Most counselling and psychotherapy training courses require trainees to enter into personal therapy as part of the process, often for the entire duration of the course. As well as helping potential practitioners become aware of areas of personal sensitivity, hurt and trauma, it can also help shine a light on unconscious bias, all of which have the potential to impact on our work with clients. But just as importantly, it’s a dynamic way to learn how to be a therapist, and to experience what it feels like to be in the client’s chair.
It’s not so clear cut with coaching. If you’re investing a significant sum in coach training, you may understandably be reluctant to spend more money on being coached, if it’s not a requirement of your course. And given that most coach training courses include an experiential element, you may feel it’s enough to be coached by your fellow trainees. But is it really OK to offer coaching if you’ve never experienced it for yourself? After all, if you believe that coaching is an effective, useful and even potentially life-changing process for others, what stops you accessing that for yourself?
I have invested in short courses of coaching to help me shape my offering as a practitioner and identify the kind of coach I want to be and the clients I want to work with. Outcomes aside, I found the experience of being a coachee nvaluable. I felt unsettled by one coach who had a flexible approach to time, often allowing our sessions to run slightly over. It reaffirmed for me that a consistent ‘frame’ for sessions is as essential for holding coaching clients as it is for counselling clients. By contrast, I valued the careful self-disclosure from one coach about her own challenges in setting up a practice. It felt like a generous and giving gesture.
Like a magpie, I have also unashamedly collected ‘gems’ from other coaches, and used them in my own practice. I loved the post-session pro-forma document sent by one coach, breaking down what we covered in the session, not least because it freed me up to forgo note-taking in our next session (and that’s not easy for someone trained as a journalist). I also appreciated the opportunity to re-read the records of those sessions to see where I was with the outcomes I set for myself at the time. I have since created my own pro-forma note document for clients, which is consistently favourably received.
In a recent Therapy Today article1, I explored why so few therapists continue with personal therapy once they have qualified. Many of the barriers discussed by the therapists I interviewed could equally apply to accessing coaching, such as seeing other practitioners as business competitors; not knowing if a practitioner has relevant experience; and concern over boundary issues and overlap at CPD or networking events. Many also expressed reluctance to add another regular ‘outgoing’ to the already long list of costs involved in working in private practice.
But what I also found was that many practitioners found other ways to ensure they got the support and opportunity for personal development they needed. Two of the most common are also applicable to coaching – peer support and supervision – discussed below by Steve Page, on his experience of being part of a coaching circle, and by Carolyn Mumby, on the boundary between supervision and coaching.
As coaches, we know that reflecting on key questions can help the decision-making process. Here are some I thought about before embarking on personal coaching: what do I want to achieve from coaching? Are my expectations realistic? How and when would I like coaching to take place? How much am I prepared to invest? What unhelpful beliefs could influence my decision?
In the end, I decided that getting coaching was part of ensuring I ‘walk my talk’. I’m about to invest in more coaching again this year, and I feel a tingle of anticipation at the prospect of discovering what doors will open as a result, and what lies beyond.
Sally Brown is Deputy Chair of BACP Coaching
1 Brown S. Walking our talk. Therapy Today 2018; 29: (8–11).
This may be old-fashioned, but I believe passionately that to do the work I do with clients, I must have the best possible understanding about what it is like to sit in that other chair in my consulting room. (I use the word ‘chair’ symbolically, as it may be the sofa in my consulting room, or it may be a seat in a café or hotel for those I see elsewhere, but I shall come on to that.)
When I first started working as a counsellor/therapist with private clients, I was already taking part in an intense personal development group, and I went on to have individual therapy for nearly five years with my first two therapists. I was hungry for this experience, and the combination of personal life events and my client work provided me with what at times felt like a never-ending stream of issues, complexes, insecurities and hang-ups to work on with my therapist.
Twenty-five years later, when I was developing my work as a coach, I didn’t feel the same need or hunger to go out and find my own coach. I did of course experience being coached during my training, but in very small doses and with the artificiality inherent in being in the ‘client’ seat on training programmes. I found other coaches with whom I could share experiences, receive supervision and for a year I contracted with an experienced coach for some very illuminating coach mentoring sessions.
Then I was introduced to the Coaching Circle1, based here in York, the purpose of which is to ‘…help coaches to develop their skills, receive feedback and gain direct experience of coaching’.2 It uses a very simple idea: a group of coaches all contract to participate, and each is matched with one member to be their coach and with a second member to be their coachee or ‘client’. So each coach is engaged in two quite separate coaching relationships, for a defined number of hours of coaching over a defined period of time. In the York Circle, the contract is for six hours of coaching over a four-month period, and each pair is left to agree the frequency, length and location of their sessions. It is made clear to participants that the Circle is not a substitute for coach training or supervision.
That brings me back to my earlier comment about ‘chairs’. One of the first surprises for me was discovering that many coaches in the Circle expect to undertake coaching in a café or hotel, or in one case, a university library. Up to that point, I had always applied my counselling expectations to the suitability of a venue: private, undisturbed, comfortable. However, in the spirit of learning, I have entered into the culture of the Circle and encouraged my ‘clients’ to select a venue where they feel comfortable. I have developed the capacity to create a bubble of focus around a table in a busy venue. When I am the client, I generally seek privacy and discretion, so that I feel no necessity to filter my thoughts before I speak them – I did cut my therapeutic teeth in encounter groups!
I am currently in my seventh round of the Circle (out of the 18 that have occurred since it started in 2012), having stepped in and out a few times over the five years since I first became involved. As client, I have explored various areas of my practice: articulating my coaching approach; my legacy as I contemplate retirement; balancing different aspects of work in my practice; the interplay between paid work and my creative activities. I have also explored more personal issues around relationships and aging. Some of my coaches have been highly person centred, one used a variety of creative techniques, others have encouraged me to reflect, using such tools as ‘clean language’, while some have taken a much more action-oriented approach. Each has been helpful and led to some combination of increased awareness, new understanding and behaviour or change of perspective. Alongside the benefits of their attention on me and my presenting issue, I have of course also learned a great deal by being on the receiving end of such a variety of coaching styles.
As coach in the Circle, I have worked with clients on developing their coaching offer or their business model; shaping coaching for specific purposes in their work; on personal issues that arise through their work; some we might think of as therapeutic, while others have had a more spiritual dimension. Through this, I have deepened my understanding of the subtlety and dynamic nature of the boundaries between coaching, therapy and supervision as well as having an explicit opportunity to try out novel coaching interventions.
The York scheme benefits greatly from having two committed co-founders, now the co-ordinators, who hold the participants’ details, undertake the subtle art of matching pairs of coaches, communicate arrangements and respond to any difficulties that occasionally arise. The co-ordinators also uphold and communicate the principles by which the Circle operates. They also convene a voluntary meeting of participants towards the end of each four-month round, in a much-loved York pub.
In York, the whole scheme operates without any payment between coach and client (or for taking part in the scheme), although feedback and occasionally testimonials are given. Only the coffee vendors and the publican benefit financially from this approach to coach development!
Steve Page is BACP Coaching’s Executive Specialist for Supervision
1 From exploration of the web, it appears that the term ‘coaching circle’ is used to describe different types of structures. Some, like the one in York, operate on a ‘round robin’ model, while others appear more like action learning sets, co-operative inquiry groups, offering coaching within a group framework.
2 Personal communication from Zoe Birch and Pam Wells, York Coaching Circle co-ordinators, reproduced with permission.
I have worked with three professional coaches, one before and two after I qualified as an executive coach and leadership mentor in 2009. Looking back, what stands out is the opportunity coaching gave me to notice how my own internal landscape and sense of myself impacted on the action I could take in the world, and vice versa. For example, I recognised that my area of scanning in relation to the needs of others was much greater than my partner’s; not right or wrong, just different and with different implications. I learned that I was always somewhat bemoaning my ‘busyness’ rather than reframing it as a satisfaction, which then enabled me to think more clearly about my need for further restorative space. I was encouraged as a writer and inspired to go further in taking courses in life writing and fiction. My current coach’s expertise is in working somatically with leaders. With her, I have found several parts of myself that I was less inclined to listen to, and seen the power of allowing them to be part of my resource. The time just for me is absolutely invaluable. She has a therapeutic background and while creating a powerful crucible for reflection, is very non-invasive, which is useful. I feel held and heard by another, hearing myself, and feeling my coach’s attentive concern as well as learning from their approach and way of being.
As a Time to Think coach myself, I also have two to three sessions a week of ‘thinking partnership’, which involves a group of coaches giving each other generative attention and building incisive questions. In my experience, this process really does produce ‘breakthrough, independent thinking’.1 I get to notice what I think or feel or want to say about anything, often leading to a deep exploration of my limiting assumptions about myself, a situation or relationship, or about the world. Having a regular space for finding and removing the untrue limiting assumptions and replacing them with true liberating assumptions, is invaluable. We usually meet virtually for an hour and divide the time, so this amounts to an hour or more of focused coaching for me every week. I also learn, of course, through hearing my fellow coaches think for themselves, as I learn through my clients.
Key to my development as a person and a professional coach has also been the supervision I have received from coach-therapists and pure coaches. This has included one-to-one work with a dual-trained practitioner; peer supervision focused on my work as an integrated practitioner using the personal consultancy framework; and one-to-one supervision with a very experienced executive coach supervisor. While a good proportion of the time has focused on direct work with clients, and ensuring that my practice is competent and ethical, there has also been space for me to focus on who I am and how I am, which of course is integral to my work with others. As Nancy Kline describes it: ‘Supervision is an opportunity to bring someone back to their own mind, to show them how good they can be’.2 Peer supervision has led to a cross-fertilisation of ideas about working in an integrated way with clients, highlighting the strength of this approach and its potential pitfalls, and learning together. I chose my current one-to-one supervisor for her extensive experience of working with executives in the corporate world as well as for the depth of her skills and presence as a supervisor. Committed to reflective practice, straight-talking without being abrasive, she has supported and challenged me to continue to recognise my worth, and to charge appropriately. I have developed my understanding of complex contracting and working flexibly with clear intentions, establishing and re-establishing clear boundaries when working with associates and organisations. I use the same reflection and preparation form that I make available to coaching clients, only slightly adapted for the purpose of supervision, which over time means that I have gathered a rich tapestry of reflections and intentions for my work and for myself.
A definition of coaching that stands out for me is that we are ‘partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential’.3 So for me, the answer to this question is a resounding, ‘Yes, I do need coaching if I work as a coach’. But I recognise that coaching occurs not just with coaches coaching, but also with coaches supervising and thinking together.
Carolyn Mumby is Chair of BACP Coaching
1 Time to Think. The Thinking Partnership course. [Online.] www.timetothink.com/course/the-thinkingpartnership-course (accessed 20 Feb 2019).
2 Kline N. Time to think: listening to ignite the human mind. London: Cassell; 1999.
3 European Mentoring and Coaching Council and International Coaching Federation. Joint code of conduct for coaching and mentoring. EMCC ICF; June 2011.