Carter transition. A tidy, hygienic term for a hellish nightmare.

What it really means is that you have lost your job, and probably your confidence, self-esteem and security, too. All this usually happens just as you have settled into what you thought was your life's work.

Stanley Hyman is in the business of helping people get through a career transition, and he takes his work very seriously, for very good reasons.

"People come to me in shock," he says. "They don't know how to handle losing their jobs. They don't know where to begin."

At his Camp Springs home, Hyman shifts restlessly in the straight chair he is supposed to use since the back surgery he underwent earlier this year. His recovery has been slow because he does too much too soon.

But he does submit to his back troubles by using a wheelchair to negotiate the Catholic University campus, where he conducts a course for about 400 people a year whose lives have been disrupted by job losses.

Hyman attacks career transition head-on and urges his students to do the same. First, he tells them, confront your feelings and problems and learn how to cope. Secondly, he says, learn the practical aspects of finding a new job.

Hyman is an intense but warm-humored man who sees his ultimate mission as one of helping people who are "hurting."

Though persons of all ages and both sexes come to him, the most troubling cases, for Hyman, are middle-aged men, usually with family commitments, who are forced to change careers in mid-life.

Hyman tells of one man who had hold of the American dream. Picture-book family, plush house, an income of more than $100,000 a year. The dream ended when he was 43. He was fired.

His response was withdrawal and alcoholism. His marriage, his family life, his whole world came apart.

"For many people, the job thing hits at a time when they're worrying about their libidos, what they've accomplished," Hyman says. "It's a period of self-evaluation. They're traumatized. They hurt."

Hyman tries to tune into the emotional turmoil of his students, and some are in very had shape.

"One man lost his job with the government, developed suicidal tendencies," Hyman recalls. "His father was a famous sports figure, a very aggressive man. The son became absolutely unglued."

In his classes, Hyman tries to help the participants discover what they want to do and how to go after the job they want, based on the existing job market.

"We always stay on top of the economy," he says. "We have a whole net-work of employers telling us what they want."

Participants also take a battery of vocational and psychological tests to determine their needs and abilities. "We go right back through marriage, childhood, everything, and get them in emotional cement," Hyman explains.

The course costs $250 a semester. And, Hyman adds, "If they don't get what they need the first time, I tell them they can come back again for free."

Hyman's wife, Gena, teaches a parallel course (covered by the $250) for wives. Gena Hyman's course is designed to help the wives adjust to the transition and to overcome their own fears.

"We tell them, 'Stay out of your husband's hair. Keep busy with a hobby or a job,'" Gena said.

The last piece of advice means that Gena sometimes loses students - women who transfer to Stanley's class to begin a career transition of their own.

In addition to the emotional support Hyman tries to create, his course covers the nuts and bolts of job hunting - writing resumes, identifying the market, how to dress for interviews.

Like many of his students, Hyman changed careers in mid-life. But he made the change voluntarily.

His childhood, as he describes it, included a mother who was a "lavender and old lace" woman who taught him to empathize with others. His father was a self-made, sucessful attorney in New York who was "very emotional, very pure. He had a very strong value structure . . . He wanted me to be a lawyer and I wanted to be a doctor. As a result I did neither."

Hyman entered the service in 1942, and became the youngest test pilot in the Air Force. Later, he worked for Bloomingdale's and was president of a manufacturing organization.

In 1950, he was recalled to active duty in Korea and almost lost his life in a combat mission. He mentions matter of factly that he now feels he has a "debt to pay" for his survival.

Hyman emerged from the Korean conflict with many decorations ("they mesmerized me with flattery") so he decided to stay in the service.

But during the 1950s and early 1960s, as he watched "educated, sophisticated, successful persons leave the service who couldn't make it on the outside," he became increasingly interested in career transition.

During this time he earned a master's degree in business administration, began work on a Ph.D in psychology (which he never finished) and underwent three years of analysis out of "curiosity and to see what comes out." He also began intensive research around the country on personnel guidance, career counseling and employment services. He did not like what he found.

Now, more than nine years after he began his present work, Hyman still eschews the label, career guidance counselor.

"So many people have been ripped off by (employment counseling services)," he says. "They don't identify the human being or his needs.

"I get very frustrated and angry. You can spend thousands at some of these places and get nothing. The career counselors don't key in on the feedback; they don't recognize the individual. And if they can read the tests, they don't know the economy."

In addition to the course at Catholic University, Hyman is president of a private counseling firm, which has a group of psychologists and psychiatrists who act as consultants when needed.

Hyman says the mainstay of all his work - at Catholic University and in his private counseling - is "constant reinforcement. I get calls at all hours. One man called me from National Airport on his way to an interview. He just needed reassurance. He got the job."

Not everyone makes it. About 9 percent "never stabilize. They can't get over the separation anxiety," Hyman says. "They can't even make the change from one environment to another."

But there are successes; for instance, the man who lost his job with a large international firm.

"He never should have been an executive in the first place," according to Hyman. "We found out what he really liked is woodworking and now he's got a business going with a partner. He's a happy man."