This paper discusses three challenges that a coach with no psychology, mental health or sociology background may experience, without seeming to achieve positive results with clients who are still considered ‘healthy’, but are more difficult to coach than regular ‘healthy’ clients. The researcher has been to two coaching schools that saw a ‘healthy’ client in the same way (see Abstract). It has been noted that it can be quite tricky for a non-psychologist coach to notice client’s early need for therapy. Such coach may have frequent sessions with a tough client without knowing whether s/he needs to be referred to therapy or to continue being coached.
These difficult clients lie on the verge between coaching and therapy. The researcher has had several incidents with similar clients, whereby the standard coaching process of active listening, paraphrasing, reframing perspectives, acknowledgement, etc. led to repetitive unproductive cycles. Active listening only led sessions to sound the same each time and acknowledgements became gradually devoid of meaning and energy.
Besides her own experiences, the researcher has also heard other fellow coaches face similar challenges with similarly described clients. This motivated the researcher to research in diverse coaching resources to find similar accounts and ways to support such type of clients. Luckily, the researcher has effectively coached her tough clients into success, and managed to get through to them after a prolonged period of repetitive relapses.
These tough clients are highly functional yet they suffer from one or more of the following:
- Low self-esteem
- low self-confidence
- low self-awareness
- passive aggressive behavior
- an extensive sense of failure
- lack of focus
- and dullness in their perspective on life and their lifestyles.
They may have seen a therapist in the past, but are currently doing so and are not on medication.
The researcher does not have any degree in mental health, sociology or psychology. She bases her argument on her own repetitive experiences and supporting data derived from powerful and reliable resources.
Coaching for Fulfillment vs. Securing A Decent Financial Return
This challenge is not particular to non-psychologist coaches, but applicable to new or experienced coaches.
Most coaches come to coaching from different professional backgrounds, as they become increasingly aware of the need to align their careers with their life purpose and values. Their coach training lines up with this aim, and increases their self-awareness. It supports them to unlock their true potential, thrive as a coach, enjoy work and empower their true selves to help others. Rarely do we find someone becoming a coach purely for the money. A coach may leave a regularly paid job to become self-employed, to fulfill a spiritual or ethical purpose.
As coaching is generally an entrepreneurial and independent business, unless coaches do a great job networking and marketing their services, their coaching careers may not thrive financially.
Furthermore, since coaching is not as highly monitored as other mental health specializations, coaches – while aiming to secure a financial income- still rely on their conscience in creating a coach-client relationship and fully following ICF’s core competencies.
Internet opens doors for coaches to reach out to diverse cultural markets other than their own. Promoting their services online is a time-consuming and specialized task to maintain, like connecting their website content with social media channels, inserting traffic-generating plugins, etc. Even if coaches hire experts to do that, they would have to secure a financial compensation for this service, as not all of them are interested in coaching in exchange of service. This poses the question whether coaching covers fees of hiring freelancers and other life expenses.
A sufficient financial income is a key factor that may lead some coaches to humor tough clients, who may not be committing to the actions they set for themselves during coaching sessions. Some coaches are tied to their coaching contracts as much as they are to their bills. Michael Maccoby (Coutu et al. 2009) argues:
Coaches have an economic incentive to ignore the problem of dependency, creating a potential conflict of interest. It’s natural for them to want to expand their business, but the best coaches, like the best therapists, put their clients’ interests first. Michael Maccoby (Coutu et al. 2009)
Chris Sandlund (2002) argues that because executive coaches do not wish to risk being fired if they give a feedback their clients may not like, they may have to give them feel-good answers. This was also attested to by Steven Berglas in an interview with Chief Executive who said:
A lot of times consultants and coaches are deemed great because they’re adding syrup to a sundae made out of a lump of coal. (Sandlund, 2002)
Creating Awareness to Unblock Repetitive Cycles vs. Giving Advice
Coaching tough clients may prove challenging, particularly when they seem stuck in repetitive unproductive cycles, not improved by the standard process of coaching (following the 11 core competencies). They may share this in common, and continuously failing to creatively generate positive perspectives to their problems despite all the attempts by the coach to support them. Even when a coach succeeds in helping them to create awareness around their beliefs, they tend to want to hang on to them longer and harder, out of fear of change and hurt.
Some of clients’ responses in similar cases have been:
- I have never known anything else
- I’m afraid I will lose who I am when trying to silence my inner critic
- my inner critic is never entirely wrong
- maybe I do need to keep it with me so it would keep me straight.
They generally share low self-confidence, a creative imagination, as well as a positive self-esteem as major blocking characteristics of their personalities. They are deeply convinced of their entrapment, i.e. their negative underlying beliefs are so powerful that they have grown accustomed to identifying with them, to the extent that they cannot see a way out. Therefore, what is a coach to do when a standard coaching process results in repetitive cycles that do not support client to move forward?
Steven Berglas (Sandlund, 2002) describes coaches as ‘gaysayers’ and ‘proponents’, who just go along with their clients. It may be understood why a psychotherapist like him would say that, considering that some tough clients, with some deeply hidden psychological problems, may not achieve positive results from continuous acknowledgement by the coach. Constant acknowledgement when met with clear unproductivity by a tough client may start to sound for both (client and coach) meaningless and unauthentic, more like useless humoring.
It has been proven effective for coaches to trust their intuition (if comfortable to do so) and cut the cycle in a courteous yet bold way, after having asked for clients’ permission to do so. This could happen by challenging (invalidating) what inner critic says using logical questioning, introducing exercises that help increase client’s awareness of their inner critic (which holds them back from fulfilling their goals), and waking them up to the reality of the choices they are making (i.e. choosing to talk about but not commit to them). This has been proven continuously to be effective in shifting clients from significance into lightness.