A Research Paper By Beth Ostrander, Life Coach, CANADA
Does Practitioners Specialization Have a Blind Spot Supporting Clients on Pleasure-Related Topics?
Within Positive Psychology, pleasure is listed as one of the controllable factors that increase happiness.1A2016 study aimed to replicate findings of 2011 study by Giannopoulos and Vella-Brodrick
Confirmed that interventions based on pleasure, engagement, and meaning are effective in increasing well-being and ameliorating depressive symptoms across different cultural settings and for longer periods than expected2
I have witnessed the positive impact of this with clients in my blended coaching practice as a Life Pleasure Coach. Unfortunately, I have heard from several clients that they could not speak about pleasure with other their previous Practitioners (e.g., coaches, counselors, therapists). As I noticed this coming up, I began to think perhaps some Practitioners were missing out on a powerful tool. In some cases, the clients did not feel safe bringing up the topic. In other cases, the clients were directed to take the issue elsewhere, sometimes without being provided with referrals. I wondered if Practitioners were expressing healthy professional boundaries or if there was more at play.
Over time, I chatted casually with many colleagues and have heard a common theme of concern about a client raising Pleasure-Related Topics. Since pleasure is taboo, it is no wonder that Practitioners experience some anxiety when Pleasure-Related Topics arise.
This has led me to explore with more intentionality the comfort level Practitioners have around Pleasure-Related Topics.
It is important to make two notes here:
Note #1: This research is not designed to confirm a Practitioners specialization. It is to explore a Practitioner’s comfort level supporting their client with Pleasure-Related Topics. Not every Practitioner is going to specialize in Pleasure-Related Topics. However, Practitioners require a certain level of comfort providing general support for any topic a client raises. For example, if a client brings money up in the session, a Practitioner who isn’t a money coach or a financial advisor would have a level of ease providing support on the topic. They would also be comfortable providing referrals if their client wanted to explore the topic more deeply.
Note #2: This research paper is not solely about sensual pleasure. The word “pleasure” is often translated to mean sensuality or sex only. In this research Pleasure-Related Topics include:
- Pleasure in General: for example, a client struggling to make time for self-care or making time to enjoy a date night when life is hectic.
- Body-Related Issues: for example, a client working through body image issues that are affecting their ability to select clothing for a work event or a first date.
- Intimacy: for example, a client grappling with the degree of vulnerability they want to show when sharing life details with a co-worker or with a loved one.
- Sex & Sexuality: for example, a client is concerned about telling friends and family members that they are questioning the state of their marriage or exploring their sexual orientation.
- Pleasure-Related Shame: for example, a client feeling guilty and shameful for having an abundance of things while others in the world go hungry or for desiring something that conflicts with their religious beliefs.
To explore this topic deeper, I conducted a 3-hour workshop for Practitioners called “Practitioners Workshop: Introduction to Authentic Pleasure”. Twelve (12) Practitioners participated and received a pre-workshop questionnaire and a post-workshop feedback form. Some Practitioners also participated in a conversation before/after the workshop. The following demographics were represented (“Unconfirmed” = not disclosed or not asked):
- Practitioner Types: Social workers, Therapists, Coaches (ICA & other), Reiki
- Religions: Catholic; Jewish; Evangelical Christian; None; Unconfirmed
- Heritage/Cultures: Latin American, Filipino, British; Lebanese; Danish; German; Italian; New Zealander; Unconfirmed
- Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual; Pan-sexual; Unconfirmed
- Genders: CIS gender men; CIS gender women; Unconfirmed
Three main themes arose while exploring the Practitioners comfort level with Pleasure-Related Topics during client sessions.
- Raising the Topic
- Key Areas of Concern
- The blind spot around Pleasure-Related Topics.
Finding #1: Raising the Topic
Two of the indicators used to explore the Practitioners’ level of comfort with Pleasure-Related Topics were related to how often the topic was raised with clients. First, the Practitioners were asked how often they raised Pleasure-Related Topics. Secondly, they were asked how often their client raised the topic. It was noticeable that 0% of the Practitioners “always” introduced Pleasure-Related Topics and 20% of Practitioners “never” introduced the topic. When it came to asking about the frequency that their clients raised the topic, the practitioners said that10% of their clients “never” introduced Pleasure-Related Topics. Overall, clients raise Pleasure-Related Topics slightly more often than practitioners.
The idea of “code words” for taboo subjects was introduced. When asked to consider what common “code words” their clients use in place of saying “pleasure”, the Practitioners listed: Joy, Enjoyment, Desire, Happiness, Peace, Love, and Intimacy. When asked to consider what common “code words” their clients use in place of saying “pleasure-related shame”, the Practitioners listed: Indulgent, Dangerous, Risky, Selfish, Destructive, Guilty, Sinful, Wrong.
After the Practitioners spent 3-hours in the workshop learning about and discussing Pleasure-Related Topics with their colleagues, they registered that their clients were bringing up Pleasure-Related Topics more than they had realized. Several Practitioners expressed that they likely have missed opportunities to support their client’s self-awareness.
Pleasure wasn’t even on my radar at all – professionally or even personally – and now I’m being more conscious. Pleasure is important to me, but it’s never talked about. Therapist
Most Practitioners agreed they would now be more alert for “code words” and some Practitioners decided to include Pleasure-Related Topics in their client intake process.
Finding #2: Key Areas of Concerns
Three Key Areas of Concern showed up from this research:
- Information & Skill Gap
- Lacking Recognition of Pleasure-Related Issues
- Managing Personal Reactions.
Within each area, the Practitioners expressed the following specific concerns:
Key Area: Information & Skill Gap
- “Competency in addressing these topics”
- “An academic understanding of these terms/topics/areas”
- “Information about what pleasure is, what blocks pleasure, pleasure limits”
- “New approaches”
Near the end of the workshop, a coach put her pen down and asked to share. She had begun the workshop intending to gain information to support her clients more effectively. She shared that she now understood it was just as important to examine her awareness around Pleasure-Related Topics.
Key Area: Lacking Recognition of Pleasure-Related Issues
- “How to recognize when a client is experiencing pleasure-related shame.”
- “Identifying and speaking about unidentified shame (they don’t resonate with the word shame because its unconscious or they’re too ashamed to admit being ashamed)”
- “Information about what pleasure is, what blocks pleasure, permission to feel pleasure”
- “How to speak with others to encourage them to explore and discover their pleasure.”
- “A better understanding of pleasure, intimacy, and body-relatedness and how to recognize when a client needs help in one of these areas.”
- “Bridging language for people who may be uncomfortable talking about sex and shame.”
- “It has not come up so far with clients”
- “Most of my clients are business clients, we don’t speak about these things and I know that they impact all areas of our lives.”
Before the workshop, a therapist shared with me over the phone that she was nervous to bring up the topic with her all-female clients. She didn’t think she had achieved enough success around pleasure in her own life. She shared her struggles taking time for herself as a solopreneur, her challenges with body-image issues, and her difficulties communicating with her partner about intimate issues.
Key Area: Managing Personal Reactions
- “Having an open mindset for the topic”
- “How to address my triggers when they arise in session.”
- “Learning something that might relate to me personally in terms of intimacy in my partnership as well as how this topic can be useful in my coaching practice.”
- “Feeling more comfortable and open when it comes to talking about Pleasure Related Topics with my clients.”
- “Have a more positive attitude towards pleasure. Be better accepting of pleasure and drop the judgment.”
- “More confidence.”
During the case study debrief, a therapist shared that he had experienced a personal reaction when another Practitioner raised a Pleasure-Related Topic that he considered morally questionable. He was shocked by his judgemental reaction since he considered himself to be very open-minded.
Finding #3: Exposed Blind Spot:
The Practitioners all shared that they began the workshop with a “blind-spot” around supporting their clients with Pleasure-Related Topics.
The Practitioners shared the following specific blindspots that came into view for them:
- “Allowing others to truly tap into what are their pleasure, as well as my own.”
- “Shame is often not explored in my practice.”
- “My struggles with talking about pleasure with my clients.”
- “Understanding of what I didn’t know I didn’t know.”
- “Pleasure wasn’t even on my radar at all – professionally or even personally”
- “I became aware of the difference between real intimacy and real pleasure rather than chasing after a quick fix. Knowing this distinction makes me able to look at what I truly need to fill up my love tank and show up more present with my clients as well as in my relationships.”
- “The idea of pleasure in boundaries. As I find the thought of a boundary is limiting, but truly setting a boundary can give unending pleasure.”
At the end of the workshop, many practitioners expressed a level of surprise that they had been unaware of their level of discomfort around Pleasure-Related Topics.
When I feel comfortable about this topic, my clients can feel comfortable also. Social Worker
Some Practitioners continued to take further workshops and after three months, were asked to reflect further on their blind spot before taking any of the workshops.
I didna think about pleasure or that it is to be prioritized. The access point for me is self-care, practical tools for myself and my clients to take better care of themselves, listen to their bodies, have more enjoyment throughout the process of working together. Coach
I discovered where I may experience some judgment with clients and working through where this stems from while discovering my pleasure and shame throughout. Therapist
From this small sampling of Practitioners, it is evident that further exploration is warranted around Practitioners’ comfort level to support their clients on Pleasure-Related Topics.
Practitioners are not expected to specialize in Pleasure-Related Topics. It is however evident that some Practitioners have a blind spot when it comes to supporting their clients with the same ease as any other topic.
The great news is that Coaches have many transferrable skills they can apply right away:
- Coaches know how important it is to do their awareness work so they can provide a non-judgmental space for their clients.
- Coaches have an awareness that the client has their wisdom on any topic, they are simply there to support the client to find their self-awareness.
- Coaches are skilled at asking direct questions, no matter the topic, that will assist the client to find their path forward.
- Coaches are aware of the ethics around referring their clients to specialists when the topic goes beyond their capacity.
Three Steps Coaches can take to enhance client support on Pleasure-Related Topics:
- Continuously work on self-awareness around pleasure-Related Topics.
- Incorporate Pleasure-Related Topics into the intake process.
- Develop a network of Practitioners who specialize in Pleasure-Related Topics to offer to clients when they wish to explore the topic more deeply.
Seligman, Martin E. P. “Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment”
Fabian Gander, René T. Proyer and Willibald Ruch, “Addressing Pleasure, Engagement, Meaning, Positive Relationships, and Accomplishment Increase Well-Being and Ameliorate Depressive Symptoms: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Online Study” https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00686/full