Real Balance and The Wellness Coach Training Institute is one of the leading wellness coach training companies in the world. This ICF Approved program has trained over 6,000 wellness coaches worldwide. CEO Dr. Michael Arloski is the author of Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change.
“I just don’t seem to have the motivation to really make changes.” This is a lament frequent to the ears of health and wellness coaches. Our clients are puzzled about why they never find success in their efforts to finally start living a healthy lifestyle, or keep such efforts going. They blame it on either a lack of motivation to get started, or that motivation fades as old habits reassert their rule.
Coaches often focus on what their client is saying and begin to reexamine the potential motivators the client has mentioned. They help their clients look again at their desire to change and what drives it. They look at the fear-based motivations such as not wanting to have an illness get worse, or not wanting to develop the maladies that have been prevalent in their family. They look at the love-based motivators like caring enough about ones self, wanting to be there for their grandchildren as they grow up, the intrinsic joy of dancing, swimming, tasting delicious and nutritious food, etc.
Perhaps they conclude, like their client is telling them, that these motivators just ‘aren’t enough’. The next step is to begin a usually fruitless search for additional motivators. Their client runs out of ideas and coaching descends into ‘what about this?’ suggestion after suggestion. Now would be a great time to STOP and review what is going on.
Got the gas, but no car?
Your client may have enough motivation. They may in fact, have listed three, four or more reasons they want to change. They may possess a terrific combination of motivators. Motivation is like the fuel for a vehicle to run on. The problem might not be the fuel, but the lack of an actual vehicle! The vehicle is a methodology, a structure, a process that facilitates change. To get where they need and want to go, the client needs both a vehicle to carry them and the fuel to put in it.
How do we mobilize motivation? By providing our client with methodology. I’ve always been amazed at how simple successful change can sometimes be when they have a well-developed way of achieving it.
Coach: So, I hear your frustration at wanting to improve your lifestyle, but not having much of a history of success at it. Have you ever started your change efforts by first taking stock of your health and wellness in a really clear way?
Client: Well, no.
Coach: Have you ever begun by first developing a thorough plan as to how you will make these changes happen?
Client: Well, no. I usually just get my will powered amped up and set some sort of goals.
Coach: Have you ever carried out your change efforts with the help of an ally who helped you with support and accountability?
Client: Well, no, not really.
Coach: Have you ever keep track of your efforts at change, actually written it down?
Client: Well, no. I just try to be consistent, but it never works out that way.
A mentee of mine recently was coaching a middle-aged woman who complained of a lack of motivation holding her back. As we began listening to the recording, the coach helped the client describe at least four strong motivators that had propelled her into action. She realized that when her now-grown children were younger that playing with them provided her with more activity and energy. Now her energy was low and she wanted to reclaim that. She also talked about hoping for grandchildren and wanting to be a very active part of their lives. The client was concerned about her advancing age and not wanting to lose the health she had. She didn’t want to become a burden to anyone. She went on to list at least two more motivators.
As the client described her lack of success at change, her conclusion was that she was just lacking motivation. She described coming home from work tired and just fixing a quick (though not necessarily healthy) meal and watching television in the evening. “I just don’t have the motivation I need.” All she had for a plan were intentions. She intended to be more active. She intended to eat better, etc.
Doing a great job of coaching, my mentee gently confronted his client and recited the substantial list of motivators that she did, in fact, have. He questioned whether it was a ‘lack of motivation’, or something else that was missing.
Clients try to figure out what is keeping them stuck. Unless it’s a matter of identifiable internal or external barriers, clients often say it’s a lack of motivation. They are looking for an explanation and, frankly, they often don’t know what else to call it.
Co-Creating The Coaching Alliance
An often skipped over part of coaching is the work it takes to Co-Create The Coaching Alliance. In addition to getting acquainted with our client and hearing their story, an important part of our first session with a client is to convey to the client just how coaching works. Clients are used to meeting with consultants, not coaches. They expect to be able to provide the consultant with lots of great information and hear the expert recommendations. We spoke about this from the coach’s point of view in our last blog post: “Making and Maintaining The Shift To The Coaching Mindset” https://wp.me/pUi2y-m3. The client also needs to make a mindset shift to get oriented to this new way of working with someone.
Coaching is about co-creating agreements. We co-create with our client agreements about how we are going to work together. Some aspects of our working together are negotiable and can involve compromise. However, we are not going to compromise the nature of our coaching relationship. That is, we are not going to agree to just be our client’s educator, and let go of the role of coach.
Part of what an effective coach does is to explain, in a succinct fashion, exactly how coaching works, how it is structured and what the benefits of this structure are. The client-centered nature of coaching is conveyed with real reassurance that the client is the one in the driver’s seat.
Part of the coach’s job is to facilitate the client’s use of the coaching structure. The coach does this by showing the client how advantageous it can be to operate out of a solid plan, to track one’s progress at making changes, etc. The coach provides tools that make these processes easier. Mobile apps for tracking can be recommended and then, importantly, integrated into the coaching accountability.
Motivation can be puzzling and elusive, but when it is present a methodology, a structure, is what the client needs in order to mobilize it. By providing our client with the vehicle, we help them get where they want to go.
Word Origin – Coach: In the 15th Century the Hungarian village of KOCS was the birthplace of the true carriage or “coach” as the word evolved in English.
In other words we might define both types of coaches as: A coach takes you from where you are at, to where you want to be!
The Coaching Mindset Means Leaving The Consulting Mindset Behind
We meet our coaching client with the very best of intentions. We want to help. And help sometimes means throwing ourselves into doing what the client seems to be unable to do themselves up to this point – figure out solutions. Instead of empowering our clients to come to their own solutions, we seek to fix it for them. We draw upon our knowledge, our wisdom, our intelligence, and put effort into guiding the conversation to this goal of helping the client to live better and be healthier. We take on more than our share of responsibility for outcome. Perhaps we even let our own needs for control influence what is going on.
Your client is speaking about a very challenging situation in their complex life. You are fully engaged – in trying to figure it out. You sincerely want to help. You are curious, in a detective sort of way. Your internal chatter is racing: ‘What’s going on here?’ ‘How can the client handle this better?’ ‘What should the client do?’ ‘The client is not dealing with this effectively.’ ‘The client is engaging in self-defeating behavior or irrational thinking.’
So, you ask questions. Really good questions. You delve deeper into the problems. You seek solutions. You analyze. But, you’re not coaching. The more you think the less you feel. The more you analyze and use deduction, the more you step away from your client and all that they feel and all that they are. You, the coach, forget to empathize. You may even forget to use your Active Listening Skills, like paraphrasing and reflection of feeling. You forget to neutrally help your client explore and to do the work themselves. You have become your client’s consultant, taking on the work that belongs to your client.
As James Prochaska loves to say about change; making the “Mindset Shift” to the Coaching Mindset is a process, not an event. The shift did not happen that day when you completed a Wellness Coach Certification Course, and then become locked in place. We all keep going back to our default setting, be it treatment provider, educator, or consultant. What reinforces the old mindset is that many of our clients expect us to be the consultant, the trusted expert. They are used to working with consultants of every stripe and they often come to coaching with feeling of low self-efficacy and seek the guidance of experts who can point the way for them.
In Our Heads
The more we are in our own heads, the more we miss about what is going on for our client. Our analyzing and wondering about where to go next removes us from what is happening right here and right now. Perhaps our client is talking about what they had for breakfast, and the greater context is that they are having breakfast alone for the first time after their children have gone to live with their former spouse. We are missing the undercurrent in their voice of loneliness. We miss inquiring about their emotions, and, instead focus on the cholesterol content of what was on their plate. We miss reflecting our client’s feelings because we don’t notice what they were feeling. We miss an opportunity to express empathic understanding.
Trust The Coaching Process
To quit our consulting job and truly coach we must trust the coaching process. It is a leap of faith to let go of our urge to help and instead to assist. We have to trust not only the coaching process – that it is valid and potentially effective – but also trust our client. As The Coaches Training Institute http://www.coactive.com teaches, when we feel it “in our bones” that the client truly is “naturally creative, resourceful and whole” we can finally coach. When we apply this “Cornerstone of Coaching” we don’t rescue our client by finishing their sentence. We don’t provide for them what they may actually be capable of creating themselves.
Most importantly we don’t interfere in our client’s lives. Think about it! What right do we have to interfere in anyone’s life (and I’m referring to way of living, not intervening in an emergency, etc.)? Do our coaching “interventions” actually constitute an act of interference in how someone is choosing to live their life? Coaching is NOT an intervention!
Back To Center – Back To The Present
So, how do we stay in the moment with our client, yet provide the structure that is an absolutely essential part of effective coaching? It comes down to the proverbial “dancing in the moment” that coaches are so fond of referring to, but it also acknowledges that we have made an agreement with our client about the music.
An effective coach operates within an evidence-based, theoretically grounded coaching structure. We provide a methodology that allows facilitation of the client’s success at improving their lifestyle and therefore, their life. As we follow that “music” (our agreed upon coaching structure) we put our attention into the process of awareness. We listen with ears, eyes and heart. We pick up on the nuance of speech that reveals what may be going on beyond the surface. We explore without preconceived notions of what the client’s experience is. We may just simply say to the client we observe with the tight voice and the furrowed brow: “Are you aware of your forehead right now as you say that?” Let them do the work. Coach!
When the best leader’s work is done the people say ‘We did it ourselves.’ Lao Tzu
In Part One – In the previous post “The Tao of Wellness Coaching – Part One – What Centers Us?” http://wp.me/pUi2y-lN we grounded ourselves in the history and context of The Tao and the concept of Centered Coaching. We examined how relevant the practice of Tai Chi can be.
Effective wellness coaching is, inherently, very much in harmony with the Tao. Let’s look at two key Taoist concepts and how they apply to wellness coaching.
Fundamental to Taoist thought and foundational to Chinese Medicine is the concept of Yin and Yang. These are the polar opposite, yet complementary, forces of the world that, for health and wellbeing to exist, must be in balance. The Yang forces are active, positive, hot, overt, masculine, light, and hard. The Yin is passive, yielding, negative, cool, quiet, feminine, dark, and soft. In the classic symbol the Yang rises to the top and is represented by the light area with the black dot in it, while the Yin sinks to the bottom and is represented by the black area with the white dot in it.
The key is to understand that the two are opposite, yet interdependent, complementary and interconnected. When we experience having too much of one and not enough of the other, we experience dysfunction whether it is at the physical, psycho-emotional or behavioral and practical level. Regaining balance becomes the return to a level of healthy homeostasis.
As coaches work with clients to achieve a wellness lifestyle the goal of achieving a healthy balance is paramount. We must rest, but not become lethargic. We must move and exercise, but not to the point of exhaustion and fatigue. We must find a way to take in sufficient calories, but find the right level for our optimal health, etc.
As coach and client co-create a wellness plan the concepts of Yin and Yang can be very useful. Our culture tends to reinforce and promote the Yang forces while not supporting those of the Yin. We are urged to be productive, work hard, play hard, achieve, accomplish, try harder and push. Seldom are we reinforced, much less accommodated for self-care activities such as getting adequate sleep, relaxing, taking time to get a massage, meditate, or enjoy our leisure. In fact, we may face criticism for such ‘indulgence’.
Many components of a wellness plan involve greater frequency of self-care activities. As clients look at their health and wellbeing through a more holistic lens, they often see the value of taking more time to meet these needs to balance their lives. Often these same clients have been admonished by their healthcare providers to engage in more self-care activities in order to improve their health. Many times wellness coaches work with clients who have been foregoing their medical self-care, such as taking time to do self-testing (e.g. diabetes), following up on medical appointments, doing rehabilitation exercises, etc. Instead they have been consumed and distracted by the Yang-style demands of their work, and their own belief systems.
When wellness coaches work with their clients to construct ways to manage stress more effectively, they are inevitably working to achieve Yin-Yang balance. Without ever speaking of the terms (Yin and Yang), we might consider how all actions possess either Yin or Yang energy and help our clients to decide how much to include in their lives. There may be great stress management wisdom in exploring strategically with our clients when it is best to push, and when to yield.
At a fundamental level our clients are often in a state of ambivalence about change that displays the push-pull of Yin and Yang forces. Should I, the client, change my way of living, or not change? When we really examine the ambivalence resolution methods of Motivational Interviewing (MI) we can see a Taoistic stance taken by the therapist or coach. The coach does not “pull” for one path to be taken over the other. Instead, they neutrally allow the client to explore and experience both energies; change and no change. The coach using this MI approach remains as centered and non-judgmental as possible helping the client to weigh the pros and cons (again a Yin/Yang process).
Wu Wei – Effortless Effort
Living in harmony with the Tao is about letting nature take its course and not interfering with the natural order of things. The concept of Wu Wei conveys the idea on ‘non-doing’, ‘non-action’, or ‘non-intervention’. This concept seems antithetical to Western thinking. In Western culture we are taught to make things happen. In Western Medicine the expert seeks to find the best intervention and implement it as soon as possible. To accomplish a desired outcome by ‘allowing’ things to simply be and progress on their own seems either too slow or doomed to failure. Yet think for a moment. Have you ever needed to relax and unwind and the harder you tried to do so, the more anxious and tense you got? There is only one way to relax; you have to allow yourself to do so. When we intervene medically to treat a wound, the actual healing that follows is something we have to patiently allow to happen.
Wu Wei is perhaps best thought of as living in a state of effortless harmony and alignment with the natural cycles and ways of nature. We are truly ‘going with the flow’, and able to respond to whatever comes our way. As coaches allow such a way of being our ability to ‘dance in the moment’ is maximized. We aren’t there to intervene, to fix things. We are not attached to a therapeutic agenda, to a treatment-oriented course of action. The client is in the lead and we are able to effortlessly dance with them.
Keeping It Client-Centered
At the heart of all coaching is the client-centered approach. From the psychotherapeutic roots of Carl Rogers this ‘person-centered’ way of interacting has become the basis for the coaching alliance.
“There have been parallels made regarding Carl Rogers’ person-centered theory and the way of doing nothing in Taoism (1). Rogers suggested that the most therapeutic counseling occurred when the therapist was authentic and real in the relationship and placed trust in the client to discern what was best for himself without interference from the therapist (2). A central concept of Taoism is doing nothing and being natural. Both Rogers’ theoretical beliefs and Tao philosophy maintain that when these conditions are achieved successfully in therapy, the human organism will develop almost spontaneously (3).”
An excellent review of this is found in “East Meets West: Integration of Taoism Into Western Therapy” by Rochelle C. Moss and Kristi L. Perryman. (4)
Coaches following these principles ‘get themselves out of the way’ and trust in the wisdom of their clients. We see our work as helping to bring forth, or evoke, the inner wisdom of our clients. When we are not attached to rigid protocols, yet operating out of grounded principles and methodology we can serve as guides to help our clients get to where they want to go.
Coaches and clients walk down a pathway together at night in the forest. The coach’s job is hold the flashlight and illuminate what is before them.
The client’s job is to choose how the path will be followed.
Neutrality allows the coach to operate without bias, without their own judgments and prejudices. This allows the client to be in the lead, making their own choices. This is where wellness coaches must adhere to the ethics of coaching and not be promoting their own products or particular courses favorite ways to eat, exercise, and so forth.
The highest virtue is to act without a sense of self The highest kindness is to give without a condition The highest justice is to see without a preference
Coaches who find value in the concept of Wu Wei see the value in yielding. In Western society yielding is often seen as failure, as giving up. Yet, some of the most storied successes on both Eastern and Western battlefields came because of strategic retreat. In wellness coaching this may take the form of allowing a client to set their own levels of accountability. For example a client may state that they can perform a certain behavior, such as walking, five times in the coming week. The coach may suggest that going from not exercising at all to doing so five times a week may be less likely to be successful. The client insists that they can hit this target of 5x/wk. The patient coach then allows the client to go ahead with their experiment rather than argue and let the client experience what the Adlerian psychologists would call natural consequences.
The power of yielding may also be something for our clients to discover. Often people approach situations with only one option in mind; to win! The wise person approaches any situation wanting to have all options at their disposal. In dealing with conflict, in managing stress, the option of yielding often pays off better than pushing for one’s initial desires.
At the heart of both the coaching process and Maslow’s theories of self-actualization and personal growth is the principle stance that human beings are inherently moving towards health and wholeness. With barriers removed and balance achieved, people will naturally make progress towards their highest good. The continually accumulating evidence from the Positive Psychology research substantiates this position. Such a way of looking at human beings and their experience in life is in complete alignment with Taoistitc principles of the interconnectedness of all things, synchronicity and the let it be attitude of Wu Wei.
The Centered Wellness Coach
Drawing upon what may be called “Philosophical Taoism” as opposed to any kind of religious or institutional Taoism, the wellness coach can find wisdom that does not necessarily contradict any other beliefs they, or their client may have. What we find is real alignment with the principles of growth and self-actualization that form the foundation of the wellness field. What we also find are very practical guidelines for practicing as an effective coach.
1. Practice What Centers You In Your Life
The wellness of the coach is the foundation all else is built upon. When we embrace whole-person wellness that includes, body, mind, spirit and our relationship with our environment, we practice a lifestyle that moves us towards optimal functioning. The key here is the word “practice”. Coaches are usually very caring people who place the needs of others far above their own. That can easily result in a lack of self-care, a neglect of the very well-living practices that we encourage in our clients. Find what “centers” you and practice it with regularity. Connect with friends, read novels, garden, hike, bike, walk, dance, meditate, do Yoga, Tai Chi, go fishing, enjoy your grandchildren, play with your photography or poetry, pray, volunteer at a non-profit, scrapbook, quilt, take your neighbor’s child for a day in the park. Do whatever gets your healthy needs met and gives you meaning and purpose.
When you get knocked off-center, accept how this is simply part of the normal human experience. The centered person does not tip-toe through life like they were on a balance beam. The idea is that of reducing our “center-recovery time”. If we are practicing what centers us in our lives we can come back to center more quickly.
2. Practice effortless effort. The primary mistake I notice when I observe coaching students who are learning the craft, is that they work too hard. The coach is working much harder than the client. When coaching does not go well it is usually when the coach is trying to make things happen. The coach is busy “fixing” the situation and/or the client, instead of facilitating the client doing their own work. The coach is busy attempting to convince or persuade the person to be well. The centered coach is patient.
3. Embrace Paradox
By trusting their coaching methodology, and by trusting their client the coach is able to offer a “coaching presence” that is: calm, yet lively; supportive, yet challenging; accepting and nonjudgmental, yet discerning; empathic, yet not colluding; compassionate, yet firm. Again, it is from this centered “stance” that such paradox can exist.
4. Know When To Push And When To Yield
We have a culture obsessed with “interventions”, with taking action. The Tao teaches us that there is a time for both action and non-action. I’ve observed coaches attempting to appear “powerful” by pushing for action whether the client is “ready” or not. When we use Prochaska’s Readiness For Change Theory we are actually acknowledging the reality of the energetic state our client is in. An old Gestalt Therapy expression is “Don’t push the river”. But, we also know the need to paddle when we are in a dead-calm lake! There is a time in coaching to forward the action through request. The Tao is as much about taking action as it is about pivoting and moving with no resistance. Again, the coaching metaphor of “dancing in the moment” means know when to push and when to yield.
5. An Effective Wellness Plan Is About Balance
A well-crafted wellness plan, co-created with our client would resemble the Yin/Yang symbol of Taoism. Ideally there would be as much involvement in active steps to build energy and there would be for more passive steps to help one relax, restore energy and achieve more balance. One side would balance out the other.
The reality is that as coaches we have been practicing The Tao of Wellness Coaching all along whether we called it that or not. Taoistic principles have already been infused in psychology, psychotherapy, business, leadership and more. Being more conscious in their application expands the coach’s repertoire of options and helps them nurture their own wellness as well.
1. Hermsen, E. (1996). Person-centered psychology and Taoism: The reception of Lao Tzu by Carl C. Rogers. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 6(2), 107 – 125.
2. Hayashi, S., Kuno, T., M
orotomi, Y., Osawa, M., Shimizu, M., & Suetake, Y. (1998). Client- centered therapy in Japan: Fujio Tomoda and Taoism. The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 38(2), 103-124.
3. Hayashi, S., Kuno, T., Morotomi, Y., Osawa, M., Shimizu, M., & Suetake, Y. (1994). A reevaluation of client-centered therapy through the work of F. Tomoda and its cultural implications in Japan. Paper presented at the Third International Conference on Client-Centered and Experimental Psychotherapy, Gmunden, Austria.
What can today’s health and wellness coach learn from The Tao that will make their job easier and more effective?
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
History and Context
It is said that the legendary Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, rode off on the back of an ax when leaving the Middle Kingdom. Before a sentry guard would let him pass out of the city gates, he asked the sage to write down his teachings for the good of all. The result was the seminal text, The Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu then rode off into the wilderness, never to be heard of again.
The wisdom of this book was never lost from those times (5th-6th Century BCE), but instead spawned a philosophy that holds real merit for our lives today. Our challenge is to bring the Tao, or “the Way”, into those busy lives and, ultimately into every aspect of our being. When we do, we operate very differently. We engage in our work in a different way. We experience stress but respond to it more effectively. We coach differently.
The Tao is a concept cloaked in mystery for most of us. Sage sayings that sound like one conundrum after another leave us puzzled. “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” “Yield and overcome; Bend and be straight.”― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching. Yet, there is a strong appeal because we often covet the apparent peace of mind that practitioners of the Tao seem to have. They seem, so “centered”. They seem to have a quite confidence that guides them. They know just what to do.
When we speak of the Tao and wellness coaching we are not implying that to know the Tao one must study and adopt the more religious form of Taoism. Taoism is most often defined as a philosophical tradition that is all about living in harmony with life, or literally translated, “The Way”. One can pursue living in harmony with the way of life without necessarily becoming involved in a religious pursuit, per se. Carolyn Myss tells us that living in harmony with the Tao is a way to “reduce the friction inherent in most of life’s actions and to conserve one’s vital energy.” (1) Studying the philosophy of Taoism, the Way of the Tao, however, holds great potential benefit for coaches.
The bookstores of the world are packed with books with titles such as The Tao of Business, The Tao of Golf, The Tao of Leadership, The Tao of Physics and an infinite list of variations on this theme. Clearly many find value in this ancient wisdom and have found ways to make it relevant and advantageous. Psychologist Wayne Dyer studied the Tao for an entire year and provided us with a deep resource with his book Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living The Wisdom of the Tao (2009)(2). There are many translations of The Tao Te Ching, but for the Westerner, Dyer’s book may be the best introduction because it explains so many of the concepts in ways we can apply to our everyday, and professional lives.
What Centers Us In Life
There are many things that ‘center’ us in our lives. Being centered is about living our lives in a healthy balance and getting our needs met so that we have vitality. Many things do this for us. Ask yourself: what keeps you in balance, what centers you. You may say getting regular exercise, gardening, reading fiction, connecting regularly with friends, getting out in nature, getting enough rest, etc. All of these activities and more help us to be more in balance, to live a wellness lifestyle, to be in harmony with the Tao. It all seems to be saying the same thing.
Our wellness lifestyle forms the foundation for this centered way of living, but any number of mindfulness practices can help us take it further for even more benefits. Practicing Yoga, various forms of meditation, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Contemplative Prayer, and other methods can all help ‘center’ us and not only teach us the ways of the Tao, but actually alter our psychophysiology in a positive way. All of these practices have the potential to help us shift our nervous system more into what is know as the Relaxation Response (Benson, 2000), the activation of the parasympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system. This results in a lowering of heart rate, blood pressure, etc., and therefore makes it easier for us to be calm and less reactive to stress, in other words, more centered.
The Tao In Movement
Practicing Tai Chi On The Great Wall
Tai Chi is a Taoist inspired soft martial arts practice, a moving meditation actually, that embodies many principles of the Tao. The health benefits of Tai Chi are well documented. “Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but it might well be called “medication in motion. “There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems.” (http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi) (3) The benefits one can derive from such a practice, however, go well beyond the psychophysiological.
For me, practicing Tai Chi has been a non-cognitive way to study the Tao. It is ‘centering practice’. I was fortunate in the late 1980’s, to learn the short form of the Yang Style of Tai Chi taught by a physician from China. My practice since then has been consistent, if not as frequent as I would like. The result of regular practice is a centered way of moving, and, to an increasing degree, a centered way of being. This is living in harmony, with the Tao. For me it has been a thirty-year journey in somatic learning.
When we move from center we are always in balance. Think of the martial artist in action, such as a practitioner of Karate, Aikido, or Tai Chi Chuan. For them to be effective in combat they must move from center. If they aggressively lean too far forward they land on their face, or if they are too afraid and lean backwards they end up on their backside. Think of how this same principle applies to a sales person attempting to make a sale, an instructor attempting to get a point across, an encounter that you may have attempting to resolve conflict with someone. Think of how this applies to our coaching. The metaphor holds up. If it did not go well, we might realize that we weren’t very centered.
Centered Coaching: What The Tao Has To Teach Us
When I observe masterful coaching the style of the coach may vary, but one thing is always present: centeredness.
A centered coach speaks less and listens more. They can “dance in the moment” effortlessly, going wherever the client needs to go, no matter how unexpected. They are not attached to outcome, but are focused on results. A centered coach can shift into new directions, but remains grounded in structure and the foundations of coaching. Such a coach has no need to impress or appear powerful. They don’t work at being powerful, yet they are. Centered coaches do not push their own agenda, yet they do not collude with their clients either. They know when to push, to confront, and have the courage to do so. They also know the power of yielding.
Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.
In Part Two
Effective wellness coaching is, inherently, very much in harmony with the Tao. In Part Two we will look at two key Taoist concepts and how they apply directly to wellness coaching: Ying/Yang balance, and the concept of Wu Wei or Effortless Effort.
Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. Plato
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 Changehttp://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.
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.
Real Balance Wellness & Health Coach Certification Class in Shanghai – 2017
Faced with the same lifestyle-based health crisis many other countries are experiencing, China has been searching for a way to help people truly succeed at lasting lifestyle change. Over half of the men in China smoke. The diabetes rate is now higher than the United States, with heart disease, COPD and other “lifestyle diseases” on the rise. Health information campaigns and medical admonition, as elsewhere, has only gone so far. Last month when Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (https://www.realbalance.com) teamed up with Chestnut Global Partners China EAP (http://chestnutglobalpartners.org) to bring live wellness and health coach certification training to China it was enthusiastically embraced.
The concept of wellness is new to China, and wellness & health coaching is even newer. Though there is a long tradition of Traditional Chinese Medicine that blends with Allopathic Conventional Medicine, these are still remedial treatments and do not address how to help someone improve lifestyle behavior. Smoking cessation programs are vigorous but face a huge challenge in this population. Wellness coaching provides an innovative way to make behavioral change possible for those who need it.
What impressed me most about my entire trip to China were the students in our live training in Shanghai. The class was composed partly of Chestnut Global Partners EAP employees. These were mostly physicians and department directors. The rest of the class was a mix of M.D.’s, dieticians, counselors, Human Resources professionals and even a few independent life coaches. Throughout our grueling six-day training their level of engagement was extraordinary. While all students are faced with the “mindset shift” challenge (going from a prescriptive, consultative way of interacting, to a coach approach), this group did so with less resistance than we anticipated. They really got the concept that when it comes to helping people change behavior, it is very different from treatment or education. Fortunately, the training I delivered was coordinated with my translator and co-trainer, Dr. Li Peizhong, psychologist and V.P. of Chestnut Global China. He performed live translation as I spoke, and added greatly to the interaction and processing.
All of our trainings are highly interactive, and when students shared information and stories of work they had done with patients and clients, the level of humor employed was amazing! Much was “lost in translation” for me, but they were continually breaking out into boisterous laughter. Also, the Chinese students were more natural in their continual use of empathy in their coaching practice. While they tended, like students everywhere (we’ve found), to jump right into problem solving first, they used empathy and spoke of the importance of it, more than any other group I have trained.
Chinese culture is well known for valuing the group. As our training went on, group cohesion increased rapidly. Students supported one another in their learning through a real sense of caring for one another. When one student volunteered to be our client for a round of “fishbowl coaching” practice (where a student works on a real life challenge and is coached by a number of students) she left the exercise still perplexed about a way forward. Students formed a circle around our volunteer student and spent their entire break time collectively discussing with her about how to address her challenge.
The other evidence of this collective spirit was in the almost instant formation of a class group on the app WeChat. Before the training was even finished, and then vigorously once it was complete, they were on WeChat (http://www.wechat.com/en/) connecting, lining up their Buddy Coaching, and then sharing photos and stories of how they were following through on their own lifestyle improvement action steps.
Practicing Tai Chi On The Great Wall
The students were unbelievably appreciative, kind and treated me like royalty. I had integrated some of my Tai Chi and Xi Gung practice into our energy breaks, much to the delight of the students. At the conclusion of the training, at our celebratory class dinner they gifted me with a beautiful white Tai Chi practice suit to show their appreciation.
On To Beijing!
After our training in Shanghai, we flew to the country’s capital, Beijing, for a special Book Release Event. At Peking University (yes, it is spelled differently), Chestnut Global and my publisher, The China Translation & Publishing House, hosted a large gathering of executives from several multi-national corporations, representatives of the Chinese government’s smoking cessation program, and others, to witness the release of my book, Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., (https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml) in its Mandarin translation. Speakers from Chestnut Global, Peking University, and the government’s smoking cessation program joined me in delivering talks to the very receptive audience. This was followed by one astonishing Chinese banquet.
A World of Wellness
I have been fortunate to take our training to a number of countries around the world and each experience has been special. The beautiful thing is that whether it is a training session in Indianapolis, Sao Paulo, Dublin, Shanghai, or Fort Collins, our students know that this training is going to make their work so much more effective. They know it is going to make their work so much easier, and more rewarding. They know it is going to help them enhance the lives of others.
I’ve stood at the front of the room around the globe, but it is the people who stand behind me that really make it all possible. It’s the allies we’ve formed in other countries and it’s the people right here at home. I’m able to write books and deliver keynotes and trainings because others are operating the office, servicing our students, teaching classes and representing Real Balance to the world as well. I come back from China with a heart full of hope for the people of our planet and with gratitude for those who help me step out there and make it a better place.
What The World Health Organization dubbed “Lifestyle Disease” is a global phenomenon. The increase of non-communicable disease is going up the fastest in what is sometimes called the developing countries of the world. “Twenty-five years ago, the number of people with diabetes in China was less than one percent. Today, China has more than 114 million people suffering from the disease, the highest number of any country in the world. It is estimated that 11.6 percent of Chinese adults have diabetes, a proportion higher than the U.S. with 11.3 percent. Experts blame the increase in sedentary lifestyles, high consumption of sugary and high-calorie Western diets, excessive smoking and lack of exercise.” (http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/24/the-increasing-burden-of-diabetes-in-china/)
From the very start of my work in developing the field of wellness coaching my vision was to bring wellness worldwide. Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (http://www.realbalance.com) has now trained over 6,000 health and wellness coaches around the globe. We have trainers in Ireland, Brazil and Australia. We have trained people from places like Dubai, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, Denmark, Korea, and many more countries through our fully-interactive webinar trainings.
Now we are continuing with our global mission by TAKING WELLNESS COACHING TO CHINA ! We are proud to announce that Real Balance is teaming up with Chestnut Global China EAP (http://chestnutglobalpartners.org) to bring wellness and health coach certification training to China! I will deliver a certification training in Shanghai March 14-19, and then travel on to Beijing to promote wellness coaching and do a book signing.
The book I will be signing in Beijing is Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., newly translated into Mandarin and published in China! The challenges of “lifestyle disease” are rapidly increasing in China as more people move to urban areas, diets change, smoking continues to increase, culture shifts and stress increases as well. Helping people gain access to allies that can help them succeed at lifestyle improvement is just as important here as anywhere else.
We are exploring other ways to connect with people around the world to contribute to the health of the planet and its people. Please be a part of creating Allies For A Healthy World.
Back In The U.S.A.
Please join us in beautiful Colorado Springs, at The Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference (https://www.healthpromotionconference.com). March 27-31.
Real Balance will be exhibiting there and I will be delivering two workshops: “Five Key Coaching Skills For Motivating Sustainable Lifestyle Improvement”, and “Mastering The Science and Craft of Health & Wellness Coaching: Higher-Level Methods And Skills.” See you there!
In our last post we featured Part One on this topic:
A New Code of Ethics For Health & Wellness Coaches: Healthy Boundaries Part One http://wp.me/pUi2y-kb There we introduced the new NCCHWC Code (National Consortium for Credentialing Health and Wellness Coaches) and began the discussion of boundaries with a look at ethics, appropriate relationships, touch and self-disclosure. We talked about the establishment of a trusting environment and how coaches show respect for boundaries by asking permission to explore sensitive areas. In this blog we’ll take a deeper dive into some specific areas where coaches often have questions about how to proceed.
Asking for reminders, contact beyond appointments, services not in the contract and personal inquiry.
When clients co-create with their coach agreements about action steps and accountability they frequently begin by asking for the coach to remind them to perform that action step. This is not an outrageous request and one that some coaches are okay with. What works better, however, and is much less of a burden on the coach, is for the client to agree to contact the coach (via email, text) to let them know when they did, in fact, perform the action step. This keeps the client more responsible and allows the coach to avoid falling into the role of nag or authority. Coaches should always agree only to what they are willing to do when setting accountability agreements.
Clients may also ask for additional contact beyond the agreed upon appointments. This request can arise out of a variety of intentions. Clients may desire more of a friendship relationship instead of a professional coaching relationship. This could even have romantic intentions. This is where using direct communication is a coaching skill that can pay off. The coach should gently inquire about the client’s intention in making such a request. This brings things out into the open and can lead to a helpful coaching conversation about where else in the client’s life they could get such needs met. The coach can gently, but firmly explain the advantage for the client in keeping the coaching relationship on a professional level.
I once trained a coach who had gotten into a coaching relationship where she would come to the client’s house, wake her up at 6:00 am and go jogging with her as part of the coaching service. I asked if their agreement was for coaching or for services as a personal assistant! There is quite a difference to say the least. Stick to coaching! When clients make excessive requests, explain the roles of a coach and explore how else the client might get these other needs met.
The other area coaches are often unclear about is how much to disclose about their own personal lives. We address self-disclosure in coaching very thoroughly in my previous blog post: “Self-Disclosure in Coaching – When Sharing Helps and Hinders” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-8m). To quote from that post: “Coaches choose to share certain biographical information with their clients to help build the coaching alliance. The coach who comes across as secretive about whether they have ever had children, are in a relationship with a partner, etc., is going to be trusted less. The challenge here is to maintain good professional boundaries while also being willing to relate to the client as an ally, an authentic human being, not an impersonal and distant professional.”
Coach-Generated Boundary Crossings
Going Beyond Competency – Beyond Scope of Practice
Looking more closely at what happens at times in coaching, we see that the edge that is pushed here is often done subtly and usually without intent to go beyond coaching. The number one concern I hear about in training coaches is the distinction between coaching and therapy. Again, look to the Wellness Resources section of the Real Balance website listed above for a copy of the definitive article on this subject by Meg Jordan and John Livingstone “Coaching versus Psychotherapy in Health and Wellness: Overlap, Dissimilarities and the Potential for Collaboration.”
What I observe more frequently is when coaches pursue a line of inquiry into a client’s psycho-emotional history, into their family of origin issues, etc., and sometimes do so based upon methods and techniques that they have read about in various self-help books. Without a mental-health professional background, even attending a workshop with a famous self-help author does not prepare a coach to do such work. Such inquiries usually do not develop into dire mistakes, but do have the potential to urge the client to go somewhere emotionally that they and the coach are not prepared for. The number one brake here is for the coach to catch themselves when they realize they are engaging in this line of inquiry more out of their own curiosity/fascination instead of a solid coaching rational. When clients push to pursue this inquiry it’s time for the coach to state their own lack of qualifications to go there and to suggest how the client could be better served by speaking with a counselor, therapist, etc.
Going beyond one’s competency can also occur outside of the mental/emotional dimension of wellness. It’s so easy for a coach to blur the line between providing some helpful wellness/health education and being more directive. Coaches should refrain from recommending, imploring, strongly suggesting, or arguing for the benefits of a particular course of action (such as a specific diet, exercise plan, or any form of conventional or non-conventional type of treatment) if they are not qualified to do so as a licensed professional in that field. The coach who can “wear two hats” can offer the wisdom of that other profession that they are part of when they clearly inform their client that they are doing so. This step “over the edge” can occur easily when the coach is not aware of how they are pushing their own agenda for change.
The Coach Acts Out Of Their Own Needs
A boundary is crossed when the coach is no longer acting with the good of the client remaining primary. Coaches are fallible human beings like everyone else. Unmet interpersonal needs for intimacy, whether sexual, romantic, or simply the desire for closeness, can influence the coach’s actions at levels that require keen awareness to detect. Part of being a health and wellness coach is living a wellness lifestyle and that means acknowledging one’s needs and seeking healthy ways to get them met. Unmet needs for power and control, for self-worth through showing competency can also be expressed by coaches at an unhealthy level that once again causes the coach to no longer be acting with the wellbeing of their client as primary.
Coaches can also put their own needs first on the financial front. The coach who is facing severe financial stress may consciously or unconsciously strive to create more dependence in the coaching relationship instead of fostering independence in their client. Coaches who also sell wellness products, such as supplements, etc., may pressure clients to make purchases (a clear violation of the Code of Ethics).
Social Media Boundaries
Clients sometimes actually brag about having a coach and are proud to tell the world about the wonderful services that Coach X is providing for them. Coaches however must respect their client’s confidentiality and not identify any client on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). It is also not a good idea to “friend” clients on Social Media. Clients can share information using more private methods of communication than a Social Media format that provides no privacy.
Organization-Generated Boundary Crossings
Violating Client’s Right To Confidentiality
Most organizations are careful to avoid violating the privacy of their employees but this can happen when coaches working within an organization are asked to give specific reports on their clients. HIPPA regulations (https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/index.html) protect the health information of a client. The request for information about “how a client is doing” may come innocently enough out of genuine concern for the client. Still, this request should be met with a recommendation that the person inquiring ask the client directly.
Requiring Internal Coaches To Push Sales
An organization may require the coaches that work for them to promote the sales of products or services within the context of the coaching. While this may be framed as a low-pressure offering that clients can easily decline, it is potentially an exploitation of the unique trusting relationship that the coaching process develops.
Requiring Internal Coaches To See Too Many Clients
Another boundary is that of setting healthy expectations/requirements for the number of clients a coach can see in one hour and in one work day. Some disease management and other large coaching services make excessive demands of their coaches in terms of quantity of clients seen, lack of break times, and lack of times to do coach notes, etc. The result is both a health risk for the coach and inevitably a diminishment of quality of services for the clients.
Organizations and coaches share in the responsibility and potential liability of working with the people they serve. They must always act with the good of the client (and the coach) – their health and wellbeing – as foremost in all policies and procedures.
Coaches also need to think about how they may at times be putting themselves at risk. One example would be if a coach meets a client in a building where they are the only occupants, or especially if the coach opened a locked building to meet with the client there.
Healthy Self-Generated Boundaries
Knowing And Abiding By Your Own Limits & Boundaries
Perhaps the most rewarding benefit of Healthy Boundaries is the self-care that they provide for the coach themselves. We benefit from all of the healthy boundaries described above, but we also need to reflect on the boundaries that we need to set for our own mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing. Sometimes coaches work in settings where excessive demands are made of them as we noted above. Independent coaches however, need to set their own limits and achieve healthy boundaries in order to preserve their own wellness and continue provide the highest quality services. Part of the self-employed challenge here is having enough confidence in your own ability to create a successful business that will support you to allow you to invest in the time it takes for self-care and personal and professional renewal.
Boundaries are there for good reasons. Just like a football game or match would become chaotic without those “out-of-bounds” markers, professional and personal relationships thrive on clear and healthy boundaries.
The old New England expression that “good fences make good neighbors” applies to the world of professions as well as it does to rows of piled rocks in the old fields and forests of places like Vermont and Maine. The concept of professional boundaries seems to expand the more you look into it. In this and a following post we will look at role definition, ethics and scope of practice, boundary crossings and violations, self-disclosure, and other issues from the unique perspective of the health and wellness coach.
With the development and growth of the field of health and wellness coaching, the question of ethics and scope of practice emerged with the realization that such coaches often face unique situations, sometimes interacting with the medical world, that require a fresh look. While the ICF Code of Ethics is to be embraced by all coaches, the need for something more became evident.
As an Executive Team member of The National Consortium for Credentialing Health and Wellness coaches (http://www.ncchwc.org) I was honored to chair a committee last summer of extraordinary coaches who are part of our NCCHWC Council of Advisors. Through our efforts “in August 2016, the NCCHWC created the Code of Ethics and Health & Wellness Coach Scope of Practice to serve as a reference for health & wellness coaches and faculty. The NCCHWC expects all credentialed health and wellness coaches (coaches, coach faculty and mentors, and students) to adhere to the elements and Principles and ethical conduct: to be competent and integrate NCCHWC Health and Wellness Coach Competencies effectively in their work.” Please download the NCCHWC Code of Ethics and Health & Wellness Coach Scope of Practice here:NCCHWC Code of Ethics (http://www.ncchwc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Final-Code-of-Ethics-Oct-3.pdf) NCCHWC Health & Wellness Coach Scope of Practice (http://www.ncchwc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Final-NCCHWC-Health-Coach-Scope-of-Practice.pdf)
You can also find copies of both documents in the Wellness Resources section of the Real Balance website (https://www.realbalance.com/wellness-resources) Codes of ethics such as these serve as the primary guides to help form professional boundaries that we can adhere to. In Section Three of the NCCHWC Code of Ethics we find most of the references to boundaries. The most obvious boundary here is #23 – to avoid any sexual or romantic relationship with current clients, sponsor(s), students, mentees or supervisees. But, we also see in other items in this section, that much of the issue of boundaries also refers to creating clear agreements with our clients about the nature of coaching, how it works, confidentiality, financial agreements, etc. The client-centered nature of coaching is emphasized along with complete transparency, spelling out the rights, roles and responsibilities for all involved.
The issue of boundaries is more directly addressed in item #22.Hold responsibility for being aware of and setting clear, appropriate and culturally sensitive boundaries that govern interactions, physical or otherwise, I may have with my clients or sponsor(s). Here we are looking at how we create a safe environment for our client where they feel respected, comfortable and safe. While most individuals are at least somewhat sensitive to this in most social interactions, the coach must be especially sensitive about it because of the trusting nature of the coaching relationship. While not on the same level as clinical relationships, coaching clients must feel free to express themselves at a trusting level. The health and wellness coaching client who is attempting to gain insight about how they hold themselves back from being successful at weight loss, for example, needs to feel that they can reveal information about relevant feelings and experiences without feeling vulnerable. This shows up mostly in two areas, the appropriateness of touch, and self-disclosure.
While not inherently wrong, behaviors such as giving/receiving a hug from/with a client after a triumphant moment in coaching, may be misconstrued in its intention. For one client it may, according to some authors, “engender healthier relationships”, while for another it may feel like a boundary crossing, which other authors would argue, might “pave the way to a boundary violation.” Coaches learn early on in their training to ask permission. Seeking permission first and respecting our client’s wishes can avoid such boundary crossings/violations. We avoid the pitfalls of assumptions and honor our client’s personal and cultural boundaries in this way.
Self-Disclosure And Boundaries
Self-disclosure also has different boundaries in different cultures and with different individuals. We looked closely at this topic in a previous blog post “Self-Disclosure in Coaching – When Sharing Helps and Hinders” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-8m). We can remember from that post that coaches who do not self-disclose at all are not trusted, while those who disclose “too much” are thought to be incompetent. Our own self-disclosure, should never put undue pressure on our client to also self-disclose. Differences in culture, social class, family upbringing, etc. all can set very different boundaries around the issue of appropriate self-disclosure. In our next post we’ll look further at the issues of healthy boundaries for health and wellness coaches and address some very specific questions.
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