Coaching as a Healing Process
Coaching is one of the current buzz words and more
and more articles are coming out about the benefits that clients,
individual and corporate, are receiving from working with a coach
to achieve success.
Clarifying and achieving meaningful goals is usually
the central part of coaching and there is much more, including
increased self-care, clearing up your present life, building a
strong personal foundation and balancing different areas such
as work, family and creativity. In this article I want to look
at 'Coaching as a Healing Process', where healing is seen as journey
We will look at what is meant by coaching and consider
human motivation in terms of Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs.
Then we'll look at what does or does not happen in childhood and
how coaching complements therapy or counseling as a healing process
Coaching sees the solution lying with the individual
or organization rather than the coach, and the work of the coach
is to facilitate the individual in realizing and expressing their
own potential as they take appropriate action. It relies more
on listening and asking relevant questions than it does on telling
and policing. Some coaches may advise or make requests that stretch
the client but these can be declined and the intention is always
for the client to be self-motivated and claim ownership of their
actions. Thus, depending on their approach, mentors, consultants,
managers, teachers and counselors can all be acting as coaches
in their particular arena.
That said professional coaches tend to develop a
broader range of skills, have more tools at their disposal, and
are not restricted by other demands on the relationship, such
as set agendas or curriculum.
One influential model in both therapeutic and business
circles is Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. Abraham Maslow was
a psychologist from the 1950's who developed a much more optimistic
psychological perspective than had previously been the case. He
did this by studying individuals who he considered to be mature,
successful and fulfilled and wondered what would be necessary
to bring this about in everybody as the norm. His model can be
applied to child development, to the personal growth of an individual
or to the optimum business environment required to bring out the
best in people.
It is helpful to describe the last stage as self
actualizing, as opposed to self actualized, as the former implies
an on-going process of self discovery and expression.
Esteem From Others
Shelter and Safety
Food and Water
Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs
Regarding child development, let's consider what we would get
as children, in an ideal world, which would support us in growing
into healthy, happy individuals fully enjoying and contributing
to our world.
First and foremost we need food and shelter but
then we need to be loved unconditionally, and to know that we
absolutely belong and are wanted. We deserve to be welcomed into
our families as guests bringing immeasurable gifts with our innocent
being and willingness to love and grow with those that welcome
Unfortunately this ideal scenario is seldom the
case. Our parents and siblings are involved with their own struggles
with life and each other and do not have the time, energy or ability
to love us as fully as we deserve. This is not to blame them or
to get into parent knocking. They really did do the best
they could with the resources that they had available at the time.
Coming to terms with the very conditional love that
we did receive, and moving on from any resulting dysfunctional
patterns, is the arena of therapy. Good therapy, at appropriate
times in our life, is a powerful modern tool that teaches us to
give ourselves the unconditional love we desired so much as children. Many
responsible adults, without obvious or severe problems, are choosing
to take a course of therapy in order to increase their ability
to feel and love fully. One of the most powerful gifts we receive
from a good therapist is the experience of being listened to and
accepted unconditionally whatever we do or do not do. In some
ways this corresponds to the early nurturing that is most traditionally
provided by the mother (although both men and women have mother
and father parts in each of them).
Different types of body therapies also help heal
these early wounds by nurturing the client and releasing energy
blocks so that the body is more open and alive.
As children get older, if their needs for belonging
and acknowledgement by others is met, then they naturally want
to explore and express themselves more and develop their will.
During this stage they need more than just holding and nurturing.
Indeed, in some cases, too much 'smother-love' impedes growth.
When we consider specially gifted children we see how much attention
and support they need so as to make the most of their gifts. Ideally
they are strongly encouraged but are not taken over. They are
supported in developing and expressing their OWN unique gifts
and talents. Hopefully a musical prodigy is not told that the
future lies in engineering!!
Yet few of us 'normal' children get that kind of
open encouragement as we find out what really interests us and
how we want to do it. Later, as adults, even though we may
seem successful, we can be left with the uncomfortable feelings
of living by someone else's values, being alone, unsupported and
with no-one to catch us if we fall.
Let's not be hard on parents when we consider what
a tight rope we are asking them to walk. On the one hand give
far more support and encouragement than is usually considered
enough and on the other hand give the child the space to develop
in their own way. Ask questions and sometimes advise as your child
tries to build a tree house but don't get impatient and do it
for him in the 'right' way or tell him that he SHOULD do something
else instead. This stage of developmental support may be considered
a traditional father role, but many fathers (& mothers) were
too busy or simply not able to encourage us in this way.
Lack of support at this stage can leave its own
kind of wounds. The wound of not knowing what YOU really want.
The wound of following a career that you never chose. The wound
of starting projects and not having the inner resources to finish
them or else finding yourself sabotaging things. The wound
of being a workaholic sacrificing family and relationship. The
wound of everything becoming a struggle as you live from shoulds
instead of from your heart.
Therapy helps with releasing some of the pain that
comes from not being heard and respected as an individual, and
we may gain insights as to how come we ended up doing what we
do -- according to Jung there is no more powerful influence than
the unlived dreams of our parents.
However many people become stuck at this stage
because release and understanding alone do not give the necessary
skills or experience of being self motivated and achieving.
Working with a good coach to help you tease out
and clarify what you want, devise strategies for change and stay
with what it takes to succeed brings a myriad of benefits.
Not only do you attain your particular goals but you grow in self
esteem and develop a foundation for all your future projects.
You will be asked to prepare for sessions, follow up with fieldwork
and report back on what you've achieved. You have someone to try
out ideas on and to share your successes and failures with, while
you still retain full responsibility for all that you do.
Over time you find that your ability to support
yourself and others in this way expands significantly. You find
that a subtle healing has taken place and you have become one
of the people that Maslow described as self actualizing.
This is not to imply that self actualizing people
then rely solely on themselves. In fact the ability to have
healthy INTERDEPENDENT relationships is one of the characteristics
of healed, mature and successful individuals. So many successful
entrepreneurs and CEOs will use personal coaches, not because
they NEED help to achieve goals but because they know that the
right kind of support enables them to achieve more easily and
Although Maslow's model describes this process as
a hierarchy, it is probably truer to say that we recycle through
the different areas and that staying psychologically healthy and
motivated is an on-going process. The model also applies
to organizations where coaching, both as a managerial approach
and by professional coaches, can help encourage staff to be more
self motivated and actualizing. This is explored in depth
in John Whitmore's book, 'Coaching for Performance'.
Working with a professional coach is a gift to yourself
which will be repaid many times and in many ways, but which can
also be seen, as I suggest, as a healing process.
© January 2000, Duncan Coppock