Research Paper By Merel Nahuysen
(Cross Cultural Coach and Transformational Coach, MALAYSIA)
During the last three months of 2015 I coached an external client. Let’s call her MA. She is a highly educated woman in her 60s. MA is a self made energetic and ambitious woman. She immigrated from Venezuela to the US and she managed to work herself up the corporate career ladder successfully. After a failed marriage, in which she had two daughters, she decided to stay in New York, where she feels very content. She has worked hard all her life, first in the beauty industry, later in HR in the banking sector. Due to health problems, she decided to quit her job in April last year. She decided to pursue a second career in art.
Client signed up for a Mind n Matter coaching programme containing seven coaching sessions. In this case study, I will describe the first half of the coaching programme in which client’s awareness increased, what she discovered about herself and her needs and how we handled this in the subsequent sessions.
Around five years ago, I did a training with Integral Coaching Canada. ICC offers an amazing theory for coaching which includes the use of metaphors. These are helpful for clients to see and understand the transformation that can happen between a current and a new situation. Integral Coaching also gives tools for the coach to analyse the client before the actual coaching process starts. One of these tools are the AQAL quadrants from Ken Wilber, which I used to analyse this client.
I believe MA originates from the so called Lower Right quadrant (and secondarily from the Upper Right quadrant). This means amongst others that client is very interested in learning, likes to do research, is able to see the bigger picture and likes structures. She also likes to be organised and normally uses lists of ‘things to do’. She’s action-driven rather than laid back.
MA has always felt passionate about painting and writing. Instead of having a stressful fulltime job, she wants to pursue a second career in art after quitting her job at the bank. She has already been painting for many years, but merely as a hobby. Client had difficulties since April last year to start with her art work and wasn’t able to figure out what was holding her back. She had tried many times to start painting a picture, or write a blog, but somehow she always quit in the early stages of the project.
Her coaching topic:
I want to be able to let go of my fear of committing to projects I want to pursue. Rather than boycotting myself, I want overcome my anxiety, in order to do what I really feel passionate about.
Importance for client:
I want to be able to commit to something I really feel good about. I’ve worked so hard over the past years and I have accomplished a lot in my career and for my family. I want to pursue now what I’ve always felt enthusiastic about. I’ve given up so much in my life; now it is time for ME.
After agreeing on her topic during the first session, client became more and more aware how much her inner voices were holding her back. They told her: “You can’t do it. You’re not talented enough. You’re lazy. You’re not ready yet”.
I suggested a Self Observation Exercise for client. This could help her to find the patterns of her behaviour and to learn more about her inner voice, which we also affectionally called ‘the monkey on her shoulder’… During a SOE the client is just observing herself. There are no actions involved other than becoming more aware of certain behaviour and patterns.
Two weeks later I met client again for her second session. I offered her two metaphors:
- The Snowman in the movie Frozen (her current way of being)
- The Serene spring Meadow (her new way of being)
We also discussed the observations she made during her SOE. Client had been journaling during her SOE. I also asked her to become aware of her body posture, breathing and possible tensions in her body. Firstly, client mentioned only the different ‘voices’ that talked her down.
Client answered that her strongest voice was the one that told her she wasn’t ready yet. For her it felt indeed like she was frozen on the spot (like the Snowman) and wasn’t able to make a move forward. Halfway the session she suddenly blurted out: “I wish I just could do nothing.” After a short pause, she shared that perhaps that was all she needed; a break from it all, a break from her previous job, to close a chapter in her life and to start a new one with a fresh and open mind. So client came up with the idea of a stay-cation. During this break, she would just do what she felt like doing, like meditating, going to the movies, cook big dinners at home. She also planned to switch off her mobile phone, and expressed a wish not to look at any social media like Facebook, Twitter and her emails. She wanted to do this for at least five days. We fine tuned the stay-vacation practice by agreeing on my journaling again about her experience, as well as answering the following questions. “Why am I so hard on myself?” and “How can I become more patient with myself?”
In the first two sessions which I described above, I used powerful listening and powerful questions. Assuming that client originates from the LR quadrant, I asked her questions related to the area in which she was lacking skills; the Upper Left quadrant. This quadrant is all about what is meaningful for the client, about beliefs, values and needs.
Questions I asked:
- “Which voice do you listen mostly to and why?”
- “What does the voice represent to you?”
- “Have you noticed certain tensions in your body. If so, where are they located?
- “What does your current metaphor mean to you?”
Two weeks later I met client again. After connecting and some grounding, we started the session with a review of the stay-cation practice. Client shared happily that she felt that this was exactly what she needed; a break from her busy life with the bank and getting ready for a completely different life and a new career in arts. She shared that she started to use the image of the Serene Spring Meadow in her daily meditation practice as well and she found it very soothing.
What I would do differently
I would ensure that the sessions are more client centred. Instead of suggesting a SOE, I would rather inquire first what the client’s thoughts are about self discovery and what would be the best way for her to do this. I also would ask first what the client would find helpful in consolidating and exploring this self discovery. That way, a session can become more about co-creation and client centred, rather than coach led.
What I’ve learnt from this case
I’ve learnt that practices don’t always have to be around an activity. Sometimes doing nothing can be as helpful. I’ve always tried to push clients into action but I didn’t always realise that sometimes non-action can be as useful. MA needed to pauze, in order to get more clarity about the way to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.
I am truly happy that she managed to figure out for herself that this was what she needed in order to move forward.