Coach Trainer Rob Stringer talks to students about when to refer a coaching client to another professional.
I am often asked in class about making referrals—when and how do you do it? Great questions! Here are a few thoughts that might help, and spark some further conversation …
How might I know it’s time to suggest/make a referral?
The short answer is, when you feel you are not able to help your client make progress towards their stated goal(s). (This is also part of the ICF Code of Ethics–#8 https://coachfederation.org/code-of-ethics)
I use the analogy of sitting in a car with my client—where the client is in the driver’s seat determining where we go and how quickly or slowly we get there. In this case, if it feels like we’re driving in circles or are in the ditch spinning our wheels, it may be time to think about exploring the idea of working with another support professional and/or concluding your coaching sessions.
That said, don’t rely solely on your own perceptions—ask your clients about the value they are receiving—you may be surprised. I’ll periodically ask near the end of a session, “With only a few minutes left, I’m curious if you wanted to comment on any insights / value you’ve received today, or if there is anything else you might like to comment on?” (Notice I left it very open.) I’ve had times where I felt we were standing still but the client shared lots of perceived value.
How do I bring up the topic of a referral without them feeling judged?
When I first became a coach, I too wondered what the best way would be to approach the idea of a referral with clients. I was worried they may take offence due to stigma in their minds that may be attached to seeing a therapist, etc. However, over the years, I’ve found a strategy that has worked well for me and may give you some ideas of what you might say …
I say something like, “I’m curious, have you ever considered talking with a therapist about this?” Funny enough, clients often are quite positive–telling me they’ve worked with therapists before and are open to the idea. However, I’m also prepared for people who might say something like, “Why? Do you think I’m crazy?” (Or something negative.) To these people I say something like, “Not at all. It’s kind of like going to your family doctor–they are very skilled and knowledgeable and can help you with many things, but if you needed a heart transplant, you’d probably want to work with a surgeon who has specialized skills and knowledge. It’s the same with coaches and therapists–we share a lot of the same skills, but therapists also have specialized training and tools that can better support people in certain situations.” In these cases, the clients have realized my question was coming from a place of caring and support and the rest of the conversation was very pleasant.