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To be or not to be...a Therapeutic Coach?

Guest post

Steve Dilworth – April 2015

 

Introduction

 

This article is the result of a series of reflective cycles that were prompted by the award of Diploma in Therapeutic Coaching that I achieved in early 2015. Having gained the qualification I began to question how I might use it within my current professional practice and whether/how I might extend my role to include a return to working directly with clients.

 

The course in context

 

The Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Diploma course came along in the autumn of 2014, curiously timed at the end of a very difficult year.

 

As a professional I have lost count of the number of people I have been alongside during the last stages of their lives, either directly or through many supervisees who work with people who are dying. Care of the families of those people is also a crucial concern.

 

Personal loss is different and it happened that I embarked on the course soon after my deepest personal bereavement, bruised, tender and deeply questioning what I should do for the last decade of my working life.

 

The Diploma proved to be a great energiser, reminding me of what I already knew and stretching me towards things I knew little about. I quickly realised what ‘fast track’ diploma meant in terms of engagement and effort required. In early 2015, after 5 intensive taught days, two substantial written assignments and numerous helpful learning exercises, I delivered a 93 page portfolio for assessment.

 

Two weeks later I learned that I had passed and was invited to write a short biography, a paragraph or two, to be posted on the Fusion alumni website identifying me as a therapeutic coach. I had been encouraged that my guinea pig clients, volunteers for the purpose of my learning, had both said that they had felt helped by my therapeutic coaching and gave positive feedback on the way that I used the structured techniques, e.g. my use of the guided meditation, tailored to their language and metaphors. And yet, when asked to describe myself as a therapeutic coach I hesitated. I didn’t fully understand why and requested a conversation with the course tutor to discuss options.

 

The course tutor encouraged me to think this through by writing about it – putting ones thoughts into words is a useful reflective process that can lead to clarity. This paper is the culmination of my reflections.

 

About my role

 

Fundamentally I work with people who work with people. This means providing space for them to reflect on their practice – this is usually known as professional or clinical supervision. My clients are often care professionals in health, social service and third sector settings. Over the past few years I have noticed an increase in coaches, working in business settings, seeking me out for supervision.


The reason clients seek out or arrive at coaching often depends on whether they have personally chosen such a service, or that the organisation that they work for has imposed it upon them. The agenda they bring is usually, ostensibly, work related: performance issues, questions about their career path and concerns that they or those around them have about their ability to manage, or even rub along with, other people.

 

This ability to develop relationships with colleagues is often termed a soft skill; this seems bizarre to me as it is often one of the most difficult aspects of life in general. Working contexts are not devoid of other human beings, they are full of them.

 

As the relationship between coach and client develops, and trust is established, a link between work and other life issues is often made; clients frequently disclose a wide range of human needs.

 

At times there is a clear need to refer the client to a more qualified professional, drawn from a continuum of helping professions from counselling to psychiatry. Sometimes it seems better to hold the personal issue, by coach and client exploring and resolving the difficulty. These are the dilemmas and issues that coaches bring to supervision.

 

And so, my clients are not clients in the usual sense of the word – they do not come to me for coaching or counselling. They come to think through the challenges and successes they are experiencing with their clients, in whatever setting that happens to be.

 

My work is carried out within safe and agreed boundaries designed to help my clients to engage in a conversation with a purpose – i.e. to enable their clients to get the best possible care, solution, or way forward in their life or career.

 

I often work with people who have similar skills to my own and regard my clients as peers. We could easily swap places and they could help me to reflect. I know of several instances where helping professionals engage in such reciprocal supervision where time is exchanged without any financial transaction.

 

The question underlying my hesitation to call myself a therapeutic coach began to formulate more strongly around how I might use the skills I had learned without inadvertently treating my peers as coaching or counselling clients.

 

My concern is rooted in a strong feeling that this could easily happen - in the sense that we are all wounded healers. My recent bereavement had shown me, painfully and sharply, how close the line is between helper and helpee.

 

Furthermore, this personal experience has also reminded me that my supervisees are always human first, and from time to time the personal needs of the worker do need priority of attention. At such times I borrow a common phrase used in the airline industry. The safety briefing at the start of a flight reminds passengers to put on their oxygen mask first in the event of an emergency, before trying to help others.

 

Application of learning

 

Putting the helpful and grounded fear of straying into unnecessary and/or unwanted territory to one side I can see how much of my learning from the Fusion course can be put to use in a supervision context.

 

 

I can see many ways in which the Fusion training mimics, supports or enhances the service I provide as a professional supervisor, for example

 

• Accelerated methods to establish rapport

• A fundamental bedrock of listening upon which all other skills, techniques and interventions are based

• Enhanced listening that needs to be demonstrated through more than a nodding head and use of minimal cues

• Clarity of intention

 The nutshell question, getting to the essence of the story very quickly

• SMART goals can easily be adapted to the work of a supervisee or its use with the client encouraged

• The Wheel of Life can also be used with clients and I can see that encouraging the use of such tools will enhance the quality of the directive element of my supervision.

 

Conclusion

 

My plan is to extend my supervision offer to a those professionals who find themselves at the boundary between traditional counselling and coaching norms. I have already met a steady and increasing trickle of people who describe themselves coaches and facilitators, who are seeking out opportunities to reflect meaningfully on their practice. My range has widened since I completed the Fusion course.

 

I understand that the main regulatory bodies for psychotherapy and counselling insist that supervisors of their registrants are also registered. I will continue to respect this requirement and do not plan to offer supervision to such people.

 

I may offer therapeutic coaching to clients if they happen to pass my way. Already most of my work is by referral. I have no formal strategy to advertise my services and do not plan to instigate one. My key underlying decision here is about remaining open to possibility.

 

I have made a commitment, to myself, to write as a way of supporting other people who do the same or similar work. The Fusion course has increased my confidence to write in a variety of ways - from academic through professional, onto chatty and including personal reflections. I intend to use all of these styles, in any combination that seems appropriate, to share my learning with interested others.

 

Steve Dilworth

April 2015

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