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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 towards wholeness.

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 towards self-actualising.

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 us.

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 efficiently.

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