Tag Archives: coaches

When coaches and therapists work together

27 Aug

An increasingly common issue in my supervision is whether and how a coach or mentor can work alongside a therapist. How do you decide when it is appropriate to continue the coaching relationship and when you should withdraw until the client is in an appropriate state of mind to make effective use of the coaching opportunity? How wary should the coach be of interfering with the therapy? If the client wants to continue the coaching sessions, but the therapist is opposed, where do the coach’s responsibilities lie?

Some of my thinking around this issue so far revolves around context and this perspective seems to provide a basis for enabling coach and therapist to work in a complementary manner. To become a fully functional individual, a client needs to influence their internal context (the way they think and behave, their neuroses etc) and also their external environment (how they ensure that the people and systems around them are supportive of the internal changes they want to make). The issues of personal values, identity, life purpose and so on fall somewhere in the middle of these two perspectives.

It is understandable that some therapists would regard as intrusion or interference attempts by coaches to dig into issues such as these, while the client is undergoing therapy. And responsible coaches are equally wary of stepping over a line marked “amateur psychologist”.  Yet this caution may narrow the scope of their usefulness to the client, because understanding the client’s internal context is essential to helping them develop coping strategies for the external challenges.

I have increasingly come to the conclusion that coaches and therapists can achieve more for the client by working together. For example:

  • When a coaching client is referred to a therapist, the coach will often have a great deal of contextual information and insights that they can share (with the client’s permission), enriching the therapist’s understanding, particularly of the client’s external environment
  • When a client is not making progress and it appears that this is related to an internal psychological dysfunction, a therapist may be able to guide the coach on whether and how coaching can still be beneficial
  • The coach’s understanding of the work environment that the client operates in can support the therapist’s efforts by exploring practical changes in, for example, work routines, time management, negotiating workload with others or making career choices.
  • At a very general level, therapy tends to be problem-focused, while coaching (when done well) and mentoring are opportunity-focused. Great coaching conversations are punctuated by the laughter that comes from insights – a lightness and irreverence that may not be so easy to achieve (or desirable) in a traditional therapeutic environment. (Yes, I know there is also something called laughter therapy, but that’s not at the core of therapeutic practice)

Tripartite meetings between client, coach and therapist are still relatively rare, but appear to be valuable when they do occur. I am increasingly convinced of the need for a protocol that establishes good practice and expectations for coaches and therapists to work together. If both seek to achieve the best possible outcomes for their clients, then it is hard to see how that is achieved with rigid separation of the two roles.

I would welcome the thoughts of both coaches and therapists – and colleagues who span both worlds – in developing a deeper understanding of the issues involved here.


© David Clutterbuck 2013




Coaches and mentors bearing gifts

1 May

Studies have shown that overly altruistic motivations for coaching and mentoring tend to lead to more directive, unconsciously manipulative behaviours in the coach/mentor. “I want to put something back” or “I’ve got a lot of experience to share” may be altruistic in intent, but the underlying drivers are much more closely related to less noble motivations, such as needing to be needed, or boosting one’s own self-confidence. By contrast, the enlightened self-interest of being motivated to learn from being a coach or mentor is more closely associated with behaviours and behaviours, such as mindfulness, humility and non-directiveness.

A metaphor I find useful (and was reminded of in a recent coach supervision session) is that of bearing gifts. People give gifts for all sorts of reasons. For example, charities sometimes send a small gift to potential donors, in the hopes of stimulating enough guilt that the recipient will feel obliged to respond with a much more substantial gift of money. People may give expensive presents they can’t afford, to make themselves look wealthier, or to buy favours. (Intriguingly, in German, the word gift means poison!) Authentic giving, however, is based solely on the needs, welfare or happiness of the receiver – and it is this kind of giving that characterises the effective coach or mentor.

Some aspects of this kind of giving include the following:

• It is considered and thoughtful – the giver takes time to assess what is the right gift for this person, and the right time to provide it
• It comes without strings (overt or covert) attached
• It is born of a great respect – both for the client and for oneself

So what is it that coaches and mentors can give? Three common gifts are:

• Empathy. The most valuable gift is often a part of ourselves. By acknowledging the client and their needs, we provide a kinship that tells them they are supported, understood, valued and worthy. In mentoring, particularly, the relationship may evolve into the greater connectedness of professional friendship.
• Knowledge. Contrary to what many of the simplistic approaches to coaching say, authentic coaches do – selectively, humbly, intuitively – share knowledge when it is in the client’s best interests to do so. Such sharing is never a starting point for a coaching or mentoring conversation, but it often happens that there are gaps in the client’s knowledge, which cannot be filled by questioning. An analogy is: If you saw a blind person descending a staircase, on which a child had left a toy car, would you ask them “Tell me about the kind of dangers you might expect to experience with stairs?”
• Tools. Tools are a special form of knowledge. They give the client the ability to work things out for themselves, without depending on the coach / mentor to guide them with appropriate questions. The give the client increased independence and greater opportunities to continue the learning conversation in their own mind, through quiet, structured reflection between sessions

In our own reflections as coaches and mentors, it can provoke useful insight to ask ourselves:
• What is the nature of my professional giving? (What are my motivations?)
• What is the impact of my giving, on my client and on myself?
• Rather than expect gratitude for my gifts, how can I show that I am grateful that they have been accepted and acknowledged?

And sometimes, when I remember, I like to ask myself: “What is the gift I want or need to give to myself?”

© David Clutterbuck, 2013