Julia Vaughan Smith

What has trauma got to do with coaching? Or coaching got to do with trauma?

Integrative executive coaching: exploring the interplay between psyche, role and environment

I have been involved in the Coaching explosion and fragmentation (life coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, health coaching, spiritual coaching) for 25 years. It has been interesting to see the rapid growth and appeal. I have also been a supervisor of coaches for some time and notice that it is common for experienced coaches to want to know more about psycho-dynamics and the psyche to inform their work; not to become therapists but to help them be more effective. When I started executive coaching in around 1993, the only training seemed to be in USA. I wasn’t able to go there so did a range of CPD events around Transactional Analysis, NLP and Gestalt theory/practice. I also had the great fortune to work alongside Jenny Rogers from whom I learnt a great deal. In 1997 I reached my point of ‘this isn’t enough I need to be able to understand more’ and for reasons that at times escape me, I did a 7 year psychotherapy training and MA. It has been invaluable in my coaching and supervision world and predictably I have become a practitioner who practises an integrative approach – working with the complexity of the psyche and the interplay with role and organizational context.

I therefore approach this paper and topic from an integrative perspective. I am focusing on ‘what has trauma got to do with coaching?’ and the reverse ‘what has coaching got to do with trauma?’. I discussed this with around 65 experienced coaches and consultants, in several groups, and the response was interesting. Some found it a rather disturbing idea, to be avoided, others had some interest but found it difficult to make the links with coaching (which I agree is a challenge), and others said ‘don’t use the word trauma it is too evocative and disturbing; it will bring to mind pictures from war zones.’ I found these discussions of great value and interest in terms of making the links between trauma and coaching. In other places I came up against some proponents of the positive psychology and happiness field who felt that nothing disturbing needed to be mentioned or thought about. While there is much to be gained from positive psychology, I think this attitude is to misunderstand what trauma is and how it manifests itself in our relationship with ourself, with others and with work/role/environment.

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