The profession of health and wellness coaching is fully engaged in a process of transformation. As we grow to be of service to wellness programs, lifestyle medicine practices, employee assistance programs, insurance carriers, disease management companies, and all manner of healthcare providers, around the globe, the demand for greater quality coaching only builds. We are moving from a need for competent coaches to a need for proficient and even masterful coaches.
In 2006 Whole Person Associates published my book, Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, with an updated version in 2009 and a completely revised and expanded Second Edition in 2014. (https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml) This ground-breaking book is used as the primary text in many wellness coach training programs and college and university courses and has had a powerful impact around the world. It has even been published in Mandarin! In 2009, Whole Person Associates also published Your Journey To A Healthier Life: Paths of Wellness Guided Journal, Vol. I. (https://wholeperson.com/store/your-journey-to-a-healthier-life.shtml) I wrote this book primarily to be used by wellness coaching clients in either individual or group coaching as a personal workbook/journal through the coaching process. Many coaches have found it to be a valuable coaching guide for both their client and themselves. As much as these books covered, the need to provide a deeper dive into the advanced topics of coaching such as collusion, self-disclosure, etc., and to help coaches truly polish their craft became self-evident.
Real Balance Global Wellness has trained thousands and thousands of wellness coaches around the world. As I delivered many of these trainings, read case studies and listened to hundreds of recordings of coaches in action, I learned so much. I learned what coaches need to learn. I discovered where their challenges were, what skills they tended to underutilize, or overutilize. I saw how they shined and how they struggled. I saw what distinguished the effective coaches from the rest. The more masterful coaches were evident in both their way of being with their clients, and with their knowledge of what to do. As I learned from my students I continued to coach, to teach our certification and our advanced classes, and to mentor, continually accumulating more and more grist for the mill that would become my next book.
Just as psychotherapy has been described (https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-20286-000), coaching is both an art and a science. The thing that I believe distinguishes a more masterful coach is that they are an artist practicing a craft. Beyond doing a job, they see their wellness coaching career as the career of a craftsperson. They see their work as a combination of evidence-based science, theory and technique, but also as craft.
“If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the Unconscious.” D.T. Suzuki – Introduction to Zen In The Art Of Archery
From Chapter Two of the forthcoming book:
Witnessing the craftsperson in action we see a continuous desire to improve. This is the truly professional waiter/waitress studying the food production and delivery systems, the seating floor plan and the nature of the clientele in the restaurant to calculate their most efficient table delivery routes and provide the best customer service experience. This is the university professor reading about how to teach, not just more about the science of their subject matter. This is the wellness coach spending hours listening to recordings of their own coaching and reviewing where their competencies need improvement. This is about the transformation of competencies into proficiencies and beyond.
Most wellness coach training is aimed at developing competencies. Competency implies an adequate and acceptable level of skill and knowledge. Every client certainly wants his or her coach to be competent. Yet, wouldn’t every client want their coach to be not just competent, but truly proficient or even masterful at his or her craft? How does a coach move up a notch to a level where they are coaching beyond the basics, where they are fluidly implementing what they have learned and can now think on their feet, ‘dance in the moment’, and be creative?
Thoughts To Ponder On The Mastery Path
WHO do I want to be as a coach?
How do I create a default mind of curiosity?
How can my values shape my desire for mastery?
How can I be inspirational?
Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft will explore advanced topics such as collusion, self-disclosure, motivation, coaching with difficult clients, building self-efficacy, meaning and purpose, coaching effectively with emotions and much deeper looks at major theories of behavior change and how to implement them in the coaching process.
As my new book approaches completion, we expect that publication will take place in early 2020. By subscribing to the Real Balance Newsletter on our website (https://realbalance.com) you can be kept up to date on its release date.
“Getting Yourself Out Of The Way.” What’s that really mean? There are many ways in which the coach can interfere in the coaching process and “get in the way” of the client’s own coaching work. Our own agendas, attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, projections and unfinished emotional business can all impede the coaching process. In this two part series we’ll increase our awareness of how “our stuff” gets in the way of our client’s progress and look at how to eliminate our blind spots.
The Coach’s Agenda
In wellness coaching it is easy for coaches to subtly promote their own favorite package of dietary, exercise and stress management advice. When I’ve observed this in coaching students it is seldom about their own ego getting in the way, though I’ve seen this a few times, but rather about the zeal the coach feels for certain wellness approaches. They really believe that certain diets, fitness programs, or stress reduction approaches are really fantastic and they want to share this with heart-felt conviction! Coaches also fall into the trap of promoting their own favorite ways to be well because they stray from the coach approach and feel that if they just tell clients what to do it will save so much more time. This can show up in leading questions that manipulate the client to select a course of action that the coach was consciously or unconsciously promoting. Lastly, if coaches are crossing the ethical line into promoting their own money-making products as part of the coaching there is a serious problem.(Consult: https://ichwc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Final-Code-of-Ethics-Feb-1-ICHWC-1.pdf)
Convincing & Persuading
Coaches may get ‘hooked in’ to almost desperately wanting their client to improve their lifestyle because they truly care about the person and hate to see them engaging in so much self-defeating behavior and suffering. Straying from the coach approach they attempt to convince or persuade the client to be well. “If they would only…!”
A well-known Motivational Interviewing trainer often begins his talks by extolling each of the audience to “Give up your job!” He argues, as do I, that holding on to thinking that you can be successful while attempting to convince or persuade people to be well, is about as self-defeating as the client behaviors we are attempting to change! Yet many of us in the wellness and health promotion fields and medical professions find ourselves spending years doing just this. The exasperation that finally comes from this fruitless way of working with clients and patients is often what drives these human-helpers to look for a better way, and what often leads them to coaching. Tired of pushing or pulling people up the mountain of lifestyle improvement, one finally asks “How’s this working for me?” The challenge for the coach is to become aware of their tendency to continue this process of convincing and persuading.
My Way Is The Way
Beginning coaches also have to be vigilant about how their own path to wellness may interfere with their client work. We have trained many wellness coaches who were attracted to the fields of healthcare, human helping, and wellness because they were able to meet and overcome a serious health challenge by, at least in part, improving their own lifestyle. When I’ve trained counselors and psychotherapists I would sometimes come across students who had been through either divorce, alcoholism, or some such experience and deeply believed that what had helped them to get through those experiences was exactly what all their clients had to do as well. This was, of course, an often-disastrous course for their therapy clients attempt to take. In wellness coaching, we come across students, on rare occasion fortunately, who have a similar allegiance to some sort of holistic health path, or wellness formula that helped them and now they feel the need to proselytize.
“Well, what worked for you?” clients often ask. Here the coach has to proceed very carefully. We can use some appropriate self-disclosure, but rather than answer the question directly, the coach might ask, “So what are you hoping to gain by hearing about my experience?” Often that client’s question is coming out of a place of low self-efficacy. They have had little lasting success at lifestyle improvement, so they are looking to you, the expert to show them a better way. We have to determine if this is a time to provide some information/education, make an effective use of self-disclosure, or is it a time to empower the client to continue to seek their own answers. The vigilance comes in when we catch our own tendency to slip into the expert role.
Illuminating Blind Spots
Part of mastering wellness coaching is narrowing down our blind spots as much as possible. Some lack of awareness, even some self-deception may still remain, but out job is to increase our awareness both in retrospect and in the moment. We make great headway with this when we accept responsibility for our own feelings and reactions. The values and lifestyle of our client may be 180 degrees different than our own. We may be appalled at the self-defeating behavior we see the client exhibiting and rush to judgment. Our “Right-ing Reflex” (as the Motivational Interviewing Folks call it) kicks in. We may have a personality that pushes us to “straighten out” a client’s way of operating in this life. Part of our effective vigilance is noticing when we are pressing a client about how they “ought” to live. Can we allow the client to live their life without our “interference”? Coaching should never interfere with someone’s life, unless it is a situation of safety (see below).
When we blend in some wellness/health education, how neutral do we stay when it comes to any of the numerous controversial healthy living debates? “Saturated fat is fine. Enjoy!” “Saturated fat will kill you!” Can we act like a true professional and coach our client to find out their own answers from a variety of trusted, evidence-based sources?
Thoughts To Ponder On The Mastery Path
Experiment with entirely eliminating the phrases “You need to…” “Your ought to…” “I want you to…” from the way that you coach with people.
Distinguishing Between Our Own Agenda And Client Safety
Coaches are not responsible for the choices their clients make. However, if your client is riding his wellness bicycle towards a known cliff, we do have an ethical obligation to share what we know about the landscape ahead. Those who have heard me conduct coach trainings know that I’m fond of presenting this ethical quandary: Let’s say your client says – Hey coach! I’m going to start The Twenty-Seven Grapefruit A Day Diet! All I have to do is eat nothing but 27 grapefruit everyday for a month and the pounds will just drop away like magic! Will you support me in this coach? We love to say that in coaching “The client’s agenda is THE agenda.” This does not mean, however that we can’t operate on one important caveat – the safety of our client. Now, unlike the obvious cliff our grapefruit-dieting client is headed for, most of our clients present more ambiguous situations and questions. For example, there are a number of immensely popular diets out there, which promise extraordinary weight loss results, but have more recently been shown, to present medical risks and/or have an abysmal record of sustainable results. What is the coach to do when the client presents a plan to follow such a diet?
Our first step is to monitor ourselves and ask if our desire to have our client think twice before they launch forth with a potentially self-defeating, if not self-destructive course, is motivated by what we know of the facts, or our own prejudices. Are we aware of evidence that puts their course of action in serious doubt, or are we instead simply favoring some alternative that we are fans of?
The second step would be to inquire what the client knows about this course of action (diet, or whatever wellness/health promoting idea). How did they become aware of it – through what sources? What do they know of the integrity of this action course? Are they aware of contradictory evidence regarding this way of attempting to be well? The coach can strongly recommend that the client check this out with their treatment professionals or trusted educational professionals. The coach can help the client to carefully examine their options. If the client insists on carrying out a course of action the coach truly feels is detrimental to the wellbeing of the client they can directly share that with the client. If the client still persists on moving ahead with their plan, the coach can share with the client that they will not be able to support the client in doing so as part of their coaching together.
Tips For Eliminating Blind Spots
The biggest problem with our blind spots is that, by definition, we are not aware of them. Here are some tips for minimizing these hazards.
• Coach with a tri-fold awareness of what is going on with 1) yourself – emotions, bodily sensations, intuition; 2) your client ¬– keenly observe communication on verbal and nonverbal levels, pick up on emotions not just content; and 3) the coaching relationship itself and process this with your client if needed. • Record your client sessions (with permission) and listen to them carefully with the ideas from this blog in mind. • Seek out a mentor to help you grow as a professional skilled coach, and/or work with a supervisor at your workplace if you are in such an employment setting. • Coach bravely (see my previous blog: “Seven Expressions Of Courageous Coaching” – https://wp.me/pUi2y-ie ) by exploring with your client their satisfaction with the coaching they are receiving. Explore together how it can be improved. Be willing to look at what doesn’t “feel right”. • Perhaps most importantly, do your own work. That is, continually grow by being willing to work through your own “unfinished business” of an emotional nature.
In Part Two of this blog series, we will look at the concept of Projection, in all of its forms, and how it can significantly sabotage our best coaching efforts.
In our last post we featured Part One on this topic:
A New Code of Ethics For Health & Wellness Coaches: Healthy Boundaries Part Onehttp://wp.me/pUi2y-kb There we introduced the new NCCHWC Code (National Consortium for Credentialing Health and Wellness Coaches) and began the discussion of boundaries with a look at ethics, appropriate relationships, touch and self-disclosure. We talked about the establishment of a trusting environment and how coaches show respect for boundaries by asking permission to explore sensitive areas. In this blog we’ll take a deeper dive into some specific areas where coaches often have questions about how to proceed.
Asking for reminders, contact beyond appointments, services not in the contract and personal inquiry.
When clients co-create with their coach agreements about action steps and accountability they frequently begin by asking for the coach to remind them to perform that action step. This is not an outrageous request and one that some coaches are okay with. What works better, however, and is much less of a burden on the coach, is for the client to agree to contact the coach (via email, text) to let them know when they did, in fact, perform the action step. This keeps the client more responsible and allows the coach to avoid falling into the role of nag or authority. Coaches should always agree only to what they are willing to do when setting accountability agreements.
Clients may also ask for additional contact beyond the agreed upon appointments. This request can arise out of a variety of intentions. Clients may desire more of a friendship relationship instead of a professional coaching relationship. This could even have romantic intentions. This is where using direct communication is a coaching skill that can pay off. The coach should gently inquire about the client’s intention in making such a request. This brings things out into the open and can lead to a helpful coaching conversation about where else in the client’s life they could get such needs met. The coach can gently, but firmly explain the advantage for the client in keeping the coaching relationship on a professional level.
I once trained a coach who had gotten into a coaching relationship where she would come to the client’s house, wake her up at 6:00 am and go jogging with her as part of the coaching service. I asked if their agreement was for coaching or for services as a personal assistant! There is quite a difference to say the least. Stick to coaching! When clients make excessive requests, explain the roles of a coach and explore how else the client might get these other needs met.
The other area coaches are often unclear about is how much to disclose about their own personal lives. We address self-disclosure in coaching very thoroughly in my previous blog post:“Self-Disclosure in Coaching – When Sharing Helps and Hinders” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-8m). To quote from that post: “Coaches choose to share certain biographical information with their clients to help build the coaching alliance. The coach who comes across as secretive about whether they have ever had children, are in a relationship with a partner, etc., is going to be trusted less. The challenge here is to maintain good professional boundaries while also being willing to relate to the client as an ally, an authentic human being, not an impersonal and distant professional.”
Coach-Generated Boundary Crossings
Going Beyond Competency – Beyond Scope of Practice
Looking more closely at what happens at times in coaching, we see that the edge that is pushed here is often done subtly and usually without intent to go beyond coaching. The number one concern I hear about in training coaches is the distinction between coaching and therapy. Again, look to the Wellness Resources section of the Real Balance website listed above for a copy of the definitive article on this subject by Meg Jordan and John Livingstone “Coaching versus Psychotherapy in Health and Wellness: Overlap, Dissimilarities and the Potential for Collaboration.”
What I observe more frequently is when coaches pursue a line of inquiry into a client’s psycho-emotional history, into their family of origin issues, etc., and sometimes do so based upon methods and techniques that they have read about in various self-help books. Without a mental-health professional background, even attending a workshop with a famous self-help author does not prepare a coach to do such work. Such inquiries usually do not develop into dire mistakes, but do have the potential to urge the client to go somewhere emotionally that they and the coach are not prepared for. The number one brake here is for the coach to catch themselves when they realize they are engaging in this line of inquiry more out of their own curiosity/fascination instead of a solid coaching rational. When clients push to pursue this inquiry it’s time for the coach to state their own lack of qualifications to go there and to suggest how the client could be better served by speaking with a counselor, therapist, etc.
Going beyond one’s competency can also occur outside of the mental/emotional dimension of wellness. It’s so easy for a coach to blur the line between providing some helpful wellness/health education and being more directive. Coaches should refrain from recommending, imploring, strongly suggesting, or arguing for the benefits of a particular course of action (such as a specific diet, exercise plan, or any form of conventional or non-conventional type of treatment) if they are not qualified to do so as a licensed professional in that field. The coach who can “wear two hats”can offer the wisdom of that other profession that they are part of when they clearly inform their client that they are doing so. This step “over the edge” can occur easily when the coach is not aware of how they are pushing their own agenda for change.
The Coach Acts Out Of Their Own Needs
A boundary is crossed when the coach is no longer acting with the good of the client remaining primary. Coaches are fallible human beings like everyone else. Unmet interpersonal needs for intimacy, whether sexual, romantic, or simply the desire for closeness, can influence the coach’s actions at levels that require keen awareness to detect. Part of being a health and wellness coach is living a wellness lifestyle and that means acknowledging one’s needs and seeking healthy ways to get them met. Unmet needs for power and control, for self-worth through showing competency can also be expressed by coaches at an unhealthy level that once again causes the coach to no longer be acting with the wellbeing of their client as primary.
Coaches can also put their own needs first on the financial front. The coach who is facing severe financial stress may consciously or unconsciously strive to create more dependence in the coaching relationship instead of fostering independence in their client. Coaches who also sell wellness products, such as supplements, etc., may pressure clients to make purchases (a clear violation of the Code of Ethics).
Social Media Boundaries
Clients sometimes actually brag about having a coach and are proud to tell the world about the wonderful services that Coach X is providing for them. Coaches however must respect their client’s confidentiality and not identify any client on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). It is also not a good idea to “friend” clients on Social Media. Clients can share information using more private methods of communication than a Social Media format that provides no privacy.
Organization-Generated Boundary Crossings
Violating Client’s Right To Confidentiality
Most organizations are careful to avoid violating the privacy of their employees but this can happen when coaches working within an organization are asked to give specific reports on their clients. HIPPA regulations (https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/index.html) protect the health information of a client. The request for information about “how a client is doing” may come innocently enough out of genuine concern for the client. Still, this request should be met with a recommendation that the person inquiring ask the client directly.
Requiring Internal Coaches To Push Sales
An organization may require the coaches that work for them to promote the sales of products or services within the context of the coaching. While this may be framed as a low-pressure offering that clients can easily decline, it is potentially an exploitation of the unique trusting relationship that the coaching process develops.
Requiring Internal Coaches To See Too Many Clients
Another boundary is that of setting healthy expectations/requirements for the number of clients a coach can see in one hour and in one work day. Some disease management and other large coaching services make excessive demands of their coaches in terms of quantity of clients seen, lack of break times, and lack of times to do coach notes, etc. The result is both a health risk for the coach and inevitably a diminishment of quality of services for the clients.
Organizations and coaches share in the responsibility and potential liability of working with the people they serve. They must always act with the good of the client (and the coach) – their health and wellbeing – as foremost in all policies and procedures.
Coaches also need to think about how they may at times be putting themselves at risk. One example would be if a coach meets a client in a building where they are the only occupants, or especially if the coach opened a locked building to meet with the client there.
Healthy Self-Generated Boundaries
Knowing And Abiding By Your Own Limits & Boundaries
Perhaps the most rewarding benefit of Healthy Boundaries is the self-care that they provide for the coach themselves. We benefit from all of the healthy boundaries described above, but we also need to reflect on the boundaries that we need to set for our own mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing. Sometimes coaches work in settings where excessive demands are made of them as we noted above. Independent coaches however, need to set their own limits and achieve healthy boundaries in order to preserve their own wellness and continue provide the highest quality services. Part of the self-employed challenge here is having enough confidence in your own ability to create a successful business that will support you to allow you to invest in the time it takes for self-care and personal and professional renewal.
Boundaries are there for good reasons. Just like a football game or match would become chaotic without those “out-of-bounds” markers, professional and personal relationships thrive on clear and healthy boundaries.