In my previous blog I’ve explored the coaching profession’s strange fascination with distancing itself from psychology and I speculated on the origins and reasons for this separation. I concluded that coaching and psychology is not separate, that coaching is in fact a form of applied psychology and that coaching will greatly benefit if it learns from, instead of rejecting or reinventing psychology. If you can entertain this position, you might ask, what are the benefits of incorporating psychology into coaching? In this blog, I would like to share with you three major areas of how psychology transformed my coaching and why you should bring psychology into coaching.
More Sophisticated Coaching
By embracing psychology coaches will have access to a range of proven tools and methodologies, providing a more sophisticated understanding of human behaviour and performance. Coaches will expand their impact and better support the ever-increasing complexity of challenges faced by their clients. This may be especially useful for coaches who are interested in working in the areas of change and transition, stress and well-being and supporting behaviourally challenged clients – sometimes referred to as “derailment”. I commit to my clients that I will do anything within my power to help them perform at their best. This often means going beyond their initial coaching goals, in order to find their real goals, values, drivers for change and inner obstacles to success. Although some coaches consider these to be “deep” issues that are outside the traditional domain of coaching, these are real issues faced by many clients every day. If I can employ “deep learning” transformational techniques based on more advanced knowledge from psychology, I am able to help my clients to make the profound changes and achieve the sustainable performance they seek in their lives. Is that not what coaches are really paid to do?
No More Simplistic Solutions for Complex Problems
An expanded coaching repertoire will greatly reduce the application of simplistic solutions to complex behavioural challenges. My experience of being told to “stay away from the emotions” while emotions were the problem (see my previous blog) is a great case in point. If the problem is emotional, we should address the emotions or refer – not continue to apply the tools we know or can deliver. Two things are required to do this: We should stop telling newbie coaches that they can practice their elementary coaching skills on complex problems like self-confidence, imposter syndrome and eating disorders. And secondly, coaches who are interested in delivering more advanced and more sophisticated coaching solutions should be adequately trained to do so. I’m not promoting a one-size-fits-all approach to coaching. Not every coach has to do “deep coaching”, but if they do, my position is that they need to be trained to do it.
Democratising Mental Health Resources
Embracing psychology will allow coaching clients access to psychological and mental health resources without the resultant stigma that is still attached to seeing a psychologist. I find that clients easily talk to me about feelings and emotions, beliefs and assumptions, fears and frustrations but few would consider seeing a psychologist to explore these. In my quest to “do whatever it takes”, I frequently help my clients explore unconscious beliefs and assumptions underlying their behaviour, and use psychometrics to understand themselves better or help them give voice to parts of them that are outside of their conscious awareness. While coaches are not therapists, there are many valuable resources and approaches in the space between coaching and therapy that could easily be delivered by well-trained coaches. The main opportunity here for me is for coaches can provide resources to address needs that would otherwise go unmet.
By embracing psychology, we will acknowledge the complexity of human behaviour and have access to an expanded range of tools and techniques. This will inevitably affect the way we train and develop coaches. The guiding question should become “am I equipped for this work” instead of “is this psychology”. More advanced training and development will allow us to draw professional boundaries and tiers of development based on qualifications, competence, and experience instead of artificial differences between coaching and psychology. Perhaps we will finally do away with the current practice by some professional organisations of grading coaches by their coaching hours instead of their qualifications. I consider this to be of such importance that I will devote a future blog to the topic of coach training and development.
Lastly, acknowledging human complexity and embracing psychology as part of coaching should make it clear that coaching supervision needs a lot more emphasis than the voluntary approach currently in place by most professional organisations. The more complex the coaching work we engage in the more likely coaches are to bring their own “baggage” into the coaching relationship – and the more important quality supervision becomes. Being aware of transference and counter transference in helping relationships is merely the tip of the iceberg. The fact that many coaches don’t know what these words mean is a source of concern. I will talk about supervision in more detail in a future blog.
Embracing psychology will not resolve the boundaries between coaching and psychology. In fact, it may leave us with even less clarity. However, I’m confident that acknowledging and embracing psychology will help us serve our clients better rather than detract from any profession. If I learnt anything over the past decade it is that we need more qualified helpers, not more boundary wars. I’m happy to let this conversation and boundaries evolve as the coaching profession evolves. I will merely advocate for boundaries based on actual differences and valid assumptions. As long as we do ethical and effective work by competent coaches, the naming conventions become less important.
Perhaps you read this far because you resonate with the ideas I express. Perhaps, because you wanted to get all the ammunition you need to shoot me down in flames. Whatever the position you take on the spectrum, I’d like to hear from you. Do you agree with the benefits I outline above? What is your experience of working with your coach or clients? How will you take your coaching game to the next level?