Julia Vaughan Smith

Is this coaching?

I was rather taken aback, the client talked a lot about her current relationship difficulties and seemed to want to focus on that, is that coaching? It felt more like counselling”.

The implied question seems to be that if this is the content, is that still coaching? For me, the answer is yes. I also heard some concern in her voice about what to do with this material, how to receive it and respond. This illustrates one of those experiences that we have all had in our coaching lives, when something happens which leaves us feeling unprepared, and which is a rich opportunity for learning.

Clients may choose to share deeply personal information with us within the safety of the confidential space. We need to receive it and stay listening as they talk. It is what we do with the material, that makes it coaching, counselling or therapy; together with the extent to which the contract involves exploring feelings and inner experience.   A coaching response would be to acknowledge the feelings, and then make an intervention that is aimed at the client’s healthy resources and implies moving towards action. For example, with questions similar to ‘what would be helpful for you here about this issue?’ or ‘ what would be a good outcome for you?’ . It may be that clients need some space to decide what action they want to take, perhaps to find a counsellor to explore the issue in a different way. If the contract is about work-based coaching, supporting clients to decide what action to take, can be beneficial to their work and thus to their employers and colleagues.

Many relationship difficulties arise from entanglements resulting from insecure attachment and the trauma of love in early years. While understanding these dynamics wouldn’t change an effective coaching response it does prevent and ineffective or inappropriate one.  I am aware that some coaches are concerned about learning about trauma in case that takes them into territories for which they feel unprepared and untrained.  Such cautions are important in practice. However, my experience is that understanding trauma means that you are less likely to get into territory for which you feel unprepared.  If we understand trauma, we are better able to recognise survival behaviour, thoughts and feelings, and are less likely to become entangled with the story or to rescue or reject the client.

Julia Vaughan Smith August 2019