Julia Vaughan Smith

Coaching to Change Lives

Gabor Maté, in a recent talk on Healing as a Subversive Act identified the major health indicators in our society are rapidly growing. In those indicators he includes autoimmune diseases, mental health, and addictions. The number of prescription medicines taken also increasing at an alarming rate. In coaching we meet those with depression, anxiety, other mental health symptoms, work addictions and who can feel trapped by their work and life decisions. Maté talks of healing being a highly subversive act in our culture as it is about challenging the idea that someone’s value is dependent on how well they fit into the unhealthy culture which surrounds then. This resonates with me powerfully, in terms of coaching people in unhealthy organisations or roles that are causing them suffering who are offered coaching to enable them to ‘fit in’.  That has never been my idea of a worthwhile activity. Nor is it my job to give a client my opinion, or direct them towards my view of their life,  but I can offer them an idea that life doesn’t have to be like that, and that  they could explore what might bring more joy, meaning and give them a life worth living.

What is it to live a life worth living? To have energy and to feel alive?  Is this part of the coaching contract?  Some coaching only focuses on improving performance and doesn’t attend to clients’ lives. That has never been my approach. Having a holistic approach means attending to clients’ wellbeing in all areas of their lives. Some areas they might not wish to explore in coaching, but we can hold the idea of the totality of their lives in our work.

What is it to change our lives? What are we changing? Changing so we don’t change back requires attention to the inner dynamics created by how became who we are, the sense we have of ourselves, what our defence systems are and why they are needed,  the influences are of the ‘there and then’ of early experience on the ‘here and now’ of the present, and what our felt experience is.

Some clients feel stuck in changes they want to make, or have developed ways of engaging with work, others and themselves which is unhealthy for them.  They want to change but seem unable to access the inner resources needed to help them. If we want to support our clients, and ourselves, in living more fully and having more satisfying relationships with others and with work, we need to understand the internal dynamics that prevent this so that we can help clients change these processes if they want to. The major factors are our early experience of feeling wanted, loved for who we are and protected by those we should be able to trust.

You will have noticed that I have not yet used the word trauma in this piece. However, this is the core of not being wanted, loved or protected. The lasting effect of early experience prevents us being able to create a meaningful and fulfilling life for ourselves and results in high levels of stress and anxiety, which we take for normal. This is open to change; by understanding how the ‘there and then’ is acting in our life, we can separate ourselves from the past influences and claim a healthier life for ourselves. As a result, we can find the internal resources that can help bring about change within ourselves, and thus in our work and relationships. If we don’t, we will continue to use the resources of survival to direct our lives and fail to thrive as autonomous beings.


The Masterclass ‘Coaching to Change Lives’ on November 28th 2019 (www.coachingandtrauma.com) , introduces the dynamics which  stop and liberate us to live healthier lives in all ways. We draw on the work of Professor Franz Ruppert which provides a simple way of understanding the highly complex issue of trauma.

Julia Vaughan Smith

June 2019