The Great Utility of Coaching In The Emotional Realm

According to Plato: Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.

Coaches often cautiously retreat from the affective level with their clients for fear of crossing the line into therapy. Other coaches with a professional mental health background are comfortable going in this direction, but don’t often know how to shift from a therapeutic approach to a coach approach. Unfortunately, we also find coaches who have no professional mental health qualifications who are all too eager to dive deeply into the world of emotions. In two of my previous blog posts I address the critical distinctions between coaching and counseling/psychotherapy, coaching scope of practice, and how to facilitate referrals when needed. (Process Coaching: Yes, Coaches “Do Emotions” http://wp.me/pUi2y-dL) (Coaching a Client Through To A Mental Health Referral Using The Stages of Change http://wp.me/pUi2y-lp)

There is naturally much valuable work written about emotions, from Emotional Intelligence, to Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, and more. In this post let’s focus on how a coach, especially a health and wellness coach, can enhance the coaching process by working effectively with affect.

What the authors of Co-Active Coaching (2012) (Whitworth, et.al) call “process coaching” has been co-opted by a wide variety of writers and practitioners, each with their own disparate definitions. The definition that Whitworth, et.al, provide is worth repeating here: “Process coaching focuses on the internal experience, on what is happening in the moment. The goal of process coaching is to enhance the ability of clients to be aware of the moment and to name it… Sometimes the most important change happens at the internal level and may even be necessary before external change can take place.” Their message here for coaches is that unless we address the affective component, we often struggle to see real progress. When coach and client dance around feelings, the exploration can stay superficial and goal setting, strategies for change, etc., often lack a sufficient motivational driver. An internal barrier to change may still remain. So, how do we work with emotions and stay within our scope of practice as a coach?

A client may speak of any manner of unresolved conflicts, a history of trauma, even abuse that they have experienced. It may be about family of origin issues, or any sort of unfinished emotional business. This does not immediately indicate the need for a referral. The reality is that many, if not most, people carry around their unfinished business such as this and function quite well. The challenge for the coach is not to take the bait of problem solving and coach seeking to resolve these old issues.

Resolution Vs. Relevance

The key here is to seek how the emotions of the client are relevant to the progress they are attempting to achieve in coaching. Perhaps a coach and client create action steps in their wellness plan composed of various self-care activities, yet the client repeatedly holds himself or herself back from engaging in these. As this is discussed in coaching, an internal barrier is identified that traces back to their family of origin. Perhaps a critical parent harshly enforced that all work must be done before one does anything for one’s self. Doing process coaching around this, the savvy coach seeks not the resolution of all of the feelings and unfinished business with that parent (be they dead or alive). Instead, they coach to help their client gain insight regarding how these past learning’s are holding them back today. If the client is able to gain such insight and translate it into action (moving ahead with self-care) then the process coaching is achieving its goal. If the client continues to only process feelings and does not gain insight or does not succeed in shifting their behavior, then, we have probably identified an issue that is significant enough to warrant the encouragement of referral to a counselor or therapist.

Putting It Into Words

Client: You know, I love this idea of taking time for myself to do just what I enjoy, but every time I do I just feel really guilty.
1) Coach: Tell me more about how this guilt shows up.
Client: Well, like last week when I said I would connect with one of my good friends on the weekend and go do something fun. The whole time we were hanging out together I kept thinking about all of the things on my to-do list at home, and how I probably should be doing things for my family instead.
2) Coach: That must have really taken some of the pleasure out of being with your friend and trying to have fun. You sound really disappointed.
Client: Yeah. I am. We were just trying to relax and enjoy the day and I was only about half into it.
3)Coach: Has that happened before, when you’ve been unable to fully enjoy the moment like that?
Client: Definitely! It seems to happen all the time. I keep thinking of what I didn’t get done around the house, and about what is still hanging incomplete at work. It’s almost like I can hear my parents, years ago, always pushing me hard to get all of my work done before I could do anything I wanted to do. They were really strict and on top of that they would forbid me to do most of the things I wanted to do anyway.
4) Coach: It must be extremely frustrating having thoughts like that get in the way today.
Client: Frustrating indeed. When I think about them, and the hard time they gave my siblings and me I really can get upset.
5) Coach: Your tough upbringing was very real. It sounds painful to remember those experiences. Tell me more about how it gets in the way of you giving yourself permission to practice more self-care.
Client: I guess it keeps me from either planning something good for myself, like how I cancelled getting a massage again last week. Or, when I’m finally out there doing something I want to do to relax and unwind, I distract myself thinking of what I ‘should’ be doing.
6) Coach: Are you hearing how you are allowing all of that history to get in your way today, in the present?
Client: Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m doing.
7) Coach: How can I support you in making your own decisions about what’s good for you?

Looking At The Coaching

In this example our coach begins (1) by requesting clarification in a very neutral way. This allows the client to go further without having to go in the direction a question would have taken them. The coach then (2) responds empathically and reflects feeling. This gives the client permission to go further into the affective level. Attempting to help the client identify a pattern (3) the coach inquires about past experience with the same thing. The coach again (4) expresses empathy and reflects feeling. The coach is conveying to the client that they can handle talking about feelings. This enhances the coaching alliance and builds trust. The coach is also not jumping into problem solving and thereby dampening down the affect. Next (5) the coach validates the client’s reality and empathizes. The coach then requests clarification but does so in a directive way that nudges the client back to relevance to their Wellness Plan. The coach follows the client’s examples (6) by not asking for details, but instead by sharing an observation in a gentle confrontation with the client. Finally (7) the coach empowers the client to own their decision making power and enquires how they can provide support. More coaching would then follow.

Reflection of Feeling

Witnessing coaching being practiced in our Real Balance trainings (https://www.realbalance.com) and listening to hundreds of recordings of our students coaching, I can conclude that there is no doubt what coaching skill shows up the least: Reflection of Feeling. Coaching students, often blindly focus on problem solving and seem to continually make two huge blunders: 1) they forget to express empathic understanding, and 2) they seldom reflect feeling. By not doing these two things they miss tremendous opportunities to enhance the coaching process. When we do express empathy and reflect feeling we open the coaching conversation to the emotional realm. This provides a number of important advantages:

Acknowledging the Affective:

1) Builds trust and builds the coaching alliance. The client knows that they have a true and courageous ally who is not afraid to deal with what the client is feeling. The client doesn’t have to hide, they can be true to themselves. When the feelings of the client are honored and met with unconditional positive regard, instead of judgment, the coaching alliance deepens.
2) Validates what is figural for the client. In the Gestalt sense of awareness, the emotional component, when strong, is often figural (in front, most aware, occupying more of one’s consciousness). If this is avoided, coach and client struggle to focus on the “background”. This is acknowledging what is “real” for the client.
3) Taps into energy! Emotion is often described as energy in motion = E-motion. When the client makes more contact with their emotion, more energy is accessed and can be utilized in the coaching process.
4) Connects with motivation! We move on what we are passionate about. We also can address the fear that often results in lack of movement. Clients are not going to progress towards action when they are frozen with fear. Affect provides the fuel that allows values and priorities to be expressed.
5) Builds self-efficacy. One of Bandura’s four ways to build self-efficacy is termed Physiological States. Emotions, moods, physical reactions and stress levels influence our levels of confidence and our own personal evaluations of our abilities. Anxiety can foster self-doubt thereby lowering self-efficacy. As we help our clients to safely contact feelings and explore their life-relevance, the client learns that they have more control over emotions, and how to interpret and evaluate their emotional states. All of this can have a positive effect on their self-efficacy. As we know, self-efficacy, the degree to which one believes that they can affect change in their life, is pivotal to success in lifestyle improvement.

Reviewing these advantages we can see that when coach and client stick to just goal setting, reporting and accountability, and steer away from the emotional element, the result is a process that diminishes the coaching alliance, focuses on what is less important, lacks energy and motivation and fails to maximally build self-efficacy.

Find out more about coaching with emotions in these recources:

Kimsey-House, H., Kimsey-House, K., Sandahl, P., Whitworth, L. (2011) Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. 3rd Ed. Nicholas Brealey America.

Williams, P. & Menendez, D. (2015) Becoming a Professional Life Coach: Lessons from the Institute for Life Coach Training, 2nd Ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. pp. 202-213.

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Coaching a Client Through To A Mental Health Referral Using The Stages of Change

Times arise when it becomes apparent to a wellness coach that their client would benefit from working with a mental health professional. The need for referral may be urgent and involve client safety as when there is a threat of harm to self or others. That rare situation is usually more clearly recognized, referral is made and coaching is usually terminated. (“Top Ten Indicators to Refer a Client to a Mental Health Professional.” This can be found in the Wellness Resources section of the Real Balance website:https://www.realbalance.com/wellness-resources ) (See also this previous post: The Wellness Coach And Referring Clients To A Mental Health Professional: PART ONE – WHEN (http://wp.me/pUi2y-bA) )

More common is the situation where the client raises issues where there is no immediate danger or threat, but rather, there is either a history of unfinished emotional issues, or there are current circumstances that are creating barriers for the client’s effectiveness at succeeding at lifestyle improvement. In such situations, having a thorough working knowledge of the difference between coaching and therapy is essential for a professional coach. The best possible resource for this is this article by Meg Jordan and John Livingstone (https://www.realbalance.com/wellness-resources).

Resolution Vs. Relevance

How is the past affecting the present?

The first step would be for the coach to explore with the client to see if they are currently in therapy for these kinds of issues, or have been in the past. Then, the coach and client may be able to explore if they can coach about these issues, not to resolve them, but to see how they obstruct progress in the client’s efforts at lifestyle improvement. Can they be accounted for and worked with in coaching, or are the challenges so great that they will actually prevent progress in the coaching?

Well-trained coaches can do process coaching. The key here is to seek how the emotions of the client are relevant to the progress they are attempting to achieve in coaching. Perhaps a client repeatedly holds themselves back from engaging in the wellness/self-care activities that the coach and client create as action steps in their wellness plan. As this is discussed an internal barrier is identified that traces back to their family of origin. Perhaps a critical parent harshly enforced that all work must be done before one does anything for one’s self. Now, the goal of doing process coaching around this is not the resolution of all of the feelings and unfinished business with that parent (be they dead or alive). Instead, it is to gain insight regarding how these past learning’s are holding them back today. If the client is able to gain such insight and translate it into action (moving ahead with self-care) then the process coaching is achieving its goal. If the client continues to only process feelings and does not gain insight or does not succeed in shifting their behavior, then, we have probably identified an issue that is significant enough to warrant the encouragement of referral to a counselor or therapist.

In such cases or if the issues are beyond the scope of coaching and are interfering with client progress, then exploring making a referral needs to begin. How to make this referral successfully is not as simple as explaining the benefits of therapy and providing resource information. Very often clients are ambivalent, or even outright resistive to a referral to a mental health professional. The thought of reconnecting with all of the unpleasant emotion involved in working directly on their issues in therapy brings up fear. Unfortunately, coaches sometimes drop such a client quickly when they are not ready to jump into action and seek out the therapy they would benefit from. This is where a client would benefit from a coach who implements a Stages of Change approach (The Transtheoretical Model of Change developed by James Prochaska).

In the new book by James and Janice Prochaska Changing To Thrive (https://www.prochange.com/uncategorized/2017/02/prochaskas-new-book-changing-thrive-published), they make the point that most of the people we all work with are not in the action stage of change on any particular behavior. They estimate that only about 20% are actually ready to jump into action. Why would this be any different when it comes to engaging in counseling or psychotherapy? Yet, so often, when the client balks at following through on a psychological referral, coaching is abandoned. Instead, think of it as our job to help the person to weigh the pros and cons of engaging in counseling as they sit in the Contemplation Stage of Change. We are helping them with Decisional Balance. Taking a page from Motivational Interviewing, we coach as they work through their Ambivalence. We want to “roll with resistance” instead of accepting it as a rejection of our referral recommendation.

Coach THROUGH to referral!

Coach: So, I hear your hesitance when I suggest that counseling might be the best way forward with this.
Client: Well, yes. I’ve been in counseling before and I don’t know if I want to open up that whole issue again.
Coach: Sounds like you possibly have some fear about talking about such uncomfortable subjects again.
Client: Yeah. Growing up in my home was not a pleasant thing!
Coach: I know it holds a lot of negative memories for you. You’ve shared some stories about how bad it was. Yet, I also hear you saying that it’s frustrating to have these things hold you back from doing what you want to do today to be healthy and well.
Client: Right! It’s really frustrating! I know I need to get more active and take more time to eat right, but then I feel so guilty when I take time for myself.
Coach: So, on the one hand you really want to make these improvements to your lifestyle, but when you attempt to do so, these barriers, these thoughts get in the way.
Client: Exactly! I appreciate your help, but it seems like whenever we set up action steps, I never follow through on them, even though I know I need to.
Coach: Yes, we’ve explored how it’s all related, but we still seem stuck. What do you think would be the benefits if you did get back into counseling about this?
Client: Well, I guess I could really open up about it and try to unload some of this frustration. I’m just so tired of having the past hold me prisoner!
Coach: So a counselor could actually help you explore that and really make some progress in this area, perhaps result in some relief.
Client: Yeah. Okay. So what’s next?
Coach: Well, let’s work together on reconnecting you with some counseling. Let’s see what steps you can take to find the resources you need.

In this example the coach meets the client where they are. They help their client to Contemplate the idea of returning to counseling. Acknowledging the client’s fears and validating their feelings, the coach helps the client to begin to weigh the reasons to return to counseling and the reasons to avoid it. The family of origin stories are referenced, but not delved into. Instead, the emphasis is on relevance. How the past is getting in the way of the present is the essence of the contemplation. Then, at the end of the example we begin to move into the next Stage of Change; Preparation.

Coaching works because we are the client’s ally through the whole behavior change process. When referral comes up, we remain their ally. Then to help them actually follow through and make it to the referral resource, we help them with the process of identifying such resources, making the appointment, and attending the appointment. We offer support and accountability with all of the action steps required to achieve this preparation. We acknowledge the courage, the valuing of one’s self that is required for each step along the way.

James & Janice Prochaska with Michael Arloski

Take what you know about the Transtheoretical Model of Change (Stages of Change) and apply it to the referral process. Be your client’s ally when they need you the most.

 

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:  James and Janice Prochaska will be Dr. Arloski’s guests on the Real Balance Free Monthly Webinar – May 26 at Noon Eastern Time.  This will be a special one-hour webinar where the Prochaska’s will be sharing their breakthrough work from their new book CHANGING TO THRIVE.

“Changing To Thrive: Using the Stages of Change to Overcome the Top Threats To Your Health and Happiness” An Interview with James and Janice ProchaskaRegistration URL: Registration URL: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/bd820be2db187da1c5b9141539e44ee6

Process Coaching: Yes, Coaches “Do Emotions”

 

The landscape of emotion is best walked with an ally.
The landscape of emotion is best walked with an ally.

How can we walk with our clients through the landscape of emotion and stay on solid and fertile ground? How can we avoid the mud, or even the quicksand of faux-counseling/psychotherapy? We want our clients to harvest the insights and benefit from the emotional release that comes telling their story, while feeling heard, understood, and even affirmed. We want them to know that we are true allies who won’t abandon them the first time they reach for a tissue.

Coaches may treat the world of feelings like they are all stored in a “Pandora’s Box”. Open the lid and we may be headed straight for disaster. Better to keep it closed tight. I’ve been alarmed to hear reports of wellness & health coaches out there working in systems where they say they “don’t do emotions”.

Probably the most challenging territory for coaches who do not have a mental health background is how to do what the life coaching profession calls “process coaching”. Sure, it’s easy to hear a client say they want to lose thirty pounds and quickly construct a wellness plan that has them increasing activity and improving their diet. Goals and action steps are set up and a system of tracking behavior may be implemented. Sounds great…until your client comes in talking about how they only walked one time last week. They feel embarrassed. They say they are sorry they let you down. And now they are almost crying as they relate how frustrating and painful it has been to be overweight most of their life. Like it or not coach, you’ve got to stay with them as they explore these feelings. Shut them down through either changing the subject or just non-verbally communicating your discomfort and you will likely damage the coaching relationship and the client will lose the opportunity to integrate their emotions around this important subject. The client needs to process their feelings.

edge-of-cliffCoaching Caution

There are also coaches who are more than willing to jump into the territory of emotion. I was very alarmed when I discovered a group of coaches in Northern California who, on their website, promise “deep emotional healing”. It did not appear that any of them were licensed mental health professionals, yet they were inviting clients to come to them to deal with their trauma. As a psychologist who has dealt with the full range of mental health problems and crises, I believe it is far beyond the scope of practice for coaches to enter this realm. It is dangerous and unethical for coaches who fancy themselves as “healers” to offer such false services.

Coaches can effectively work with mental health patients, if they limit their work to coaching and leave the counseling to the mental health pros. A recent article in Psychology Today explored some of the ways coaches are helping in the realm of mental health and also raises some important guidelines and warnings. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/women-who-stray/201402/life-coaches-and-mental-illness)

Be sure to review my previous blog post “The Wellness Coach And Referring Clients To A Mental Health Professional: PART ONE – WHEN” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-bA ) for more in-depth information about making referrals. Another great reference is: “Coaching versus Psychotherapy in Health and Wellness: Overlap, Dissimilarities and the Potential for Collaboration” By Meg Jordan and John B. Livingstone appearing in Global Advances In Health And Medicine, Volume 2, Number 4, July 2013 • http://www.gahmj.com

Exploring both the external barriers to change, and the internal barriers is an essential part of most effective coaching. Clients benefit greatly by looking at their own self-defeating behavior patterns and do not always do so dispassionately. It may be essential for a client to ask for support in their life with their lifestyle improvement efforts. Yet, their reluctance to ask for help may be an emotional issue. Its roots may never reach Freudian depths. They simply may need to get in contact with their feelings, realize how tender this subject is for them, then, with the unwavering support of their coach, take the risk of reaching out to others.

Process Coaching

Coaching is not just about goals and action steps. It’s about the person’s own experiencing of their life as it intersects with this world. There is continually a lot to integrate. There is also so much growth that is possible. The authors of Co-Active Coaching (2012) explain that “Process coaching focuses on the internal experience, on what is happening in the moment. The goal of process coaching is to enhance the ability of clients to be aware of the moment and to name it… Sometimes the most important change happens at the internal level and may even be necessary before external change can take place.”

These authors also urge us to look at feelings as information rather than symptoms. Our inescapable humanness demands that we accept the fact that we are emotional beings. Recent research confirms that our decision-making processes draw upon feelings 60% of the time rather than logic. Part of the coaching journey is to assist our clients in sorting out their feelings so they can make the best decisions possible. That may mean acknowledging the validity and importance of certain feelings like when a client decides to live according to their values of closeness with their family and turns down the job offer that would keep them on the road most of the month.

Summit sunset coach & clientTen Guidelines For Process Coaching

1. The vast majority of your clients are functioning at a level where they can handle emotions well. They can gain insight from talking about their feelings.
2. In your initial discussions with your client about coaching you make it clear that your agreement with your client is that coaching is not a substitute for any form of treatment.
3. Read my blog “The Wellness Coach And Referring Clients To A Mental Health Professional: PART ONE – WHEN” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-bA). For a good reference on when to refer.
4. “Get yourself out of the way!” – Realize when the difficulty you are having exploring emotions with your client (or your reluctance to) is really about your own feelings. You may have some emotional work to do yourself. You may have come across an area so tender for you that you have to ask the client’s permission to not explore this topic and help them find other resources to do so. You can also “be in the way” when exploration with your client is more about your own ego-needs.
5. Use the basic active listening skill – Reflection Of Feeling. Don’t just paraphrase what the person says. Offer your observation about the feeling that is apparent in your client as they speak.
6. When your client begins to dive deeper into their history of an emotional issue, “presentify” it. Ask the client to tell you how that experience/history relates to today. “So, I understand how critical your mother must have been, but how does that affect your taking time for self-care today?”
7. Ask permission. Don’t assume that it’s okay with your client to go forth into a new area that is likely filled with emotion. The necessary trust may not be there yet.
8. FAVE: First acknowledge, validate and empathize. Check out my previous blog post on the importance of acknowledging feelings: (http://wp.me/pUi2y-bZ).
9. Allow your client to feel what they feel. Check your temptation to rescue your client when they are still in the shallow end of the pool. Convey your supportive presence as they contact their sadness, grief, joy or anger. Allow them to go beyond an intellectual conversation “about” feelings. Connection with feelings often is what allow a shift to take place within your client and through insight the path to action opens up. Don’t ask “why” the person feels they way they do. Explore it and acknowledge it. Let the client work with their own emotions, with your support and non-judgmental trust.
10. Forward The Action. Real progress is made when clients can take their new awareness and translate it into action. Coaches can get stuck in a carousel of feeling exploration that can go on infinitely. Develop your coaching skills for forwarding the action. Ask powerful questions that explore what the client is ready to do about their new awareness. How can they take what they are now aware of and apply it to what they want in their life? How can what they know now help them make progress towards their goals? Co-create experiments for the client to try out and support them by helping them with ways to be accountable to themselves for carrying it out. When clients stay stuck in that carousel of emotion, when they seem unable to translate their new awareness into action repeatedly it is most likely that you are looking at the need for a referral to a counselor/therapist. This, in fact, is one of the best indicators of the client’s ability to handle emotion and make great use of coaching…or not.

One of the most brilliant things I heard recently was that coaching is not a helping profession. It is an assisting profession. A critical distinction of mindset. We coaches who seek to be “helpers” and “healers” should look into other professions. There are lots of ways to be of great service helping others to heal themselves. If we are okay with “assisting” in the process of working with clients whom we see as “naturally creative, resourceful and whole”; if we are fine with evoking the wisdom within our clients so they can make life-changing use of it, then coach on!

Reference:

Kimsey-House, H., Kimsey-House, K., Sandahl, P., Whitworth, L. (2011) Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. 3rd Ed. Nicholas Brealey America.

Wellness of the Heart

Wellness of The Heart

Some say it is just a muscular pump in the middle of our chest. Others say it is the center and essence of who we are. Seat of all human emotion or cardiovascular electro-stimulated organ, nothing captures our imagination, hopes and fears like our heart.

I love it when science validates what we know “in our hearts”. Research now tells us that the old notion that our brain is the singular origin of emotions is no longer valid. We are one amazing interconnected being with our body, the organs within, and chief among them our heart, affecting emotions in complete concert with our brain. The communication goes both ways, from brain to heart (stop and think of something that you are worrying about or angry about and your heart rate will change), and from heart to brain. We’re also seeing that the heart may be talking to the brain more than vice-versa! http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/11023208.

As a psychologist who worked in psychotherapy and biofeedback for many years I find it very validating that the naive posit put forth by some cognitive psychologists that all emotions are caused by our thoughts has been debunked. Anyone who has ever felt that opening or constricting of “our heart” emotionally arrive before the conscious thoughts entered our “big brain” knew this holistic view of feelings to be true.

Buddhist psychologists and scholars like John Welwood (http://blog.gaiam.com/quotes/authors/john-welwood) and Pema Chodrin (please read When Things Fall Apart http://www.shambhala.com/html/catalog/items/isbn/978-1-57062-344-8.cfm?gclid=CIHE7tSr3qECFUtX2god1X1TLg)
Speak often of the what happens when our heart “breaks”. We are encouraged to see this breaking apart as “breaking open”.

Sometimes the bravest act of our lives is accepting our vulnerability, letting down the armored wall around our hearts and allowing ourselves to open. The courage to do so comes from the core of our being and the faith that we can do so and remain standing.

We’ll explore Wellness of The Heart more in upcoming posts.

Be well and heart-full!