Case Study of a coaching relationship.
Julieta's* words reinforced for me the importance of hope.
I was signing off a client after 12 sessions of coaching, over 9 months, with a evaluative conversation last week and asked if she had a gift of her learning to give to others what would this be, this is what she said.
“My gift to others would be the gift of hope. Sometimes when you are in a really, really dark place if you get a good coach who understands what is happening for you then there is light. You need to trust and have faith. Hang on in there even if you cannot see the results straight away. It can take weeks of following the actions you have committed yourself to, change is slow at first, then it seems like suddenly you are a different person.”
Hang on in there even if you cannot see the results straight away.
This client had come to me desperate for change, she was suffering from deep anxiety, compulsive behaviour, fear of new places, or going to the shops, unable to live life the way she wished. Unable to express and be herself.
I was profoundly moved.
This client was also a gift to me. She challenged my practice in so many ways and demonstrated vividly why I have chosen to become, aka Professor David Clutterbuck, a ‘Liberated Coach’. I will come back to this at the end of my post.
By personality type I am not a compliance driven individual so working to fixed models was never something I felt comfortable with. I found coaching models constraining and focused instead on key principles underpinned by proven psychological approaches, tools and techniques. Without this I would not have been able to help Julieta.
Given the complexity of her issues some of the processes I had to work through with her were loss and acceptance. Julieta has dyslexia and this has prevented her from progressing into a career she felt represented her abilities and talents. She had always wanted to be a teacher. Her initial focus when she came to me was for help in getting a job that she felt would give her a greater sense of personal satisfaction and dignity. But she was crippled with anxiety and low self-esteem. Exhausted by all the behaviours she had developed to manage her state over a number of years. After two sessions of coaching she came to the realisation that the ‘self’ and job she was aspiring toward was driven not by her own desires but by a sense of failure as viewed by the eyes of others. She was helped to this not only by the coaching but also by a book that had been given to her that she decided to begin reading after our first session, 'Essential Help for your Nerves', By Doctor Claire Weekes.
The sense of loss that she brought to our second session together was palpable.
I felt myself surrendering to it. Accepting it as she was accepting...
The sense of loss that she brought to our second session together was palpable. I felt myself surrendering to it. Accepting it as she was accepting the loss of years spent fighting a condition that she only now, at 56, was able to give a name to. She was also coming to terms with the cognitive impacts of her dyslexia which had been first diagnosed in mid adulthood. I always take feedback from clients at the end of a session, this led to a conversation about the difficulties Julieta had processing the questions I asked. She shared that some of the questions overwhelmed her and that she needed extra time to deal with the overwhelm before she could begin to answer.
This led me into researching dyslexia and its effects, despite my 29 years as a teacher it was never a subject in which I had received any training. I had adjusted for children instinctively, having to adjusting for an adult led me on this journey of discovery. I increased my use of visual and multi-sensory methods in our coaching sessions and slowed right down, giving silence even more of a role than usual. The weight of the sense of loss also led me into reading about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). My supervisor at this time, a psychologist, recommended a book to me, ACT Made Simple by Russ Harris, 2009 which provided a useful framework for reflection as well as a concept that I borrowed to take over into my coaching conversations with Julieta.
Julieta’s reading illuminated for her how much she had been living her life driven by fear. Fear dominated every interaction in the world outside of her home. And when she was home all she was left with was the fear. Her goal now became to be free from fear, to be able to live her life with some sense of control, which for her meant be able to make decisions that were not driven by her fears.
The ACT concept of Cognitive Fusion was a useful tool for me at this time in my reflections about how best to be present for my client. To help me understand what I was seeing and hearing.
In a state of cognitive fusion we are inseparable from our thoughts:
we are welded to them, bonded to them,so caught up in them
that we aren’t even aware that we are thinking.
“In a state of cognitive fusion we are inseparable from our thoughts: we are welded to them, bonded to them, so caught up in them that we aren’t even aware that we are thinking. Thus de-fusion means separating, or distancing from our thoughts: taking a step back and seeing than for what they are: nothing more or less than words and pictures.”
This fusion leads to the feeling, once we become aware of it, of being “pushed around” by our thoughts. This resonated with Julieta’s language. She talked about not wanting to be ‘bullied’ by her fears anymore. ACT also makes very conscious use of metaphor: existing in a state of fusion is like walking around with your hands permanently over your eyes and viewing the world through the tiny gaps between your fingers.
This reading led me back to a book I had on my shelves, ‘Mastery in Coaching -A complete psychological toolkit for advanced coaching’, edited by Jonathon Passmore. Two chapters provided a further lens on my coachee. ‘Compassionate Mind Coaching’, by Tim Anstiss and Paul Gilbert and ‘Acceptance and Commitment Coaching ‘, Tim Anstiss and Rich Blonna. The latter gave me the confidence to offer the key principles underpinning these approaches, and some of the associated tools, to my client.
Will this enrich and improve the effectiveness of my potential responses to client needs?
I am currently preparing myself for Accreditation with the Association for Coaching, it’s a rigorous process. One of the things you have to do is write about what kind of coach you are, about your coaching approach. Since I draw from many sources for the inspiration I call on to help my clients I do not adhere to any one official approach. I like to think of myself instead as a liberated coach as defined by Clutterbuck.
A liberated coach has the following approach and characteristics:
“The model, process, or theoretical framework “, does not drive the coaching or “learning conversation, rather the learning conversation” drives “the selection of tools and techniques. By this, we mean an intelligent, sensitive ability to select a broad approach, and within that approach, appropriate tools and techniques, which meet the particular needs of a particular client at a particular time."
Central to this concept is that:
- The initial learning conversations provide the clues as to what approaches and frameworks may be best suited to the client
- Every learning conversation is an experiment for both the coach/ mentor and the client
- They place great importance on understanding a technique, model or process in terms of its origins within an original philosophy
- They use experimentation and reflexive learning to identify where and how a new technique, model or process fits into their philosophy and framework of helping
- They judge new techniques, models and processes on the criterion of asking, 'Will this enrich and improve the effectiveness of my potential responses to client needs?'
- They use peers and supervisors to challenge their coaching philosophy and as partners in experimenting with new approaches
- They do not share a common philosophy; rather, they have developed their own philosophy – one, which continually expands and adapts, evolving as they absorb new knowledge and ideas. “ Clutterbuck, 2012.
I am reframing my life with a smile.
This is the kind of coach I aspire to be and my hope is that writing this blog is one of the vehicles through which I am developing my own philosophy.
The last words I will give to Julieta:
“Through coaching I have gained the confidence to truly be myself living without anxiety and to feel recovered from the past. I practice gratitude every day and manage my inner voices. My Adult** talks to me daily and helps me to make balanced decisions. I feel overwhelmed by what I have achieved. If I had not challenged myself to do this work on myself I do not know where I would be now. Every day is not easy but people do not need to know my struggle. I can put my best self forward now. I am reframing my life with a smile. “
*Julieta is a pseudonym used to protect my client’s identity.
** As defined in Transactional Analysis.
Anstiss, T., & Gilbert, P. (2014). Compassionate Mind Coaching. In A. f. Coaching, Mastery in Coaching - A complete psychological toolkit for advanced coaching (pp. 225-252). London: KoganPage.
Clutterbuck, D. (2016, September 29). David Clutterbuck Partnership. Retrieved from David Clutterbuck Partnership: https://www.davidclutterbuckpartnership.com/the-liberated-coach/
Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple- A quick start guide toACT basics and beyond. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
T, A., & Blonna, R. (2014). Acceptance and commitment coaching. In A. f. Coaching, Mastery in Coaching-a complete psychological toolkit for advanced coaching. (pp. 253-81). London: KoganPage.