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Other theories relevant to practice


Contribution from Nelica La Gro, Centre for Guidance Studies, University of East London

Beliefs about adolescence: some common questions

The questionnaire that follows aims to help you start thinking about your own views, and also how society views, this period of development. Decide whether you agree or disagree with the following statements and think about your reasons. You can then view a short summary of current views and research about the statement.

  • The definition of adolescence is "children aged between 13 and 19".
  • Adolescence is a period of "storm and stress" and essentially problematic.
  • Adolescence is a transition that follows predictable lines.
  • Adolescents typically reject their parents have different values and attitudes and are influenced only by the peer group.
  • The quality of family relationships has an impact on how young people face this transition
  • The experience of parental divorce has a negative impact on the adolescent.
  • There is a relationship between social class and career steps of young people.
  • Most adolescents leave home on a permanent basis.
  • Between cultures' is a term used to describe the experiences of young people from minority ethnic groups living in the UK. Adolescence raises particular issues for such groups.
  • There are gender differences in the experience of adolescence.

Beliefs about adolescence: answers

The definition of adolescence is "children aged between 13 and 19": Adolescence has been viewed as the transition between ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’. It starts with the onset of puberty (with its accompanying physical and emotional changes), but the end is less easily defined. In the West, the end of adolescence has often been signaled by people leaving home, setting up an independent household, involvement in a long-term relationship and gaining financial and material independence, and/or finding a fairly permanent job. Recent conditions in society have affected the achievement of such tasks and a sizable majority of those who are legally adults do not fit all these conditions. Researchers have noted that the pace and extent of young people’s transition into employment has been delayed (see Roberts, 1997) and a recent OECD report indicated Britain has one of the worst records of industrialised nations for getting young people successfully from school into work. Currently writers describe this period as one of ‘multiple transitions, involving education, training, employment and unemployment as well as transitions from one living circumstance to another ( Coleman & Roker, 1998, p593).

Adolescence is a period of storm & stress and is essentially problematic:

Western societies tend to perceive adolescence as a time of rebellion and personal distress. However, this is not necessarily the experience for all teenagers and there may be differences between cultures. The term ‘storm & stress’ dates from research in 1904. Weiner (1992) summarised the results of 4 decades of research into adolescence and suggested it is a relatively small group (10-20%) of teens who exhibit more serious behavioural disturbance. Current approaches to adolescent research emphasise the process of change and adjustment taking place in response to developmental transitions rather than viewing it as a period of 'storm & stress; a less problem-centered concept.

Adolescence is a transition that follows predictable lines:

Increasingly it is viewed as necessary to consider the interplay between social context and the individual to understand the differences in how young people negotiate this period. Research now emphasises that the ‘goodness-of-fit’ between individual’s social circumstances and psychological development determines how this period is experienced (Graber & Brookes-Gunn, 1997). This means although there may be broad similarities, the nature of the pathways followed through the transition of adolescence may vary widely between individuals.

Coleman (1974,78) put forward a ‘focal theory’ suggesting that anxiety or difficulty arising from a particular sort of relationship pattern or issue comes into focus at a particular stage and can be replaced by another focal issue. This has implications for young people. Those who have to deal with more than one issue at a time may be considered more at risk than those for whom issues are well spaced out. Focal theory is generally supported but still being tested with more longitudinal studies (see Coleman & Roker, 1998).

A recent study of a disadvantaged neighbourhood in Northeast England (Johnston et al, 2000) found that young people’s confidence and approach to decision making were severely affected by the impact of living in a socially disadvantaged neighbourhood. They suggested that ‘processes of inclusion and exclusion were often spurred by early experiences (at 12 or 13) which had a significant impact on later destinations in there twenties’.

Adolescents typically reject their parents, have completely different values and attitudes and are influenced only by the peer group.

A common perception of teenagers is that they go through a stage where they reject their parents (and anything to do with their parents) and instead follow the negative influence of their peer group, creating a teenage 'peer culture' which has different values to the rest of society. The concept of a `generation gap' implies a divergence of viewpoint between adults and teenagers and, partly as a result of this, a degree of conflict between the generations. For a proportion of young people relations are strained and for many there are conflicts, often short-lived and focusing on certain limited topics and preferences. However a wide variety of studies show generally positive relationships and convergence of opinions between adolescents and their parents.

Research has indicated that neither adolescents nor parents perceive the influence of social relationships accurately. Teenagers perceive their parents to be less influential than they really are, while adults perceive that they are more influential than they actually are. Furthermore young people, in assessing the magnitude of the differences between the generations, appear to over-emphasise the extent of these differences, while conversely, parents underestimate such differences.

Noller and Callan (1991) suggest that the conflict that occurs during early adolescence is actually a healthy event. It may be necessary for young people to assert their rights forcefully at a time when parents may not be voluntarily softening the rules.

At the same time, the decline in traditional family structures and the absence of strong role models may lead some young people to turn to peer-groups for emotional support or a sense of belonging. If the pull of family and educational institutions is weak they can become part of an alternative culture which provides its own sense of ‘inclusion’. Cullingford & Morrison (1997) studied the complexities of peer-group pressure. They also used the term ‘doubly excluded’ to describe those who are rejected by mainstream peer-group, with a sense of academic and social failure, and turn to other marginalised peer-groups.

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The quality of family relationships has an impact on how young people face this transition:

Evidence shows that family relationships can affect the success with which young people negotiate the major tasks of adolescence, the extent to which they become involved in problem behaviour generally associated with this time and their ability to establish meaningful relationships. Aspects of the family that seem particularly important are the encouragement of autonomy and independence, degree of control desired by parents, amount of conflict between family members, closeness of family bonds, levels of support and communication.
Studies (e.g., Arnold at al, 1988, Cherry & Gear, 1987) have shown that families are seen as extremely influential when it comes to making decisions or taking advice about their own careers. The quality of parent child relations and the interest and expectations of parents are very important components in adolescent career development. Parents may influence directly through advice and instructions or indirectly through roles.

The experience of parental divorce has a negative impact on the adolescent:

Divorce, particularly when associated with inter-parental conflict, is commonly, though not constantly, a risk factor for adolescent psychological health. The breakdown of a marriage cannot be considered a time-limited event and often divorce follows years of marital strife. In the long term it may not be the divorce itself, which affects the young person most strongly, but the altered circumstances that flow from it, e.g. economically deprived conditions. One important component remains the level of conflict between parents.

Family transitions such as divorce and parental remarriage are now more prevalent. We are looking at new forms of living and relationships, for example, between visiting parents or young people who belong to two households simultaneously, when parents have set up new family arrangements.

There is a relationship between social class and the career steps of young people:

Research indicates that social class still has a major effect on young people's careers with higher proportions of those from professional backgrounds continuing in academic or vocational education, compared to those from unskilled backgrounds. The evidence of a significant desire of the British working class teenager to leave school and find employment can also be related to accessible role models and opportunities. Research into aspirations of 13-year-olds (Furlong & Cartmel, 1995) showed that the relationship between social background and aspirations is stronger than the relationship between schools attended and background, although many more young people were realistic about the need for geographical mobility.

Most adolescents leave home on a permanent basis:

Many young people who want to leave home for work or other options are unable to leave due to lack of money and accommodation. Others leave home and then return. Leaving home is not as permanent a step as often assumed. Young people who leave home to find work rather than go into further or higher education often need support. At University or college there may be welfare systems but those seeking work can have more problems such as homelessness, loneliness and poverty and fewer sources of help.

'Between cultures' is a term used to describe the experiences of young people from minority ethnic groups living in the UK. Adolescence raises particular issues for such groups:

Adolescence is an important period for identity formation. This can be more problematic for minority adolescents who often find themselves in a conflict situation between cultures. However there is also evidence that many young people participate effectively in both cultural systems. For some minority groups choice of career and transitions are likely to be made within the framework of family aspirations and interests. Within contemporary British culture emphasis on the family is experienced differently by various ethnic groups. However stereotypes are also prevalent, e.g. that all Asian young people are under pressure from their parents to be upwardly mobile.

There are differences in how boys and girls experience adolescence:

Evidence indicates girls achieve better academically while within the education system, yet are still underrepresented in prestigious occupations. There are also arguments that changing labour markets have an impact on opportunities for females. Research has indicated that during adolescence self-efficacy and self esteem often decreased for young females, while at the same time girls tend to demonstrate relatively high levels of career maturity. There is evidence that the tendency for young women to inhibit career options is diminishing. At the same time research indicates that working class young males are operating at an increasing disadvantage both in education, training and employment opportunities.

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Adolescent development

Adolescence is a period of rapid change in different domains (e.g. biological, social), often accompanied by confusion and anxiety for young people as they struggle to develop their own sense of identity. Much attention is currently given to the challenges adolescents face in modern society (e.g. the current government re-focusing agenda).

Over the last decades on-going work has been carried out on the stages of adolescent career development (e.g. Super,1971) and the issue of how 'career maturity' is achieved during the period of adolescence. This also includes the relationship between the development of identity and confidence to engage in career planning. Identity is viewed as a central element in any concept of adolescence. As this 'life stage becomes longer and more fragmented and as entry into adulthood becomes more problematic, notions of identity and identity formation are likely to receive more attention from researchers' (Coleman & Roker, 1998) , particularly the theme of the interplay between the social context and the individual's developing sense of identity.

Influences on career development


  • Family (expectations, attitudes, role models), peers, teachers.
  • Young people may feel pressure from parents, peers, society or themselves to make one ‘right’ decision. At the same time, confusion over their own identity can lead to difficulty in making occupational decisions.
  • Career awareness can be limited if there is no access to adults who model successful employment & networking experiences


  • Work experience, leisure, jobs, voluntary work, training schemes, observations, careers education programmes i.e. reality testing.
  • Young people need to develop awareness of skills/abilities needed for work areas and an accurate knowledge of labour market information.
  • Using such experiences can help young people when they are exploring options or searching for congruence between ‘self’, preferred lifestyle & aspects of occupations (prestige, availability).
  • Media and peer or family influences may distort adolescent’s perceptions of realities of work (e.g. in relation to sex typing of occupations)


  • Socio-economic background, ethnic background, genders.
  • Career decisions are embedded within adolescent’s dynamic social context.
  • Identity formation, which is an integral part of adolescent development, is affected by cultural, ethnic and geographical contexts.

Career maturity

Career development is related to overall maturation. Career maturity can be characterised by:

  • greater self awareness
  • career-related knowledge leading to systematic exploration of the world of work
  • career planning behaviour/ ability to use decision-making skills
  • self-esteem
  • awareness of preferred lifestyle & work values
  • shift in focus from ‘self’ to world of work

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The role of guidance

An implication of the points set out above is the importance of working with a holistic understanding of the young person (e.g. values, interests, passions, family setting, and skills). Guidance has the potential to provide the following:

  • Develop self- knowledge & promote thought rather than a quick fix
  • Exploration with an impartial adult can build greater awareness of ‘self’, e.g. values, interests, abilities, different roles in relation to the world of work
  • Provide information: broaden awareness, information on educational & occupational areas, skills & abilities required.
  • Planning skills: help develop realistic goals, planning & decision making skills
  • Self-confidence: help promote self-esteem

Techniques to assist adolescents' career development

Developing ‘career literacy’

  • exposure to careers education programmes
  • observation, media
  • work experience, part-time employment that offer opportunities to experience the functions of work and develop employability skills
  • networking: seeking wider range of positive encounters in the working world
  • mentoring
  • community based interventions

One-to-one guidance interviews

  • can help people explore & deal with how they see themselves in the world of work

Structured programmes within the education system

The QCA publication, Learning Outcomes from Careers Education & Guidance (1999) identifies 3 aims for careers education & guidance:

  • Self-development
  • Career exploration
  • Career management

In today’s world there is a lack of linear career paths & the notion of young people being able to choose & plan a predictable career is less accurate. Effective careers education and guidance can help young people to gain self-awareness and self-assessment together with developing strategies to navigate the changing labour market.

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Contribution from Nelica La Gro, Centre for Guidance Studies, Unviersity of East London


The following definitions highlight different aspects of the transition process:

  • A transition is any event or non-event, that results in changed relationships, assumptions & roles (Schlossberg, 1995)
  • "Work-role transitions are any major changes in work-role requirements or work context" (Nicholson & West, 1991)
  • A crisis is a transition or turning point that has significant disruption on established patterns of personal & social identity (Moos, R. 1990)

There is an increase in the number of transitions we all need to deal with.People need to adjust to change at many different levels, e.g. marriage, divorce, change of residence, immigration, parenthood, mid-life crisis or in the work area - job changes between or within jobs, employment or unemployment. Rapidly changing conditions mean people often need to take on new roles - planned or unplanned. The study of transitions enables us to focus more closely on this process.

One major transition = end of compulsory education. How this transition is madecan have a significant impact on young people’s sense of identity, their self esteem, view of the world.

The current context

  • Government strategy - combat social exclusion, unemployment & skills shortages
  • Role of state is to encourage opportunities for participation in education, training or employment through a mixture of carrots & sticks (Watts, 2001)
  • Cynicism - 'Today we are suffering from vertical & horizontal overload of policies explicitly designed to reach out to... young people in the cause of combating social exclusion & securing its mirror image: active citizenship" (Williamson, 2000)

The nature of young people's transitions

School-work life transition:

  • 1950's & 60's - clearly demarcated interface 16 between secondary school & training, education or employment. Problems regarded as consequence of leavers making wrong job choices.
  • 1979, 47% of 16 year olds went directly into employment, 5% enrolled on Government supported training schemes
  • 1980's onwards school to ‘work, training, education’ transitions are extended over longer period, more complex, multiple, often unpredictable. gender, ethnicity, disability, social class differences & geographical location all interact to constrain opportunities available
  • 1997, 13% entered employment after completing GCSE's; 9% enrolled on Govt. supported training schemes; 8% not in education, employment or training.

Young people’s transitions into labour markets:

  • Prolonged transitions ( does not mean other thresholds occur at later chronological ages; no upward shift in end of compulsory education, sexual intercourse, leaving home)
  • Individualised biographies, set in context of individual life chances. (Individuals less likely to feel they share experiences & interests in common with larger social groups)
  • Impact of opportunity structures
  • Uncertain futures, but trends are in line with European wide trends. (Roberts, 1997)
  • Young People, transitions & social exclusion (in-depth study of one disadvantaged housing estate in North East England, 2000)
  • Transitions were highly diverse, complex, multiple, non-linear, often disorderly, sometimes unpredictable
  • Early experiences had significant impact on later lives. Engagement in work was often in informal or criminal economy
  • Within context of own neighbourhood, did not feel 'socially excluded', informal networks helped them manage their lives
  • Conventional aspirations were held, but chronic lack of employment opportunity meant only a minority achieved this
  • Complexity of label of 'social exclusion' 'constraint' v. 'choice' (Johnston et al., 2000)

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Adolescence: a period of transition between 'childhood ' & 'adulthood'

Young people more likely to stay on in Further Education, Higher Education, training or become unemployed - delaying entry to adult labour market. Definitions of adulthood are complex and boundaries blurred.

Influences on Young People's approach to decision-making

  • Self confidence: Development of self efficacy, decision-making skills, access to information. Young people may feel pressure to make one ‘right’ decision. But confusion over their own identity canlead to difficulty in making decisions.
  • People - Family & peers: Career awareness can be limited if there is no access to adults who model successful employment & networking experiences
  • Experiences: Work experience, leisure, voluntary work, informal economy, careers education programmes i.e.reality testing.

Planned career decision-making?

ESRC study looking at young people who chose to leave FT education at 16/17 (Hodkinson, Sparkes & Hodkinson, 1996)

  • post-compulsory education & training policies based on linear trajectory model of progression from education to employment. Shift from stage of considering broad options to clear decision about educational & occupational futures
  • ways young people made decisions were ‘pragmatically rational’, decisions often transitory, affected by opportunities, subjective perceptions, life histories
  • decision making = part of the interaction with stakeholders who have influence & bargaining power

New approaches to careers (Arthur,Inkson & Pringle, 1999)

  • traditional career theories relate to a world of more stability & less complexity in the labour market
  • rather than ‘career planning’, people ‘career improvise’ adapting & engaging in career relevant learning
  • people seldom find their way into one ‘right’ career opportunity, they experiment, as they learn about themselves & the world of work & take up opportunities.
  • need toaccumulate 'career competencies'

Post-16 course choice: a challenge for guidance (Kidd & Wardman, 1999)

Study of young people who left P16 education prematurely or switched course.

  • some support for the beneficial effects of careers education & guidance
  • parents, teachers, friends & judgements of young people were more influential on choice of destination than guidance
  • decisions were made in the context of institutional constraints, which may require premature closure on choices
  • for young people switching is part of testing/ developing self awareness v. resource implications

Young people's attitudes to work, careers & learning (Roffey Park Institute & Sussex Careers Service, 2000)

Research project investigating attitudes with a sample of 1700, 14/15yr olds in South East England.

  • positive, but realistic view of work
  • value placed on better work/life balance
  • recognised the importance of continuous learning & value of qualifications
  • boys seemed less aware of workplace changes, challenge of managing own careers
  • how information about work is presented is a challenge. Traditional job titles are less relevant

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Features of transitions

  1. Transitions may be: predictable or unpredictable; positive or negative; entered into voluntarily or involuntary; gradual or sudden.
  2. Different models have been developed to show how they can follow a predictable course, although this depends on the meaning to each person (e.g.loss of work may affect people differently depending on the meaning of work to them).
  3. Generally transitions involve stress, this can be partially controlled or managed.
  4. Transitions affect individuals differently & each person has a characteristic style of managing anxiety and resolving cognitive tasks.
  5. People can be helped to adapt and gain from a transition

Models of transitions

Within the area of guidance there appear to be two broad based and complementary, rather than distinct, approaches to the topic of transitions.

  • Role shift - A focus on career transition and organisational entry. The career transition literature considers the role transition asa boundary crossing or role shift which is part of a developmental sequence and normally happens in a lifespan e.g. leaving school, starting a job.. It can also be viewed as a movement from one stage to another
  • Life event/crisis - A focus on the individual coping with major life events or a crisis situation where the person has to develop new methods of dealing with a situation that has arisen unexpectedly. Here the emphasis is on people’s emotions and coping strategies. e.g. death of a family member, being expelled from school.

Schlossberg's adult career development transition model (1995)

This transition model has 3 major parts:

1. Approaching transition: Transition identification & transition process. This focuses on the nature of the change, is it anticipated, unanticipated, how does it change the person’s life, where is the person in the transition. It is suggested counsellors start with client perceptions, as some view where they are in a transition differently than others involved in the same transition

2. Taking stock of coping resources, The 4 S’s System

The aim is to identify potential resources the person can draw on to cope with the transition. The 4 S’s refer to: situation, self, support & strategies. Individuals need to take stock of coping resources, their assets/liabilities. The way the transition is dealt with depends on these 4 variables.

  • Situation : what is happening? This includes factors such as role change, the degree of control one has, timing, source, duration, previous experience of similar events, e.g. job loss is very different to the transition of having a baby.
  • Self : their personal situation and psychological resources. There are significant individual differences .
  • Support : What help is available? Level & type of support (internal & external) & options vary (e.g. family, individuals, networks, institutions).
  • Strategies : What is the person’s range of coping resources? People navigate transitions in different ways.

3. Taking charge: Strengthening Resources. Development & use of new strategies

4. Implications (Gysbers, Heppner & Johnston, 2003)

  • Because more individuals are changing occupations at later stages of their career development, practitioners should be open to clients who want to change & should understand & empathise with the emotions (positive & negative) involved in the transition process
  • Because clients who are going through transitions are often experiencing anxiety & emotional upheaval, it is important to provide a safe environment that focuses on the use of listening, attending & focusing skills.
  • Because clients involved in transitions often have difficulty in reframing & refocusing their situations, practitioners need to provide new perspectives through interpretation, theme identification & information.
  • Because clients involved in transitions usually need assistance in moving on, it is important to help them develop problem-solving, decision-making & coping skills

individual transition cycle

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Career crises and transition

Adams, Hayes & Hopson (1976)developed a model that relates more to people meeting crisis. They proposeda broad conceptual, rather than prescriptive, model of a transitional cycle with seven phases. This represents a cycle of experiencing disruption, acknowledging its reality, then testing & understanding oneself & incorporating changes into ones behaviour. Self esteem varies across these phases and appears to follow a general pattern (also across cultures), although people seldom move in a progressive and orderly fashion. Rather each is unique depending on the meaning of the transition to a person e.g. individuals may move both forward & backward.


The challenge in managing transitions is to develop strategies to prepare for changes and also mechanisms to cope with changes.

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The transition cycle

The Transition Cycle, adapted from Nicholson & West (1988) provides a more flexible approach to the stages of work-role transitions. This can also be applied to situations where young people are entering a new place of learning or training. Underpinning the model are assumptions that although the stages are distinct, there is a strong interdependence & what happens at one stage has a powerful influence on the next. It is also argued that cycles can recur & have a cumulative effect, so if people experience failure or dissatisfaction at early stages, this can lead to cycles of disaffection. And also the opposite; that successful transitions will work to increase confidence and success.

transition cycle

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Helping individuals deal with transition

The Cormier/Hackney Model (1993) is based on the premise of a guidance or counselling relationship which is developmental and the diagram below shows how it can be integrated with Schlossberg's transition model.

Stages in the Cormier Hackney Model: The 4 S Transition Model:
Situation Self Supports Strategies
Relationship Building Counsellor Uses Basic Listening Skills
Areas to Assess Client's Environment Internal Resources External Resources Current Repertoire of Coping
Sample Client Goals Modifying the Environment Return to Equilibrium Increasing Support Developing an Action Plan
Possible Counsellor Interventions Reframing, Assertion Training Positive Asset Search Negotiate access to available support systems Problem Solving Strategies
Termination Follow Up Counsellor Helps Clients Review What Has Happened and Plan Next Steps

Loss of paid work

The transition from employment to unemployment provides a potent example of where transition research has direct relevance. The loss of work can seriously affect a person's self concept and the process of adjustment involves a range of adjustments and changes, both in the internal and external world. It is possible to examine this transition as a single process and also in terms of several smaller transitions occurring at different times.

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Relevance for guidance

Guidance practitioners are likely to be dealing with clients who are in transition. It is important to understand reactions that are likely to occur during transition, recognise transitional stress & to develop techniques that help individuals cope more effectively with transitions.
The following areas are relevant to guidance practice:

Preparation: helping clients prepare for transition

  • Initiatives that help prepare young people .e.g. careers education programmes, shift to emphasising employability skills, learning strategies, citizenship
  • Peer support strategies e.g. Transition teams
  • One-to-one interviews helping people identify ways of moving through the process & develop coping strategies, develop achievable goals.
  • Pitching information to deal with the gap between expectations & reality
  • Mentoring initiatives

Understanding: Helping clients comprehend what is happening may help them identify ways of moving through the process and develop their own coping strategies. Cognitive ‘ reframing’ Counselling to help people share their concerns & develop coping mechanisms, develop ‘emotional literacy’

Skills to help clients cope with transition

These include:

  • Active listening/ empathic skills/ developing a relationship of trust.
  • Understanding the issues-Reflecting &questioning / helping client understand 'where you are now'
  • Focusing - what the client needs to deal with
  • Information & feedback
  • Challenging perspectives
  • Goal setting - action planning, 'testing out'

Helping clients to develop coping strategies

Three main approaches have been identified:

  • Reinforce existing skills
Appraise & redefine the meaning of the situation (appraisal-focused)
  • Learning new skills
Focus on practical aspects, aim to change the situation (problem-focused)
Restoring ability to cope

  • Manage feelings, emotions provoked, control stress (emotion-focused)

The models: The models can help practitioners and clients identify bench marks, help people see experiences as normal without trivialising them. This gives the potential to identify strategies and styles of responses that are most effective for individuals or particular groups in different transitional stages.

The goal: The goal is to help people use transitions

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