A Research Paper By Yoky Yu, Life Coach, SPAIN
Experiential and Therapeutic Coaching the Serendipitous Inner Alchemy With Psychodrama and Tao
This article aims to explore the use of experiential/therapeutic approaches in the context of individual coaching and group facilitation. Psychodrama is analyzed here as an important example of an experiential action method. Taoism is studied to serve as the philosophical base that provides solid ontological foundations in a coaching encounter.
The outcome is to negotiate space for a type of blended coaching with an integrative and holistic mindset, to serve the purpose of co-creation and co-experimentation. The author of this article is a professional life coach, group facilitator, and experiential healer.
What Are Experiential and Therapeutic Coaching?
There are two types of therapeutic coaching, depending on the competency of the practitioner and contract formed with the client:
- Blended coaching and therapy (coaching in a therapy session, led by a qualified therapist).
- Blended coaching with exercises adapted from therapeutic practices (bodywork, visualization, object work, theatrical work, expressive arts, etc, led by a qualified coach with expertise in certain areas.)
The second approach is the focus of this research.
Psychodrama as a repertoire
Psychodrama is an action method created by Dr. Jacob Moreno and his wife Zerka Moreno. It contains a realm of tools and processes such as:
- bodywork; object work
- classic techniques such as the empty chair exercise
- the concept of stage
- doubling (coach as double)
When there is inner conflict, there is disintegration. When the client wishes to be rid of certain pain, it might be an opportunity to invite the pain to come out and reveal itself. According to Jung (1962), “The essential thing is to differentiate oneself from these unconscious contents by personifying them, and at the same time to bring them into a relationship with consciousness. That is the technique for stripping them of their power.”(P. 187 cited in Stephenson, 2013, p.4) To give voice to the personal material, could enable the client to claim one’s power and view the issue at hand with a fresh perspective.
The concept of spontaneity is at the core of psychodrama, where scenes, perspectives, and roles are developed and transformed in a group (or individual) session. “Acting” versus dwelling on words makes this method distinct from traditional talk-based approaches. “Dramatization promotes the conscious experience of what is structured dramatically in the unconscious, giving space to difficult feelings rather than cutting off conflicts with deductive reasoning.” (Stephenson, 2013, P 138) The spirit of improvisation is the foundation of experiential coaching sessions, combining creativity with consciousness.
As discussed in The Oxford Handbook Of Critical Improvisation Studies, improvisation has been referred to as being both “creator and witness” and “inventor and recipient”. It’s a balance between self-expression and self-monitoring.“To interact spontaneously and creatively requires that we constantly confront the unknown in ourselves and others. The notion of self as a finished, perfected product is a comforting illusion, which the cultural conserves of groups and societies reinforce.” (Stephenson, 2013, p.4)
To further explain the balance of improvisation, it is like not falling for a person’s mind tricks. “The transcendent function is realized synchronistically when there is a shift away from a desire to know and control towards a desire to relate and understand. (Beebe 1993, p.118)” (Cited in Stephenson, 2013, P 176)Celebrating the ability to improvise means allowing serendipitous moments to occur between action and inaction, with the awareness of cultivating Inner Alchemy, a concept from Taoism.
The Serendipitous Inner Alchemy
Return to Origin
The metaphor of alchemy was significantly utilized by Jung. “Alchemy describes a process such as a distillation in three stages: nigredo, albedo, rubedo (Edinger 1995).” “…the alchemists rejected the dichotomy within the Greek philosophical tradition between body and spirit, and between inanimate and animate objects. They perceived a continuum between the spiritual and the material, a united reality set in motion by continuous dynamism that goes from the invisible to the visible and vice versa….(see Von Franz 1980)” (Cited in Stephenson, 2013, P 141) Therefore, there is no separation between the client’s desire to “solve a problem” or “achieve a goal”, and “becoming oneself.” The coach shall not focus on the “issue” with tunnel vision, but always regard the client as a whole, returning to origin while moving forward.
The notion of returning to origin can not be understood literarily: “…the return to the origin in Taoist inner alchemy does not mean going back to original chaos, or chaotic unconsciousness, but evolving into complete consciousness. The ‘vacant consciousness 虚意识’ is limitless consciousness and pure non-objectified consciousness, which is not filled with any conscious objects. The universe is full of this pure consciousness.”(Mou, 2012, pp. 206-207) Therefore, to gain consciousness, one must connect with one’s universe, which can be manifested through the exploration of roles. Humans trap themselves when roles are stuck, but gain mobility when they are fluid. “Moreno refuses the idea of a latent structure that pre-exists the performance of roles. The self emerges from roles.” (Stephenson, 2013, P 143)
Action Versus Inaction
How can inner alchemy be achieved? The famous notion of Wuwei has been misunderstood by many, for people’s perception of it being passive. “For Taoist inner alchemy, action in the practice of life is to attain non-action in the practice of nature…on the level of coherent non-action and the great Tao, there are neither following nor opposing; following and opposing should be surpassed.” The balance of the two opposites, each in another, is an ideal state to be in. If it sounds paradoxical, it is because “the language used by philosophical Taoism and Taoist inner alchemy was not that of logic but was called the ‘phenomenology of the practice of the Tao 修道现象学.’…the language of the practice of the Tao is a language of wisdom full of paradoxes. (Mou, 2012, pp. 202-203)
To emphasize the point that the coaching process shouldn’t be a passive one, it is important to point out that “The Taoists do nothing, but they also say that nothing is left undone…Because they never anticipate things or linger over them, they can become the masters of all living things….They have limits that are no limits: they adapt to things by harmonizing with them. (Sima Tan said in “On Six Lineages of Thought” 司马谈《论六家要旨》) (Hu, 2013, p. 49) This inner harmony must be achieved through the blend of stillness and active creation, often spontaneously occurring in the “here and now.”
…Moreno writes: “The here (this place) and now (this moment) of existence is a dialectic concept’ (Moreno and MORENO 1959, p.226) (Cited in Stephenson, 2013, P 148)
When the personal materials are addressed from the here and now, it also involves the use of intuition-Henri Bergson’s principle of élan vital. “Bergson (1946) saw intuition as a mode of reflection and a method of thinking in duration (Bergson 1946, p.88). For Bergson, intuition directly perceives and experiences the continuous flow of reality… ‘duration’ could be understood in terms of the numinous experience of archetypal expressions. ‘Deeply integrative numinous experiences can feel both utterly new and as though they had always been somehow known’ (Hunt 2012, p.78)” (Cited in Stephenson, 2013, P 149)
In all vagueness, what are the fundamental values that one can fall back on, to return to the origin? “…we may consider the Taoist moral concepts of ‘goodness’ (shan善) ‘compassion,’ (ci 慈) ‘sincerity’ (cheng诚) and ‘ faithfulness’ (xin信) as the ‘four sports.’ Taoist philosophers pay a lot of attention to the function of these four sprouts, and consider them as steps into the realm of Dao.”
Authenticity, honesty, and vulnerability can be found in the notion of “returning to the origin.” Lao-tzu’s ‘Empty the self and embrace peace, return to the origin and retrieve nature’ anticipates ‘he who follows remains mortal, he who opposes becomes immortal.’ Immortal means ‘to refine nature and return to the origin.’ The thing-in-itself 物自身is a self-such (tathātā, in Buddhist terms) 如and an organic whole with a universal interaction. (Mou, 2012, Pp. 191-194)
Important Considerations in Experiential and Therapeutic Coaching:
- focus on the “here and now”, including the “now” of the effect from the past.
- dual roles of the coach/ facilitator (moments of the coach; moments of scene director)
- spiritually aware and trauma-sensitive (recognize without needing to go into the effect resulting from previous trauma)
- clearly defined ethics (conflict of interest; dual-relationships, small community setting)
- psychological safe-guarding when issues of abuse, addiction, or other types of psychological subjects emerge; transference and counter-transference informed
- the option to blend non-invasive therapeutic exercises with the client’s permission, aiming to foster awareness that could potentially contribute to the goal of the client.
- sufficient training, supervision, and support network for the therapeutic coach
Case Study 1:
Context: Judy worried about her son’s decision to drop out of medical school. With the stress from the pandemic, she believed that his success or failure academically would have a direct result on her life.
Empty Chair Technique:
The client was permitted to partake in an empty chair exercise, where she would speak about her worries to her son, who would be imagined to be sitting in the chair facing her.
The coach noticed that there was a cup of water on her desk and invited her to look at the son with the water in front of her eyes.
“What do you notice?”
“He is smaller in my eyes than he is.”
As a result, the client came to her awareness that she had been shrinking his abilities as an adult to take charge of his own decisions.
The coach didn’t manipulate the outcome or knew that the image would be smaller through the glass. It was an intuitive moment where the coach and the client co-experimented.
The coaching session was conducted via video conference.
Case Study 2:
Lilian was feeling unsure about getting a Ph.D. or finding another job, after being fired from her position during the pandemic. She was invited to formulate a question in her mind about the decision that she needed an answer for; she was also invited to set specific intentions on what she would like to achieve.
NüShu Symbol Cards & Scene:
A deck of symbol cards with NüShu characters was introduced in the coaching process. The cards with symbols were drawn, with the meaning of those symbols on the back of each card, written in Chinese.
A Psychodrama Scene occurred when the client played the role of a river, which was the inspiration drawn from the cards. The coach put on the hat of a scene partner and played the character of a stone. The client embodied her values and vision through the process. After de-rolling and going back to the coaching conversation, further steps and actions were discussed.
Experiential and Therapeutic Coaching
Coaching, combined with another area of expertise, could yield chemistry and organic growth that are appropriate and powerful for the client. Great care, agreement, competency, ethics, and aligned expectations from the coach, make the foundation of a successful blended session.
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