent almost has to somehow suspend their own emotional experience so they can be available and care for the people around them, which is hard to do sometimes.

Regardless of your situation, there are many emotional experiences along the transition journey that can hit different people in different places at different times. What’s important is to dig deeper and figure out what is underneath the emotions you’re experiencing and try to put words to those feelings. Too often, people try to avoid feeling their emotions, but when we actually stop and process them, they loosen their grip on us; they move through us rather than getting stuck.

What are some strategies you recommend to folks who are in career transition to better support their mental health?

Giving space for emotions is #1. Our emotions have important information for us if we give attention to what we’re feeling. Within the space underneath our emotions, there are needs that must be met. Once we understand what those needs are, we can create strategies to address them. So, if you’re dealing with a loss of confidence, often the feeling that goes with loss is sadness. So, first recognize that sadness is there for you and allow it, then try to meet the need underneath it such as contact and connection with someone you feel safe talking to – possibly a friend, family member, or former colleague – about what you’re experiencing. At Cenera, people work with a coach who helps them through their transition experience, and the coaches are very good at creating a safe space for people to talk about what’s going on for them.

There’s a great book called The Way of Transition that talks about a framework for transition. There’s an ending and a new beginning, but in the middle is a neutral zone, and in that space, we are all over the place mentally and emotionally. If someone is feeling stuck in transition, it becomes important to ask, what is it time to let go of? Because if you’re holding on to something from the past, it makes it harder for you to transition to the new beginning. . Transitions are different than a change. Transitions take time; it’s not a clear path. And often, we’re rarely in one transition at a time; there could be many transitions that overlap with a career transition. When transitions overlap, there is more stress involved. Change can be sudden, and it can be a massive shock to the system.

Ultimately, as people go through transitions, they will have different expectations, and that’s why group work helps. You realize you’re not alone, and you can get encouragement from others going through the same thing. The most important thing is to find someone you can talk to that you feel safe and comfortable with.

How can an employer or co-worker better support mental health for a colleague facing career transition?

Career Transition services are just such an important first step. This is a wonderful thing to offer a person going through a career change. That support makes a massive difference.

In termination, we also often don’t get the opportunity to connect with our co-workers. So, for the people who are exited, we can always reach out to them with a simple, how are you doing? And then just listen. Go for a coffee, keep checking in. Show up. Be consistent. Stay in contact; you’re still friends, nothing has changed there. It’s not just for networking, but for a sense of normalcy and connection. If someone is struggling, they need to be able to talk to someone that can listen and hold space for them to talk without jumping in and problem-solving.

What are some signs people should be aware of that indicate they may need to seek more support?

If you are noticing changes in behaviour, especially erratic behaviours, turning to substances to help cope, or becoming disconnected, not enjoying the things you’ve always enjoyed, etc., those are important signs you shouldn’t ignore.

If someone is isolating themselves, not wanting to connect with anyone, not answering their phone, that could be a sign that there is an underlying issue like depression, or it may be the case they’ve been feeling down for a long time, and the career transition has made things feel much worse. For others, another challenge with a massive change like a career transition is that suddenly work is no longer a distraction from other life problems, such as strained relationships at home.

Someone living alone, especially if most of their social connections have been through work, can be particularly vulnerable. We saw similar things with COVID; every day, in-person social interactions were no longer possible, and for many of these people, the experience of prolonged isolation was very difficult to deal with.

Also, if you notice that certain emotions stick around and keep coming up over and over again (like a disproportionate reaction to a minor issue, for example), that’s a sign that there are things underneath that need to be dealt with.

Cenera’s Career Transition team has decades of experience helping transitioning employees work through the emotions that naturally come up when in transition so they can move on to the next steps with confidence and resilience.

Our Career Transition services help businesses take care of their people with a holistic, practical approach that respects and addresses the broad spectrum of needs for both exiting and retained employees.

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