12 Ways To Avoid Collusion In The Coaching Relationship

Self-awareness may be the best antidote to collusion.

Whenever I’m training wellness coaches and use the term “collusion” a definition is required. The term can have a variety of meanings and a search done on “coaching and collusion” will yield an array of articles that seem to add to the confusion. While murder mysteries love to portray collusion as two of the bad guys conspiring to evil ends, the collusion we’re talking about in coaching is more subconscious, more unintended, than conscious or deliberate.

Collusion occurs when a coach somehow merges with their client’s view of themselves and the world instead of helping their client explore it. Let’s examine what appearance collusion takes on, what results from it, what can be motivating it in the coach, and most importantly, how to avoid it.

Appearance: What Collusion Looks Like

While coaching is a client-centered process the colluding coach may allow the client to meander rather than explore. The client’s wanderings may not be productive or hold much focus, but the coach gives them totally free reign and never challenges or helps with focus. The coach is going far beyond a client-centered approach. This lack of challenging may be on more specific issues. There is a reluctance to give honest feedback, a lack of what we call in coaching “truth telling”.

There may be a “softening of accountability” regarding coaching commitments. “Oh, that’s okay. I know it’s hard to keep track of all of this.” At it’s worst, the colluding coach’s unique perspective meshes with the client’s and a valuable coaching tool is lost. The client no longer benefits from the point of view of someone other than themselves. The coach buys the client’s story about themselves and fails to help the client discover how they no longer need to be a prisoner of that story. Coaching is no longer about possibility thinking.

Live out of your imagination, not your history.
Stephen Covey

Results Of Collusion

When a coach colludes with their client the biggest result is a lack of progress by that client. They are stuck and the coach’s interaction with them is aiding the stuckness instead of spurring “forward momentum”. The coach and client go round and round in a combination of story telling, commiserating and endless attempts to “fix the problem”.

The hopeful and growing part of that client, who would have appreciated being challenged more, gets discouraged and usually drops out of coaching. In wellness coaching, the lifestyle behavior doesn’t change and the health consequences mount.

Motivation For Collusion

So how does a coach slip into collusion with their client? There are a number of motivations that can play into a coach’s own self-deception. (See my previous post on this: “Self-deception and Living Well” https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=396&action=edit)

Collusion happens outside the coach’s awareness. Often it is motivated by a desire to “protect” the client. There is a confusion between empathy and sympathy. The coach feels sorry for the client and their plight and may extend great caring and kindness, but also wants to shelter their client from how tough life can be. A client capable of so much more, but doubting themselves, proposes taking an action step that is far below their capacity and the coach accepts it without question or challenge. A client begins to become emotional talking about their body image and the coach “rescues” them by talking about how most people their age and sex have issues with body image. The client is whisked away from processing their feelings and encouraged to get intellectual about the subject of their emotion.

“We collude with a client’s illness, not their wellness.”
Michael Arloski

Be empathic, but don't "rescue".

Collusion can also occur when the coach over-identifies with their client and their experience. This is the classic error in the human-helping professions of failing to get your self out of the way! The middle-aged male coach with the mid-riff bulge is quick to discount the importance of their client’s desire to loose their belly fat. The single-mom coach is quick to agree with their client that their parenting stresses make self-care almost impossible. The coach may become quite tolerant of their client’s resistance to change because they resist similar changes in their own life.

Even more serious collusion may occur when the coach shares a wound similar to their client and it has become a “blindspot”. The coach may have not done their own emotional healing work in this area and blindly colludes with any client who has experienced something similar to them.

How To Avoid Collusion

Like the definition of self-deception, sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know! In our Wellness Mapping 360°™ Wellness Coaching Methodology (www.realbalance.com) , “Ongoing Evaluation” is a key component. We encourage the coach to work with their client to be evaluating how coaching is going throughout the course of coaching, not just at the end. Have coaching conversations with your client about the coaching’s effectiveness as well as the client’s progress. Get and give feedback.

Here are some quick tips for how to increase coaching awareness and avoid collusion.

1. Listen to your gut. If it doesn’t “feel” right it probably isn’t.
2. Supervision. Engage it this at least occasionally.
3. Work on your own stuff! Gather your courage and face your own demons through counseling or whatever works for you.
4. Self-examination. Listen to recordings of your sessions.
5. Look carefully at client progress/stuckness.
6. Stick to the coaching process. Stay professional, remain a coach.
7. Be aware of clear professional boundaries.
8. Don’t be afraid to challenge your client. Examine your own reluctance to do this.
9. Be very clear about the distinction between sympathy and empathy.
10. Look for patterns in your coaching process with this particular client. Collusive behavior repeats.
11. Have clear agreements, not expectations. Your client is not here to live up to your expectations.
12. Be real. Be authentic, genuine, true to yourself.

Please feel free to comment and add your thoughts to this very important topic.

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Wellness Coach Certification: What It Means and the Top Six Features to Look for in a Wellness Coach Training Program

Wellness Coaches Need To Be “The Real Deal”

The field of wellness coaching is growing and more job opportunities are unfolding for people with the right training and expertise. More and more a qualification for those wellness and health coaching positions is a certification in wellness coaching. At the same time there is concern and confusion about just what a wellness coach certification is and means. Licensure, certification, accreditation, credentials…it’s all very confusing in this young profession that is in the midst of forming itself. Let’s help sort things out.

Currently the field of wellness coaching is much like the entire life coaching field was in it’s early years when managers were dubbed “coaches” overnight and consultants jumped on the coaching bandwagon with no training in coaching. Anyone can call himself or herself a coach, and anyone can call themselves a “wellness coach”. Doing so without getting good training in wellness coaching is like knighting yourself with your own sword. There also has been an explosion of wellness coach training programs. The quality of which ranges from very high to the lowest of the low. The consumer and the person who wants to become a wellness coach must examine the offerings very carefully. Here’s an orientation to this confusing territory, and, if you don’t mind, some “shameless self-promotion” of our own quality program.

Licensure means legal authorization, a government or business permit to provide specified services. The government side of it is usually handled on a state by state basis. Whenever people are providing “treatment”, licensure seems to be legally required. Because coaching is not a form of treatment, but technically is considered education/consultation, it is not regulated by licensure. Business licenses give one legal rights to provide a protected service or product under the terms of that license.

Certification means evidence or guarantee of successful completion of specific training or education. Certifications are of two types. Certification by in independent body: such as a certification by the American College of Sports Medicine that a fitness trainer has successfully completed a training program in a particular specialty from a program that ACSM approves. Or, certification can be done by the organization that provides the training, such as a wellness coach certification received by someone successfully completing all requirements from a training program offered by The Wellness Coach Training Institute or any of the many other training programs out there.

Accreditation means an official approval, recognition, authorization or endorsement of one’s training or of an organization’s training program. Accreditation is usually done by in independent accrediting body, such as the ICF (International Coaching Federation). The ICF accredits programs that meet their requirements for a full coach education with the title ACTP (Accredited Coach Training Program). They also accredit partial programs by approving “coach specific training hours” or ACSTH. ACSTH approval for the curriculum of The Wellness Coach Training Institute has been received.

Companies hiring wellness coaches and those seeking training in this field are doing their best to determine the quality of different programs. Currently standards and credentialing for the profession is under development. The National Credentialing Team For Professional Coaches In Healthcare has been formed and I am a member of the Leadership Team of this group and will be keeping you informed of our progress.

Great training programs are memorable!

In the meantime, here are the top six features to look for in a wellness coaching training program:
• 1. Approval for the training as continuing education credits for high-level professions (especially in healthcare fields). The Wellness Coach Training Institute’s training has the approval of ACSM (Am. College of Sports Medicine), AHNA (Am. Holistic Nurses Assoc.), and NCHEC (The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing) for CHES (Certified Health Education Specialist) credits. Approval of our curriculum for Coach Specific Training Hours by The ICF has been received.
• 2. The training is wellness and health coaching specific and incorporates content from the fields of health promotion and wellness. A program consisting of life/business/executive coaching skills only is insufficient for the work you will be doing as a wellness/health coach. The Wellness Coach Training Institute’s curriculum was developed by Dr. Michael Arloski who has been contributing professionally to the wellness field for over thirty years.
• 3. At the same time, the coaching skills and methodology needs to be rooted in legitimate life coaching training literature and training. The life coach training competencies were developed from theory and research grounded in humanistic principles that have later been recognized as positive psychology. Dr. Arloski’s background includes in-depth training from The Coaches Training Institute, one of the founding organizations of the life coaching field.
• 4. The training provides you with a real methodology of behavioral change, which allows you to help your client move through the process of lifestyle improvement with structure and guidance. The program should not just be a grab-bag of skills and techniques, but rather a way of working with your client that progresses from assessment and exploration through developing a clear wellness plan with accountability and support to clear measurable outcomes. The Wellness Mapping 360°™ Wellness Coaching Methodology does just that.
• 5. The training provides you with tools, forms and support resources that are constantly being updated and developed. The Wellness Coach Training Institute’s CD Digital Tool Kit and other support materials are provided in all trainings and the institute maintains additional support services on a continual basis.
• 6. The training is offered in your choice of live in-person, or live and fully interactive webinar or telephonic formats. Coaching is an interpersonal way of working with people and therefore requires fully interactive training. All of The Wellness Coach Training Institute’s trainings are delivered either live and in-person or via live and fully interactive webinar.

Quality wellness coach training certifications help our clients and help the profession as a whole. Being able to assure your client, or your prospective employer that you are certified in a well-regarded wellness coach training program builds your integrity and credibility and opens doors. Do your research and choose a training program that is a good fit for you.

You can check out The Wellness Coach Training Institute’s offerings at www.realbalance.com

A More Sociological View Of Wellness

Some wellness solutions are simply pragmatic.

Who has time to exercise and eat well when life is on overload? We are often urged by wellness professionals to exercise more and improve our diets, but isn’t that just adding more to the “to do” list? Without addressing the stressors in our lives, how can we fit the “demands” of being healthy into our lifestyle?

Of course people who succeed at being more active and eating nutritiously definitely are healthier. The question always comes down to what enhances or diminishes that success? Ask anyone and they will say that it’s usually the demands and stresses at both work and home that get in the way.

We know that people who are under excess stress suffer on both an emotional and physiological level. Stress either causes or exacerbates 80% of all illness. Higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, headaches, insomnia and many other conditions are directly correlated with higher levels of stress. Yet it is mostly individual solutions that we are offered for stress reduction. Relaxation training, Yoga, and mindfulness/meditation classes, etc., are all wonderful when you feel you have time for them. Wellness experts are now asking us to consider bigger picture thinking and solutions that are cultural and systemic.

Each July at The National Wellness Conference in Wisconsin (http://www.nationalwellness.org/) , wellness program leaders from around the world come to learn more about what makes health promotion effective. This year a powerful theme from a number of speakers was almost an indictment of how we’ve been approaching wellness. Instead of urging a working mother to set aside even more time in a busy schedule to engage in exercise, they suggested we should be figuring out how to set up a childcare facility at work. An employee who has both young children and an aging parent to take care of might benefit more from access to affordable elder-care resources than from nutrition class. With more time and less anxiety self-care is more possible. Perhaps we need a more sociological approach to wellness.

For employers, this could mean examining how they are fostering or discouraging a culture of wellness. Are they eliminating barriers to their employees being healthy by providing flex time options, managerial support for participation in wellness programs, workday time for medical exams, and truly practical resources like childcare facilities?

For the individual, it might mean engineering their lives with their own health a priority. Sorting out the overload, the overwhelm, by filtering it through their values and priorities is a place to start. Who within their family, friendship circles, and larger community can help? What can truly be delegated or improved by the engagement of others? What resources does one need to seek out and discover?

Strategic thinking can co-create new solutions.

For the wellness coach it means avoiding the trap of simply setting up a bunch of fitness and dietary goals with our clients, that will require even more time and effort, and calling it adequate coaching. One of the “Four Cornerstones of Coaching” (http://www.amazon.com/Co-Active-Coaching-Skills-People-Success/dp/0891061231) is that coaching looks at the person’s whole life, not just certain select aspects of it.

The best coaching, and certainly the best wellness coaching is holistic in nature. We help our clients look at their life three-hundred and sixty degrees (that’s why we call our methodology Wellness Mapping 360°™). In that expanded world-view coaching can help our clients to:
• Increase their awareness of options/choices around them. We may help them to explore and discover community resources and services that are available to them that they weren’t aware of.
• We may help them work through their own internal barriers to asking for the help they need, at home, at work, etc.
• Engage in strategic thinking with us to examine options, come up with new perspectives, create new experiments, etc.
• Resolve ambivalence and provide the support and accountability to follow through and implement plans.

Sometimes a coach’s best work is on the emotional support level and sometimes it is on the really nuts and bolts practical and strategic level. We may, at times, function in a role almost like a social worker who connects people with the services they need in their community. We need to know what those services are so we know what to recommend. At the same time, we need to approach all of this in a coaching manner where we are keeping the client in charge of their own choices, and we are continuing to support their own journey.

Getting stress out of the way of living your life well looks different for everyone. We all need to be more compassionate with ourselves, and look for resources beyond our own hard work. We’re all in this together.

Please add a comment about how we can expand our notion of wellness to include this “bigger picture” thinking.