In the spotlight
Wright, N. (2021), 'In the Spotlight - Psychological Coaching', Coaching and Life, 25 April.
C&L: What's distinctive about psychological coaching?
Psychological coaching involves asking powerful questions, based on a deep understanding of people, groups, cultures and relationships, that can lead to profound transformation. It differs from some other forms of coaching in that it pays attention to the narrative of the client and the here-and-now dynamics of the coaching relationship along with, importantly, the coaching process they manage between them (e.g. What are we here to do? How shall we do this?). In that sense, it calls for a corresponding degree of relevant psychological insight and expertise in addition to conventional coaching skills.
C&L: Is there a risk of blurring it with therapy?
Yes, I’m often asked what the boundaries are between psychological coaching and, say, counselling or therapy. There are at least 2 reasons for this. Firstly, a concern that, if working psychologically with a client, there’s a risk that deeper or broader life issues may emerge that draw the coach into areas that lay outside of his or her contracted remit or competence to address. Secondly, the core roots and foundations of psychological coaching as a broad field of thinking and practice tend to be based, historically, on research and experience in the counselling and therapeutic arenas.
C&L: So, how do you handle that when coaching clients?
Two key principles: focus and boundaries. At the contracting stage with a client, we agree a provisional focus for our work which relates directly to the client’s purpose for engaging in coaching and the outcomes he or she hopes for. We also agree the provisional boundaries for our work, including what lays in and out of scope. I say provisional because these things may evolve as the work progresses and deeper awareness and insight emerge. If I notice a marked shift in focus and-or boundaries, or in the client's mental-emotional state, I will signpost it explicitly and re-contract or refer as necessary.
C&L: Is psychological coaching a bit like mentoring?
I think the answer depends partly on how we see coaching and mentoring, what we see as the main differences and boundaries between them and what approach a psychological coach may use. If, for instance, I’m using a psychological approach with a client and he or she is interested to understand what lays behind what I’m doing, I may share briefly the psychological insights I am drawing on as a way of developing the client’s own awareness, understanding and capacity. In doing so, I introduce an element of mentoring into the coaching process, by agreement, then revert back to coaching.
C&L: What psychological theories do you draw on?
A wide range, depending on the issues a client chooses to work on and what approach or method may prove most useful for that person or group in that context. Much of my own work focuses on enabling a client to grow in critical reflexivity and critical reflective practice as means by which the client may develop enhanced relationships, resilience, resourcefulness and results. In doing so, I may draw on and apply insights from, say, spiritual-existential; Gestalt; systemic; social constructionism; cognitive-behavioural; psychodynamic; person-centred; behavioural or Transactional Analysis.
C&L: What kind of questions might a psychological coach pose?
Depending on the client, the relationship, the cultural context and the focus-boundaries of the contract, here are some examples: Psychodynamic: How are you feeling as you talk about this now? When have you felt like this in the past? How is this situation the same as/different to those in the past? Cognitive-behavioural: What’s on your mind? What assumptions are you making? What might be a different way of thinking about this? Gestalt: What are you aware of, here and now? If this situation had a voice, what might it be saying to you? What do you need to be at your best?
Person-centred: Who matters most to you in this situation? How are you feeling as you talk about this person now? What do you need for this relationship to work? Spiritual-existential: What's your sense of calling (from God) or vocation? To what extent do your decisions and actions reflect your values? What are you willing to choose (or sacrifice) to live an authentic life? Social constructionism: What story are you telling yourself about this situation? How would it be if we were to change the metaphor? What alternative narrative would feel more useful or life-giving for you?
Behavioural: What do you want to achieve? What are the results of this behaviour? How can you obtain the rewards that matter most to you? Transactional Analysis: How does this person relate to you? How do you feel and respond when they do that? What might you be evoking in this person? The intention is to enable the client to grow in confidence, competence and agency to address whatever issues he or she is facing. I wouldn’t tend to use a menu of standard questions but, rather, be open to God and the client and draw on whatever insights and ideas emerge in the moment.
C&L: What training and experience lays behind your coaching?
I have a masters’ degree level in human resource development/OD focusing on social constructionism; a postgraduate diploma in coaching psychology focusing on Gestalt, cognitive-behavioural, person-centred and Transactional Analysis; a diploma in pastoral studies focusing on spiritual-existential; and a certificate in supervision focusing on psychodynamics. I have worked and trained internationally and cross-culturally and benefited from supervision by experts in e.g. spiritual-existential, psychodynamic, Gestalt, cognitive-behavioural, Human Givens and psychosynthesis disciplines.
C&L: What resources have inspired you and could help other aspiring coaches?
I started with the Gospels in the New Testament and reflected on Jesus’ interactions with people and his transformational effects. Other broader influences have included: Joseph Zinker’s Creative Process in Gestalt Therapy; Kenneth Gergen’s An Invitation to Social Construction; Edgar Schein’s Process Consultation; and Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organisation. A good general introduction to a psychological coaching outlook and approach is Margaret Moore’s Coaching Psychology Manual. You can also find lots of articles, blogs and free e-resources on my website: www.nick-wright.com