This article is an interview with a client that seeks to document the richness and profound client development from a transformational oriented coaching relationship of 20 sessions over the course of 6 months. This includes both the client’s reflections and my own perspectives as a coach. We explore these nooks and crannies in the organic and non-linear way we worked together.
As our work as coaches is meant to focus on the needs and satisfactions of our clients, if this approach has value, who better than a client to talk about it?
I think the possibilities of coaching to nurture deeper transformation in a non-linear and organic way are more profound than most realize. I seek to demonstrate the power of this approach on both our clients and ourselves as coaches.
So, here are a series of questions exploring our work together. For each question I have put Jo’s responses first (J) and then added my own (C). Jo’s responses often move from qualities of changed experience to then providing an example of how things have changed in her life.
Overall coaching approach
What were your initial hopes and expectations of our coaching work?
J – First I think it’s important to mention that after being coached by you during a 15 minute coaching session in the ICA Coaching Practicum, I was drawn to work with you. Although I didn’t know exactly where it would lead to at that point, your style of coaching resonated with me.
My initial hopes and expectations were centered on gaining more personal understanding of and improving my relationship with work and money. I was also in a period of transition between jobs, and wondering whether I wanted to move back from Australia to my country of birth (UK). Looking back, I was in quite a restless space, and searching for a sense of peace and home.
C – My own goals as a coach were in three areas:
How would you describe how we worked together?
J – I would describe it as a peaceful, spacious, exploratory, trusting coaching relationship in which I was able to show up, slow down and get to know myself on a deeper level.
I’ve often used the word magical to describe how we worked together, and it really is, as I rarely knew which direction our sessions might go in, but that in itself was truly liberating and a learning in itself.
I feel very lucky to have experienced transformational coaching at this stage in my coaching career, and I recommend this style of coaching for people who are going through a particular life transition, or who have had a knowing for a while that something in their life isn’t on track, but they don’t fully know why or what to do about it.
C – For me this meant me being present to J and trusting that whatever came up that had energy to it was worthy of appreciating and exploring. It meant that I slowly became better at trusting my instincts and if some thought or question came up in me out of the blue in our session I would share it and see how it might contribute.
What would you say have been some of the key developments for you in our work together?
J – Gosh… it’s been bigger than I could ever have anticipated or expected, and I think my lack of intellectual and experiential understanding of transformational coaching helped, as I allowed myself to go with the flow, remain open-minded, and experience it.
Some of the key developments include:
I look at things very differently now; I am more grounded, focused on my own life (not others lives) and as a result have more energy to enjoy my life, rather than looking to others to provide me with a sense of identity.
One of the biggest developments for me has been allowing myself to fully experience and live out an ending, as opposed to emotionally detaching from endings.
When you and I started working together I had finished a contract role and was in between jobs. I was enjoying my time off (to a degree) but was also experiencing fear around not earning an income, and as much as I enjoyed my own company, I was also missing the company of others in an office environment.
I took a new role and very quickly learnt that it was not suitable for me. Within three months, I had left the job, which is the first time in my career that a) I have left a job that quickly, and b) I haven’t stayed in a situation to “try and make it work” (an old pattern of mine).
Going through the experience of making a decision on what was best for me personally as well as being emotionally, psychologically and physically present for this ending provided me with a huge growth opportunity. I came out the other end with a different perspective on life; more grounded, whole, respectful of myself, accepting of myself, accepting of others, and much clearer of my own values! I also learnt that it’s not so scary to allow myself to be emotionally present during times of endings.
Personal Reflections on this approach to coaching
What surprised you the most in our work?
J – Aside from the tremendous shifts I have made, what has surprised me most is the power of being present with others, holding a trusting space for others to experience transformation, and the impact that consistent weekly 1 hr sessions can have on my life. Thinking about it, investing 0.01% of my week in coaching (yes I calculated it!), has been the best investment of my time in my life.
C – What surprised me the most is that I was enough. I spent a lot of my history valuing study and answers and experts and the right solutions. It has been wonderful to come to appreciate the value of just being myself and letting all my past experiences and learnings be good enough. It seemed that there was a deeper wisdom at work where past experiences or ideas would be called forth when needed or appropriate. And the more I relaxed into this the more I felt like I could contribute with greater ease to J and her own natural unfolding and evolution.
What excited you the most from your development and our work together?
J – One of the most exciting things for me is the peace of mind that I am experiencing in a more consistent manner. After “striving” for inner peace over the last 15 years and thinking that I would find it outside of myself, whether that be living on a Himalayan mountaintop or in a beachside property in Australia, I realized that it’s within me, not outside of me. And it’s easy to say, “Yes I get this” on an intellectual level and another thing to understand it on an experiential level and really embody it, which is how I feel about my life right now.
Learning to accept who I am has been tremendously liberating, and I learn new things about myself all the time. I’ve dropped comparing myself to others, acceptance-seeking behaviors and am listening more to my own judgment. Again, I’ve read all about this stuff in personal development books over the years, but the coaching work we have done together has really helped me integrate it into my life.
As a result, I’m more grateful for what I have in my life, a lot more discerning about the people I spend time with and the decisions I make, and the overachiever in me has started to relax, as I’ve provided space for it and allowed other aspects of myself to live. Life for me at this point in time is about quality, not quantity – quality moments with my husband and family, friends, with my two gorgeous cats. I feel very blessed to have been provided with and taken the opportunity to allow these inner shifts to take place.
C – One of the things that I found really exciting is how much development and evolving is possible in a relatively brief period of time. This was no doubt impacted by how engaged and open and possibly ready for deeper transformation J was. Her level of passion and taking responsibility for her life was really exciting to be witness and support.
What impact have you seen from this coaching in your life? Work? Relationships?
I’ve become firmer in when and where I spend my time and whom I spend it with, and I’ve dropped the guilt around making decisions that work for me first and foremost. I’ve noticed that those friendships that were one-sided, i.e. I was always there to listen to friends but it was rarely reciprocated, have dropped off the scene without me having to take any specific action. I recognize my part in that whole relationship and have consciously made a decision to bring richer, deeper, and more balanced friendships into my life.
My career formed a large part of my identity for my entire working life, and even though I recognised this to some degree, it was through our coaching work, that I noticed it on a deeper level. My survival mode was through people-pleasing and over-achieving at work. I was the chick in the office that was always smiling (I could be hurting on the inside) but I always presented with a smile, I would take on way too many tasks and would do whatever was required to get it done within budget and timeframes. I liked it that way, I got a strange sense of satisfaction from living like that.
What I did know on some level is that working like that wasn’t bringing me the fulfillment I thought it would. I was looking for love and acceptance in the wrong places. And I wasn’t receiving much respect from work colleagues, quite the opposite if I’m very honest with myself. I think I believed that because I was a “nice” person and always accommodating to others, that others would treat me with the same courtesy and respect. Nope! Thankfully, life provided me with an opportunity to change this behavior and supply a coach to help me do it.
Reflection on the process of our coaching work
What qualities of coaching had most impact for you? the value of the process ? the coach? rapport? shared values?
J – For me, your qualities as a coach were the most impactful aspects of coaching. Very close to the outset of our coaching relationship, I had developed trust and respect for you as my coach, which I now believe are two crucial ingredients for a successful coaching relationship. It goes way beyond simply establishing and building rapport.
As a client, my mind was elsewhere during the coaching sessions, so I had no mental space or desire to focus on the process itself. It was all about the depth of presence you shared with me and the poignant questions you asked. The way I felt during and after each coaching session was a big enough signal to me that this stuff was working, and powerfully so!
C – I came to have a deeper appreciation for my own natural curiosity and love of exploring the depths of what J was talking about or experiencing. I really do enjoy feeling deeply into what another person is experiencing and this curiosity feels like a real ally in coaching. The other thing that I came to value is my desire to appreciate all facets and aspects of what J was thinking or experiencing. Too often we have our inner judgments or stories about our own experiences and I love bringing a sense of acceptance to all of who a client is, including the shadows and darker bits.
A real insight for me was the value in helping clients defuse their inner sense of themselves. By this I mean helping them come to appreciate all the unique aspects of their inner life. Three key facets are, one, the essence or heart of the client where their best and most natural selves reside. The two other facets that usually emerge are the critic and the wounded parts of ourselves. By coming to appreciate each of these, our hearts and essence can be brought more to the drivers seat and the critic and wounded child can become better integrated and related passengers through the journey of our lives.
Reflections on the role of the client
What are key things you did as a client that contributed to your development?
J – I allowed myself to listen to the hunches and other feelings I was experiencing, and brought them to our coaching sessions to explore. At times, I couldn’t make sense of things, but by the end of the coaching session, I would feel an immense sense of peace, calm and clarity about things.
I developed courage to take action on things that I hadn’t previously experienced. I kept an open mind, and allowed myself to slow down, get comfortable with the unknown and develop a deeper connection with myself. I came to feel much more whole as a person, and excited and optimistic about my future.
C – I think J was powerful in her passion for our coaching sessions and towards wanting to learn and develop in whatever ways could possibly happen. Working with J was a joy as she was so good at taking responsibility for her life and looking deeper into her present and past experiences to see what she could learn about herself and her life. She also came to trust herself in talking about whatever was coming up in our sessions, even if initially it felt odd or awkward. Often these mysterious thoughts or observations would lead us to some of the most fascinating insights or learnings.
How much time do you think the sort of development you have experienced needs?
J – We worked together for 5-6 months, which was the right amount of time for me, and it flew by. I do consider myself a fast learner, but obviously not in all areas of my life, otherwise I wouldn’t need a coach!
I do think that this timeframe really helped me to learn, experience and integrate new ways of being. That being said, everyone is in a different place in their journey, so a shorter commitment might suffice for others.
C – I was amazed how much unfolded in J over the course of 6 months and 20 sessions. I was curious about how much real transformation can happen in relatively short periods of time. Working with J suggested there is a lot that is possible. I can imagine some periodic sessions over the next 6-12 months would be valuable in reinforcing developments and to protect against possible slippage back into old stories or habits that no longer serve the client and her new awareness and identity.
Suggestions for the future
In contrast to the GROW model and more cognitive and behavioral coaching approaches, what value did a more organic approach have to your experiences?
J – A more organic approach gave me the space and flexibility to explore what was most important to me at a given point in time. I think the rigidity of some models such as GROW would’ve stifled my ability to do that. In my opinion, GROW has its place in coaching, such as in performance-based organizational coaching, but it doesn’t lend itself well to transformational coaching.
An organic approach can really serve the best interests of the client, and I think it takes a certain level of experience and confidence (as well as desire and interest) for a coach to be able to use an organic approach in coaching.
C – My own style, values and experience support a more organic and less linear problem solving approach to coaching. I know this isn’t for everyone, so it will be helpful for me to give potential clients a taste of what this is like. I need to talk about this in my upfront contracting stage so to assure a good fit. This approach puts a deep value on the process and the moment to moment experience with the client. It also suggests that whatever the client is working on in their life will show up naturally in our sessions so we can work on them as they arise.
What else can you share from your experiences you can imagine could be helpful for other students/coaches?
J – I’ve learnt that the most important thing is to get in touch with, listen to, and act based on what you think is right for you.
For example, in relation to my ICA studies, I spent time and energy creating a marketable acronym for my coaching model because I saw many examples on the forum so I thought that’s what I should be doing. I did come up with one and built a coaching model around it, but I didn’t fully resonate and connect with the first draft of the model.
From my perspective, in terms of transformational coaching, clients are attracted to work with us as coaches (often subconsciously) because they sense on many levels that we are living true to ourselves, and they want to live true to themselves. If our model is not truly reflective of our unique approach to coaching, then we will be out of alignment when discussing our coaching style with clients, which will do us both a disservice.
So I’m now allowing my coaching model to evolve and truly reflect who I am, it might not have an acronym and now I’m ok with that J.
C – I came into ICA and working with J wondering what was possible to support and create in a client? What could be really achieved on a deeper level with our clients? Watching J bring many different facets of her life to our work and seeing her develop new and more satisfying ways to relate to herself and life was really exciting. And my work with J and other clients suggests that what we can accomplish in coaching is only limited by the client’s and coach’s imaginations and engagement with the work.
As you reflect on the longer arc of your life, how can you imagine this work impacting your values and sense of Self and longer term life fulfillment?
J – Well, I believe that I’m a lot clearer on my values now. Values were always elusive to me before. I would think that I had my values down pat, and that I would be able to rattle them off should I ever be asked what they were! I completed VIA values tests, strengths surveys, HBDI surveys, all sorts of surveys to be able to “get a handle” on what my values were.
I’ve dropped all that now! A much easier thing is to spend a little time reflecting on how I spend my time and money. At this point in my life, I value travel, self-reflection and self-development (which includes coaching), quality time with loved ones, reading, interior designing, street photography, photography exhibitions, contemporary art, and fashion.
I’ve also rediscovered my passion for theatre and food, and recently went to my first play in many years, and I’m about to become more involved with the Slow Food Movement in my local area. What’s different is this happened organically, I didn’t sit down and say to myself, “OK, I’ve spent a lot of my life focused on work, life coaching is about balancing all areas of my life, so therefore I need to schedule time in for fun. Mmmm… what do I find fun? Ah yes, the theatre”. That would’ve been too contrived, and something that I tried in the past and it didn’t work.
I’ve opened my mind up to considering and visualizing new ways of living and being.
This summer we had a trip back to visit my family and I realized that it was my family that I miss, not the UK or the British lifestyle. So after announcing earlier this year that my husband and I were going to move to the UK next year, I recently told my family that we’re not moving back, instead we are going to schedule a holiday together each year and I will visit more frequently if I need to fulfill a yearning to spend some time with my family. I’m doing what’s right for me, and if others don’t understand or agree, that’s ok.
I envisage that I’ll continue to live a life that is meaningful to me, for I now realize that this is where fulfillment of life emanates from. Plus by staying true to myself, I provide a space for those around me to do the same – which I think is a huge gift.
I have no doubt that there will be challenges from time to time that will offer me the opportunity to grow and learn, and I now have a coach who can support me on that journey!
C – The impact of this work with J has been powerful for me. She represents the sort of passionate and engaged client I want to work with. Our work together has helped me come to trust myself and my presence and passion for supporting clients transformations in a deeper way.
I feel more excited about being myself and showing up with conviction in the work I do. I came from a protestant background where being understated and not prideful were valued. So I’d always been overly understated and almost shy about the work I do. I now feel more excited about helping as many people as I can fulfill more of their natural instincts in life. This experience with J has given me a great example of what is possible in a coaching relationship and a rich story to tell others so they may be able to get a sense of what is possible in their own lives and from a rich coaching experience.
Summary and bigger story
All three of the goals I had as coach have been realized to one degree or another:
A bigger picture curiosity I lived much of my life out of is ‘how much can we really change, develop or evolve in this life?’ From my own rich development with Jo and her evolution, I believe that our own development is limited primarily by our imaginations and commitments.
The approach to coaching we have documented here does feel more like an art than a science. The potency of the coach is directly tied to the inner development the coach has crafted and the creative imagination that can be cultivated with the client. There are no right answers or linear planning approach that I’ve found that works for deeper transformation. We open ourselves to the great mysteries in our clients and ourselves and the coaching process.
In our current times of seemingly constan flux and change, I believe our ability to nurture the souls and deeper values and visions of our clients is being cried out for. I hope that in some way this documentary can be an ally and support for coaches and clients curious about what is possible in our work and lives.
I feel a profound sense of gratitude to all the clients I have had the pleasure of working with and learning from. And a big thanks to Jo for sharing her self and her heartfelt experiences and insights with such a spirit of generosity.
For those of you who are curious about other resources that inform a more organic and transformational approach to coaching I recommend:
Thomas Moore, ‘The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life’ – does what it says on the tin from a Jungian and very accessible perspective. If I could only have one coach resource book on my desert island, this would be it. For coaches I would especially recommend the chapter on the Therapists Chair where he writes beautifully that ‘care of the soul doesn’t take place in a clinic or consulting room (or skype session?); it happens every time we do anything that nourishes the breath of life, whether the breath is calm and secure in our homes and families or excited in panic, anger, fear, or confusion.’( p.186)
Carl Rogers, ‘On Becoming a Person – A Therapists View of Psychotherapy’ – A collection of writings by the great humanist and person centered therapist. Roger’s view is that we are self healing, self directed. His approach was for the counselor to gently facilitate the process whereby a client moves toward their own wholeness. There is a great youtube of him in sessions with a woman named Gloria that are a wonderful teacher for we coaches.
Brenda Ueland, ‘If you Want to Write’ – a small and poetic view of the unique brilliance in all of us and the value of authentically expressing our own experiences in life.
Anne Simmonds, ‘The Story Factor’ – rich exploration of both the role and power of the stories we tell in life, especially good for business settings and the idea of learning to tell or encourage in our clients bigger stories that transcend problems.
Ginnete Paris,’ Wisdom of the Psyche’ – tells of authors own near death accident and her recovery and what she has learned about the wisdom of our inner selves and the value of our imaginations.
Peter Block, ‘Flawless Consulting’ – great perspective on the value of authenticity, being present and the value of a process oriented approach in working with clients. Also covered is some great information on the hows and whys of good contracting.
Jay Earley, ‘Self Therapy for Your Inner Critic’ – writes about Internal Family Systems and insightfully and simply provides coaches a way to help defuse ones sense of Self and come to appreciate the uniqueness of our essence in contrast to our inner critic and the wounded aspects of ourselves. This allows us to put our heart and core of ourselves back in the drivers seat and get to know and appreciate the needs of the critic and our wounds which loosens their power of us.