Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions – Part 3 Accountability and Support

This is the third of a three-part series on Coaching Structure. In our first blog (https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2021/08/26/structuring-great-wellness-coaching-sessions-part-one-how-to-get-started/) we showed how a coach can use structure by Co-Creating The Agenda for the session to get off to a great start. In our second blog – Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions – Part 2 Process and Progress (https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2021/10/18/structuring-great-wellness-coaching-sessions-part-2-process-and-progress/} we explored how effective processing leads to insight, understanding and paves the way to co-creating the Next Steps the client needs to create progress.

The Accountability Agreement

As we finish up our Next Steps part of the coaching structure in our session, we still need to arrive at clarity with our client about how they will be holding themselves accountable to follow through on their Next Steps and how we, the coach, can help.

You might say that if there was a singular contribution of coaching, in general, that put it on the map, it was accountability. In the early development of life coaching/business coaching, etc., clients sought out a way to be more accountable to themselves to accomplish the goals they were striving for. Sometimes the client was in a business structure where they were at the top of the reporting chain, so who was helping them be accountable? The value coaches provided with accountability quickly demonstrated that coaching was worth investing in.

The Key to Effective Accountability

Ultimately a client is accountable to themselves. Their coach is not their supervisor, manager, teacher or parent. The key is to set up and continuously convey through carefully chosen language that the client is accountable to themselves, not the coach. Accountability needs to be felt internally not as an external force applied by someone else. Yet, the coach needs to do something to help the client with accountability. How do they do it?

The coach supplies two things:
• A rationale for the importance of accountability and tracking behavior.
• The structure which the client uses to make accountability work and continue to create progress.

Tracking Behavior

Clients have often attempted to make lifestyle improvements without the aid of a true Wellness Plan. They sometimes have not even kept track of their progress in a measurable way. A target is set ( X number of pounds, a certain distance covered in a race, for example) but the day-to-day grind of getting to that target can fade away without consistent persistence and feedback. Not having a clear picture of how consistent the client is being allows for self-deception to leak in. The person “thinks” that they are exercising regularly, but are they?

Research shows us that the people who self-monitor their wellness efforts succeed the most. (https://www.obesityaction.org/resources/self-monitoring-the-way-to-successful-weight-management/) While it may be laborious to keep a food log, or even to use a phone app, the results support the effort. When self-monitoring is combined with live coaching (as opposed to simply the use of a digital app alone) it would seem we have the best of both worlds.

One of the best questions in coaching is: “How will you know when you are being successful?”

When the coach asks this question, even the most reluctant client will admit that they have to figure out some way to keep track of their efforts. It’s not always easy. I remember one client who said, “I like to track things…when I’m being successful!” However, facing the lack of progress can spur the coach and client on to examining strategies and making adjustments.

Co-creating Accountability Agreements

Maintaining the Coaching Mindset is crucial to setting up effective accountability agreements. This is where a Client-Centered Co-Creative Approach works best. When a coach slips into the prescriptive, consultative mindset we hear words like this:
• “I want you to…”
• “I need you to…”
• “You ought to…”
• “You should…”

“I want you to walk four days for twenty minutes each time next week.” “You ought to be drinking at least X number of ounces of water each day.” It’s easy to take charge and state what you, the coach, thought was obvious from your conversation around Next Steps. When the coach does this, they take power and autonomy away from their client.

How much different it sounds when the Coaching Mindset comes through. “So, you’ve decided on walking between now and our next appointment. Tell me about how often and how long to walk would be right for you to have a successful week.”

Accountability Methods

The most common form that accountability takes is when the client agrees to a commitment to simply report on their progress at the next coaching session. This usually works very well for most Action Steps. Coach and client write down this commitment and the coach makes sure to ask about it at the Check-In portion of the next coaching appointment.

At times, however, a lapse of seven to fourteen days between appointments may not be optimal for practicing a new behavior or seeking to make progress on an action steps that requires greater frequency. For example, beginning practicing relaxation training needs to be done fairly often during a week. Especially because it is a very new behavior to remember to perform, a system of more frequent accountability may work better. Let’s say that our client recognizes this (perhaps because the coach challenged them around it) and knows they need to connect with their accountability resource (the coach) more often. Coach and client agree that the client will email or text the coach every second or third day and report on their progress.

Don’t be a reminder service. As we say, “There are apps for that.” When a client asks for a reminder to perform their Action Step you and your client are best off if your gently refuse. Offer instead to have the client contact you (email, text, etc.) when they have actually completed the behavior. This encourages greater self-monitoring by the client and more independence which will pay off in the long run.

When wrapping up the session, here’s another important tip:

Ask your client to recall and restate to you what they have made commitments to doing as Action Steps, and how Accountability will work. This has much more power than when you tell them what has been agreed to.

The Importance of Support

Coaching for Connectedness is a vital part of Health & Wellness Coaching. We know that people who lack social support have much higher rates of all the major chronic health challenges. Exploring what sources of support a client has is an essential part of any initial Discovery or Foundation Session. When clients lack support we may see if our client wants to make that an Area of Focus for their Wellness Plan and consciously work on expanding it.

Unfortunately, coaches don’t always include checking out support as part of the Coaching Structure. When we have co-created an Action Step with our client it is important to ask:

“So, who or what else in your life can support you in doing this?”

Make this question part of how you conclude working on each and every Action Step. You, the coach will be providing support but how else can our client find support for their wellness efforts?

The Wind Beneath Your Wings

Help your client to seek out and distinguish who or what in their life will be a positive and encouraging source of support. Critical, negative, cynical and sarcastic people need not apply! Support from positive people can be the “Verbal Persuasion” or cheering on that Albert Bandura talks about as a way to build Self-Efficacy. (See my blog “Lessons From Albert Bandura For Wellness Coaches” https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/wpadmin/post.php?post=843&action=edit } Perhaps even more powerful is the type of support where others actually do the same activity as the client’s action step, and do it with them. This may take the form of an individual such as a walking buddy, or a group, such as a hiking club. Also, don’t forget about sources of support like a pet dog – the four-legged fitness trainer!

Internal Barriers and How to Ask for Support

Involving others in one’s Wellness Plan seems like a no-brainer, but such is not always the case. Your client may be inhibited to do so for various reasons. Explore their reluctance with them. You may discover that your client sees it as a sign of weakness to ask others for help. They may have had severe lessons about this earlier in their lives. They may also be embarrassed to involve others until they have had a measure of success on their own. Imagine the overweight client who doesn’t want to share yet another weight-loss effort with their friends until they feel better about their own progress.

A frequent source of support that is called upon by many clients is their partner, spouse, etc. Here the vital step may be having a crucial conversation with that person about exactly how they can be supportive, and to identify exactly what is not helpful. The coach can help with rehearsal conversations and by offering to set up accountability around just setting a time for the client to have their important conversation with their partner.

Wrapping Up

In the last couple of minutes, it’s time to wrap up the coaching session. Coaches can do this in a number of ways.

Summarize the highlights of the sessions ¬– what was covered.
• Ask the client to share what their “take-aways”, their essential learnings from the session were.
• Ask the client to repeat what their Action Steps will be between now and the next appointment and what Accountability will be for each.
Confirm the next appointment.
• The coach may or may not add a comment from the “Metaview” – the Big Picture of the course of the coaching to give perspective on the client’s progress.
• The coach my share something inspiring, often in the form of Acknowledgement of the client’s efforts at lifestyle improvement.

Coaching structure is your friend. Don’t make it your master. Use it well and at the same time be ready to “Dance In The Moment”.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com). Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world. Dr. Arloski’s newest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

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Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions – Part 2 Process and Progress

Processing in coaching can be like a long, winding road.

Though every coaching session is unique, coaching sessions that follow a general structure are usually more productive. In our last blog (https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2021/08/26/structuring-great-wellness-coaching-sessions-part-one-how-to-get-started/) we showed how a coach can use structure by Co-Creating The Agenda for the session to get off to a great start.

In that beginning structure we followed this basic sequence:

Greet and Connect. Small talk. Keep it brief.
Check-in.
o Coach and client – and here is the key – DO NOT PROCESS what the client is reporting on.
Co-Create The Agenda for the Session
o Coach enquires about what else the client wants to focus on during today’s session. Again – DO NOT BEGIN PROCESSING.
Remember the Importance of Dancing in the Moment
o Despite the co-creation of a wonderful agenda, be prepared to modify it or even abandon it entirely depending upon what happens in the session.
• Now You Can Begin Processing

The key that we explored in that blog was when to begin processing. Without working together to structure the session first, premature processing all too often leads to a rambling, less than productive misadventures.

PROCESSING – FINALLY!

Clients and coaches are always anxious to explore and get into the content of the session. Now that we’ve got an agreed-upon agenda in place that has prioritized what we want to address first, we’re ready to go!

The processing part of a coaching session is where much of the learning takes place for our client. We create that safe container where our clients explore, understand, and gain insight into their own behavior and thinking. It’s where we help them look at their behavior, their interactions with others, with new perspectives. It’s where all of the coach’s skills come out and do their job.

This is where “How to Be” is just as important as “What to Do”. Coaching presence, the expression of empathic understanding, providing unconditional positive regard, being genuine and real, all help our client to feel appreciated, understood and heard. The Coaching Alliance continues to build with each coaching conversation.

As we process with our clients, we help them to address the internal and external barriers to change that are holding them back. We employ strategic thinking and brainstorming together looking for solutions. The coach can help their client identify assumptions that they are operating on and see how self-defeating that can be. This is also where effective coaches show how they can work productively with their client’s emotions. Coaches help their clients to contact and name their feelings, increase awareness of the role those feelings are playing in their decision making and interactions with others. This is where we help our clients explore the sources of support that they have, or lack, for living a healthier lifestyle.

Photo by M. Arloski

NEXT STEPS – Forwarding the Action

Processing is sometimes hard work for both coach and client, but it often so rewarding, even stimulating, that we can tend towards remaining engaged in it up to the last minutes of our session. Coaching, especially when it is productive, is fun! Can we have too much of a good thing? Well, yes.

A productive processing session can open doors for our clients. Now they have to go out through those doors and make the improvements to their way of living that will make a difference. What makes coaching truly effective is how we set our clients up for success when they go out that door and have to implement what they have learned. The real behavioral change does not take place in the coaching session. It takes place out there in our client’s own life through the rest of the next week.

Change occurs in a treatment session during the session itself. The massage therapist, or the acupuncturist, works their methods while the patient is on the table. Then they can go out and use that stiff shoulder to play tennis again. Change – behavioral change – lifestyle improvement – takes place as our client lives their life, day in and day out after our session. This is why coaching works very consciously to help our clients with what we call Next Steps.

Co-creating (not prescribing) Next Steps is all about strategizing what will be the most effective Action Steps that our client can take between now and the next time we have an appointment, to make progress on their wellness goals.

Well-Designed Action Steps work best when they have:

• An alignment with the client’s values and interests.
• A motivational connection between the Action Step and the Goal the client is trying to achieve. This provides the “why” – why am I doing this?
• Congruence with the Stage of Change that the client is in for that particular behavior.
o Contemplation: continue coaching about it, but Action Steps could include journaling, talking to others about it, etc.
o Preparation: doing research to find out more information, available resources, building sources of support before taking action.
o Action – identifying steps that are at the ‘just right’ level of difficulty. This can vary from taking on a challenge the client feels up for to the irrefutably easy ‘baby steps’ we may take to begin with.

Ongoing Action Steps

As our clients continue their work on their Wellness Plan, they will be engaged in various Action Steps over a longer period of time. As we work on Next Steps with our client, we may find there is a need to:

• Recommit – Recommitting to the same Action Steps from the last time. Perhaps the client simply needs to continue to make the slow but steady progress with more of the same. Or, if our client was not very successful last time, perhaps they are more confident that this week there is greater support for success.
• Reset – If our client found that the Action Step level was too challenging last time (too many walks in one week, etc.), or not challenging enough to be effective and give them the results they want (not meditating frequently enough in the last week) we may need to reset the level to a more optimum range.
• Shift – Perhaps client and coach conclude after processing that the Action Step itself needs to be shifted to something different. Our client may find that working out alone is not as easy as expected and decides to try signing up for a fitness class, for example.

Save Time for Next Steps
As you can see, if done right, setting up our client for success with well-designed Action Steps has a lot of considerations. In addition to co-creating the Action Steps themselves, the effective coach will also be asking:

• So, who/what will support you in achieving these Action Steps?
• What barriers to getting these Action Steps done can you already anticipate?

To do all of this takes time. Waiting until time is running out at the end of the session because you have stayed with processing too long can result in poorly designed Next Steps. A good rule to follow is save at least one-third of the session for Next Steps. So, with a 30 min. session, start working on Next Steps with about ten solid minutes left to go.

The Accountability Agreement

As we finish up our Next Steps part of our coaching structure, we still need to arrive at clarity with our client about how they will be holding themselves accountable to follow through on their Next Steps and how we, the coach, can help. In our next blog we will explore effective coaching for accountability.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com). Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world. Dr. Arloski’s newest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions: Part One – How to Get Started

“So!  What do you want to talk about today?”  Your client responds with the first thing on their mind.  You start processing the topic with them and then…what?  Or, you greet your client and start checking in on what they had made commitments to working on and when the first one is brought up you begin processing it and…then what?

Health and wellness coaches often struggle with launching their regular, ongoing sessions with their clients.  With an allegiance to being client centered, coaches may simply follow wherever their client leads.  The result, all too often is a rambling and less than productive session.  String enough of those kinds of sessions together and the coaching may go nowhere and end prematurely.  

We may also see a coach take the reins of the session too tightly in their fists and want to begin the session exactly where client and coach left off at the last session.   “So last time we talked about your challenges in finding people to support you in making healthy lifestyle changes.  Tell me more about how that has been going.”  The client may have come into the session wanting to focus on something entirely different than their topic a week or two ago.

Co-Creating The Agenda

When a highly functioning project team meets together to discuss their work, an effective leader will begin the meeting by gathering input from all present and work cooperatively to weave together an agenda.  All present can contribute what they see as needing to be discussed.  That information is recognized and taken in for consideration and prioritization.  Then, and only then is the agenda set and everyone knows where and how we will start the down to business part of the meeting.  Think of this same process being applied with you and your client.

Consider this structure for starting your session with your client:

  • Greet and Connect.  Small talk.  Keep it brief.
  • Check-in.  
    • Client reports in on their efforts at lifestyle improvement, on their action steps that they made a commitment to at the last session.
    • Coach acknowledges the client’s efforts.  Briefly acknowledges and celebrates wins.  Empathizes with disappointments.  
    • Coach and client – and here is the key – DO NOT PROCESS what the client is reporting on.  Save that for after you two  have co-created the agenda.  “That sounds really important to you.  We’ll be sure to talk about that today.  What else…”. Gather it all in.
  • Co-Create The Agenda for the Session
    • Coach enquires about what else the client wants to focus on during today’s session.  Again – DO NOT BEGIN PROCESSING. You are still gathering in topics to discuss, not discussing them.
    • The coach contributes suggestions to be included in the agenda.  Yes, you are part of the “CO” in CO-CREATION.  You may want to remind your client that there is still work to be done on the creation of the client’s Wellness Plan.  You may want to hear any updates that they have from seeing their physician recently, etc.
    • Coach and client weave together an agenda for the session based upon what they mutually determine to be of importance and what order of priority they need to follow.
  • Remember the Importance of Dancing in the Moment
    • Despite the co-creation of a wonderful agenda, be prepared to modify it or even abandon it entirely depending upon what happens in the session.
    • Your client may discover a profound insight that hits them emotionally and processing that may become your new priority in the here and now.  Or your client may realize that there needs to be a real shift in the focus of the coaching.
    • Expect nothing.  Be prepared for anything.
  • Now You Can Begin Processing
Woman with headset in front of her laptop writing something on a paper while making a live video call with a patient or client, copy space

Step By Step – The Check In

Once coaching has been underway our clients are usually making commitments to specific Action Steps that they will work on between coaching sessions.  This, of course, is where the real lifestyle behavioral change takes place.  When those Action Steps were co-created and agreed upon at the last session there was some form of accountability set up – often just checking in at the next appointment about the progress.  Now is the time for the all-important follow through on that accountability.  Successes are celebrated as “wins”.  Acknowledging what it took (effort, strength of character, tenacity, overcoming obstacles, etc.) to succeed is the essence of the strength-based, positive psychology coach approach.  The key is to do this briefly and hold off on processing for later in the coaching session.

When our clients aren’t able to succeed in their Action Steps, we need to meet our client with compassion but not give them a “free pass” (Oh, that’s alright.  I know it’s hard to do these things.).  Acknowledge their feelings.  Empathize.  Then commit to exploring it later in the session as it often takes some real processing to make progress.  Again, this will require more time and concerted effort, so post-pone the processing until after the agenda is co-created.  Then you will have time to work on it more productively.

Step By Step – Co-creating The Agenda

Once the Check-In feels complete you will have some of the elements or topics to include in the agenda that you and your client are co-creating.  In addition to those items it is critical that you enquire about what the client wants to focus on during the session.  Do this before you suggest topics (such as picking up on subjects from the last session or taking the next step on designing their Wellness Plan).  If your client has filled out a Coaching Session Prep Form, you will have some of this information listed but still enquire directly.

Remember the meta-view. As you began to assemble your agenda ask your client some key questions:

  • How is this topic related to your overall Wellness Plan?
  • As we work on this together, what would progress look like?
  • Ideally what is the outcome you would like to see and how will we know if we have gotten there?

That last item, frankly, I find often very difficult for clients to identify.  Do your best to help your client clarify this.  The relevance to the overall Wellness Plan is like referring to the compass that guides the whole coaching process.  If it’s not relevant, in some way, why are we talking about it? 

In an especially helpful article from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) website, (https://coachingfederation.org/blog/establish-the-agenda#) Lisa Rogoff gives some excellent guidance.  “Sometimes clients don’t show up with a clear agenda, or they think it’s clear, but we need to do some work to make it resonate. I constantly remind my client (and myself): Slow down to go fast. I’ll often spend 15 minutes crystalizing what the client wants to work on and why. It is time well spent. From there we cut through the noise and focus.”  Now, Rogoff is most likely referring to hour-long sessions which very few health and wellness coaches do, so adjust your timing accordingly.  The point is worth remembering though, the time invested up front will pay off in productivity.

Our agenda building is not quite done yet.  Co-creation means you and your client both have input on this agenda.  This is where your own session preparation pays off.  As our client’s coach we can help navigate by looking at the meta view referred to above.  It’s like on our client’s voyage of growth and discovery we can continually look at our map and see where we are on our course of progress.  We have a perspective that is difficult for our clients to step back and perceive as they struggle with their day-to-day efforts.  By referring to your notes from previous sessions you can see where your client is at with the methodology of behavioral change.  Are we rushing into simple goal setting when we have yet to help our client take stock of their wellness, strengths, assets, and resources?  This can be where our knowledge of behavioral change theory, especially for example The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, really pays off. (https://www.prochange.com/transtheoretical-model-of-behavior-change)

Structure is Your Friend

Structure is your friend, don’t make it your master.  Once the agenda is agreed upon you can devote the greatest part of the coaching session to processing and then go on to next steps.  We’ll share more about how this looks in our next health and wellness coaching blog.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com).  Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching.  He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world.  Dr. Arloski’s newest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

Structure Is The Wellness Coach’s Friend: Seven Ways To Coach Better

Great coaching finds a balance between structure and spontaneity, customization, “dancing in the moment” and organization. While some large coaching organizations err on the side of too much structure, using scripts and ridged protocols, some coaches “wing it” way too much. Listening to hundreds of coaching recordings, done with real clients, I’m continually amazed at how loosely many coaches go about their work. Observing the variance in structure, or lack thereof, led me to create some suggestions for how you can discover the benefits of coaching structure for your coaching sessions.

 

 

1. Every Session Is A Small Part Of A Whole

Think of each coaching session as part of the larger coaching process and relationship. Keep the individual session in the context of the entire work you are doing with that client.

First sessions, or what we often call Foundation Sessions, or Discovery Sessions, are unique in that they are all about Co-Creating the Coaching Alliance. In this first session there is a lot to do in addition to listening to the client’s story. Typically, two to three times longer than a regular subsequent session, these sessions allow for getting acquainted, creating agreements about the coaching, familiarization with the client’s story, their concerns, etc. The number one error in Foundation Sessions is to get caught up in the story and take a problem-solving approach right out of the gate. Clients benefit much more from you two building the coaching alliance, taking stock of their wellness, and getting clear about how coaching works.

Regular coaching sessions also need to be thought of by the coach in terms of the larger coaching process. Is this one of the early sessions, or are we starting to work towards termination? Coaching does not go on forever and many coaching contracts involve a limited number of sessions. Also, how does this session fit in to the overall Wellness Plan that you and your client have formulated? How does the “issue” that they just brought up today have relevance to their Wellness Plan?

2. Co-Create The Agenda At The Beginning Of Every Session

Certainly, one of the most common errors coaches make is to start a session with a vague invitation like “So! What do you want to talk about today?” Most often client’s immediately think of some sort of barrier they would like to deal with and coach and client instantly begin a problem-solving discussion. I’ve actually heard coaches begin a session with the even more vague request, “What’s up?”. If a specific problem doesn’t jump to the client’s mind, the client might flounder for a while until lighting upon a topic to discuss.

This approach conveys to the client that the coach is a consultant with whom to solve problems instead of an ally in a process of growth and development. This is where some co-creating the agenda first sends a very different message as well as setting up the session for success.

What works best is a discussion of what all will be talked about in the session and what the client wants to get out of the meeting together. ICF (International Coach Federation) examiners are looking for this kind of review and agreement at the beginning of every coaching session. Just like in a team business meeting, co-creating the agenda means taking in all of the topics to be discussed and then setting an agenda based upon strategy and priorities. It’s best to go with a reasonable blend of urgent and important, remembering that not everything is, in fact, urgent and important.

3. Make Checking-In About Wins And Go Beyond Just Hearing Reports

Begin with Wins! “Tell me about some progress you made in improving your lifestyle since we last talked?” Coaching is an inherently Positive Psychology approach designed to build upon strengths. Make good use of that. Acknowledge those wins. Don’t just say “Okay.” Inquire more about them, request clarification.

Transition from Wins into checking-in on the accountability agreements that were made last time on action steps. As you do, urge your client to go beyond just reporting what they did. Begin to help them explore those actions to gain greater understanding of what worked and can be reinforced, what didn’t and what got in the way. Look at how you can facilitate your client’s exploration of their actions and themselves. Head into new territory and watch your client grow!

 

4. Once You’ve Got A Wellness Plan Navigate By It

The map you navigate by, once you co-create it with your client, is the Wellness Plan. Now, whatever comes up in coaching is always put in the context of its relevance to the Wellness Plan. The plan is flexible, changeable, but if you want to get results, you continue to follow it. This is where time is saved by steering back away from tangents and irrelevant topics. This is where “What do you want to talk about?” becomes obsolete. Ask yourself, and perhaps your client “Are we still on the map?”

5. Process – But Don’t Get Lost In It

The bulk of most coaching sessions is about processing the client’s efforts at implementing the Wellness Plan. You and your client can have a lot of fun strategizing through barriers, coming up with creative approaches to making progress on goals, and more. The mistake most coaches make it to use 90% of the session doing just this and not leaving enough time for Next Steps. It’s so easy to “get into the weeds” where “the devil is in the details” and get lost. Stay focused and get back to the backbone of the process – the Wellness Plan. Problems become about relevance to the plan. Problems from the past become about relevance (how are they affecting implementing the Wellness Plan in the here and now), not about resolution (that’s the job of therapy).

6. Leave Time For Next Steps

Effective coaches are watching the clock and know to leave about one-third of the session for Next Steps. Processing until there are only five minutes left is a sure way to set your client up to struggle instead of leaving with a clear plan of how to move forward and make progress. Look at what’s working and what needs to be adjusted. Create agreements about the action steps the client is committing to for the time between now and the next session. It often comes down to Reset, Recommit, or Shift. Will they benefit from resetting the level of the action step – going from walking 5x/week to 3x/week? Or, is the best strategy to re-commit to the same action step at the same level for this week? Or, is it best to strategize a shift to a whole new action step? That will require adequate time to do well.

I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance. – Friedrich Nietzsche

7. Pick The Music But Stay Light On Your Feet

Coaching structure provides the framework for progress. It is like the music that the coaching couple picks to dance to. Coaches perpetually use the expression “dancing in the moment” for good reason. Don’t be afraid to let go of the structure of a session in order to deal with what is more important. Your client may need your support in dealing with a very emotional issue. There may be something that needs to be confronted about the way the two of you are coaching together that may be critical to progress, or even the continuation of coaching. If the coaching seems stuck and progress is lacking, have the courage to explore with your client how the two of you can work better together. Shift the dance of coaching to deal with what has emerged, but then, get back to the music and the structure that will facilitate the progress your both want to make.

 

 

 

For more about effective coaching refer to Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., by Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, NBC-HWC.  https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml and to Your Journey to a Healthier Life (Paths of Wellness Guided Journals) by the same author.  https://wholeperson.com/store/your-journey-to-a-healthier-life.shtml 

 

Ten Steps To Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions

HopscotchWellness coaching clients show up for appointments desiring to make progress in improving their lifestyles and thereby improving their lives. For as much as they want the session to be productive, it is easy for the client and the coach to drift together from topic to topic and finish up realizing that little has been accomplished. Sometimes a client comes to the session eager to talk about a particular subject, perhaps an emotion-laden one. Quickly the session’s minutes evaporate while little else is covered, including, perhaps, exactly what the client had originally hoped to work on. The Wellness Plan that the coach and client had developed gets pushed aside and soon the session is over. If this happens repetitively client dissatisfaction soars and soon coaching comes to a premature end.

Getting Started

Beginning coaches often feel awkward initiating the coaching conversation.  Clients come through our door or arrive on the call sometimes unsure how to get started as well.  A lesson from anthropology will tell us that social greeting behavior is expected, normal, and helps everyone relax.  The old saying that “Bullshit is good fertilizer.  Sometimes good things grow from it.” is really saying that it’s not only okay to exchange what we might call pleasantries, talk about the weather, etc., it grounds us in a more comfortable and familiar interaction from which to proceed.

“Structure Is Your Friend!”

While every coach is free to develop their own coaching style, and is probably a better coach because of that, consciously following a basic coaching structure will help insure that sessions are as productive as desired. Clients engage with coaches in order to accomplish what they have not been getting done in their lives. Much of the help that coaches provide is in helping clients to become better organized, to plan, to commit and to be accountable to themselves, thereby producing the results they want to see.

Being client-centered does not mean passively following the client in conversation wherever they may lead. It means facilitating the client’s own process, keeping them in the driver’s seat, but traveling down the road to where the client wants to go. The metaphor of the coach and client walking down a trail in the woods at midnight is a good one. It is the coach’s job to hold the flashlight and illuminate the way. It is the client’s job to choose the path.

Co-Creating The Agenda- Every Timeagendaicon

Coaches help their clients to get clear about what they want to accomplish in coaching. They consciously co-create the coaching alliance. They hold the client’s agenda to be the agenda, but that does not mean starting a session with the often-disastrous invitation “So! What do you want to talk about today?” Make your coaching sessions more productive and satisfying by using the following steps as part of your coaching session structure.

tenStepsTen Steps To Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions

1. Preparation. Begin working on the session before it even happens. Have your client use a Coaching Session Prep Form to list their “wins”, address their commitments to action steps, and share what is important to process. Do your own homework on this client by reviewing notes, and getting mentally and physically prepared for the session.
2. Consciously Co-Create The Agenda for the session. Create an agreement about what will be worked on in this particular session. This should be relevant to the client’s overall Wellness Plan, or to the development of that plan. Following a map insures that we will get where we want to go.
3. Acknowledge and… When a client comes bursting through the door, so to speak, with an important issue to discuss handle it like this: A. Acknowledge their experience. B. Reflect their feelings about it. C. Emphasize the importance of being sure to talk about this issue today and ask what else the client wants to be sure to include in today’s agenda.
4. Dealing with crisis. Realize that when a client comes to the session in the midst of an immediate crisis that the empathic understanding and support of the coach may be all that “gets done” today, and that is totally okay. Create an agreement to just focus on helping them to express themselves about this issue and, perhaps do some immediate problem solving, such as helping them find additional resources to deal with the crisis (this could include referral to medical resources, mental health resources, or other possibilities).
5. Wins! Most sessions will progress from Co-Creating The Agenda, to checking in on what has gone well for the client since the last session. You may want to go over the Prep Form together. Looking at “wins” first is a positive psychology approach that coaching is famous for. It works! This moves along to checking in on progress and challenges regarding the action steps that the client had committed to working on during the last session.
6. Drawing out learning and processing. Explore the client’s experience with those action steps, with internal and external barriers that have come up. Coach for realization, insight and deeper understanding of self and environment. Connect with motivation. Coach for possibilities.
7. Next steps. Leave about one-third of the session available for “Where do we go from here?” Drawing upon what was gained in the session co-create next steps for the client to take in applying what they are learning. Look at previous commitments to Action Steps and either RECOMMIT (to the same Action Steps), RESET (adjust the Action Steps to a different level or threshold), or SHIFT (shift to new Action Steps). You may also want to co-create with the client an “inquiry” for them to work on in the coming week – something for them to think about, journal and/or converse about that is relevant to what came up in the session.
8. Review and agree. Summarize the essence of the session. Review exactly what the client’s understanding of the way forward is and agree upon specific Action Steps that the client is committing to. Reinforce the motivational connection between the Action Steps and how these actions will help the client achieve what they want in their Wellness Plan.
9. Wrap it up and close. Leave the client with inspiration, acknowledgement and clarity about the next meeting time.
10. Notes & Self-Care time. Finish up your notes, including notes about information you need to find (such as knowledge about a medication your client is taking) and any action steps that you have committed to doing. Then, take a little time for your own self-care, on a mental, emotional and/or physical level.27-730x487

Students in our Advanced Wellness Coaching Competencies classes (https://www.realbalance.com/Event-Details?catid=13&id=112) and our Mentor Coaching program have consistently remarked how implementing the co-creation of an agenda for the session (Step #2), has completely changed and improved how they coach with their clients. Step #3 has often helped them to stick to this structure while meeting the client where they needed to be met.

Structure often serves to paradoxically increase our freedom. Instead of wandering or even floundering on our coaching path, we find we cover more ground discover more along the way by having a map to follow.