To Trust the Process or to Trust Yourself in the Process

Truth or trust concept. Text on wooden blocks. White background. Copy space

“Trust the process” is a maxim often used in coaching (particularly initial training). It seems to be part of the coaching culture.

Berne (1963) in “The Structure and Dynamics of Organisations and Groups” proposes a psychological model for culture. In his model the group’s culture resides in its individuals’ Parent ego states. The Parent ego state has to do with control and care (each having positive and negative functional qualities).

Berne’s three aspects of a group’s culture:

– Etiquette: How we present ourselves/want to be seen by others in order to be accepted within the group. Values and beliefs.

– Technicalities: The machinery, tools, skills and procedures a group uses for functioning in the physical world.

– Character: Emotional expression of self within the bounds of the etiquette.

From here on, I use “practitioner” to mean inclusive of “trainee”, inferring the theme applies to both. I do this because trainees become practitioners. I use “trainee” to mean someone experiencing an aspect of the theme in a training environment.

“Trust the process” acts on the psychological level as a Parental instruction to abide by the technicalities of coaching. It infers that the practitioner either put aside their own “stuff”, use a practice framework, or discount themselves, in order to be effective with the client.

Context plays an important role here, as the instruction to trust process is mainly used when trainee coaches get lost in engaging with a client for various reasons.

  1. Based on social conversational norms and symbiotic relationship patterns, trainees focus on “coaching the topic” as opposed to “coaching the person”.
  2. The trainee’s overidentification with the topic contaminates the coaching conversation.
  3. The trainer uses the phrase to invite the trainee to use the coaching framework in question.

While frameworks may be useful guides, they externalise the practitioner’s skills to concepts which can only be accessed cognitively. This results in the practitioner thinking about what they are doing, as opposed to engaging relationally with their client. Responding to the client as a person, to what is appropriate in the moment, to what underlies the conversation and relationship, and using the practitioner’s inherent humanity (if they have the capacity) become less likely. This is amplified in a training environment in which the trainee will experience stimuli and incentives to adapt to the trainer.

A significant aspect here is the coach trainee’s readiness to be a practitioner. Coach trainee selection may be subject to radically different influences including educational background, personal development, and industry regulation. Within the coaching domain, coach supervision is the only resource professional bodies explicitly suggest to address these aspects. As of 2023 this is a relatively new development and it is utilized by a small minority of practitioners. Unfortunately, my personal experience is that mainstream coach supervision has a hyper-focus on process and an instructive style, as opposed to one based on and working with relationship.

“Trust the process” is the evolution of coach training culture’s response to these dynamics. It is a phrase used in supervision as well. It works, but at the cost of limiting the practitioner’s emotions, somatic experiences and intuition in relating to the client.

On its own, “trust the process” infers “do not trust yourself”. As a solution it is too low in resolution.

Ideally a practitioner’s professional, ethical, and effective use of the whole of themselves (cognitive and non-cognitive) is supported by them being ready to do so, through personal development.

“Trust the process” is an instruction stimulating the cognitive and compliant aspects of the practitioner. In coach training and supervision, more resolution (i.e. detail and scope) and a different mode of engagement (i.e. other than instruction) have higher value outcomes.

In practice this would entail an exploration of what it is in the relationship or topic that stimulated the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and (unhelpful) behaviours in the practitioner. This would attend to the coach as person.

Exploring what emerges above, using an appropriate (in relation to level of development) and relevant (in relation to the situation) psychological framework would attend to the coach as a practitioner. The application of “the process” here would entail an integration of the practitioner’s subjective experience and their thinking about it in relation to the contract with the client.

Generating alternative options within the practitioner’s modality, encouraging their use of other modalities, and otherwise equipping them with options for new behaviours and approaches attends to the coach as a professional. The application of “the process” here would entail integration from whole-person learning (feeling and thinking), and exploration of process through various lenses (relevant modalities).

The “trust” then comes from holistic integration of “process”, rather than from conformity, compliance and blind faith. What emerges is a practitioner who has transcended process, with professional resilience, wisdom, a wide scope of skills, trust in their intuition (without attachment) and confidence.

Is this not something a coaching culture would aspire to? Here are some ideas for how we do it as a coaching community.

Coach training providers

Include a supervision mindset in initial coach training. To emphasise, this does not necessarily mean bringing supervision into coach training, but rather a reflection and exploration beyond merely the process. Prof Peter Hawkins 7- Eyed Model is a useful framework to support this*

Design training programmes which have an appropriate balance between adaptation to process and integration of process.

Adaptating practitioners

  • follow steps, often driven by instructions or something functioning as such

  • require only superficial understanding of their function, without underlying comprehension of principles and reasons

  • utilise process when conditions are static or familiar, but struggle in novel and dynamic circumstances

Integrating practitioners

  • comprehend of underlying principles and the reasons for diverging from process/methodology

  • are equipped to handle variations, exceptions, and unexpected situations

  • innovate and improve process independently. Practitioners optimise process and technique over time and in individual engagements, take the responsibility to problem-solve and build/have the competence to do so


This includes established coaches and those in any level of training.

  • Work with the whole of self. This includes one’s thinking, feeling (intuitive, emotional and somatic), and behaviours in relation to the client

  • Be curious about the nature and meaning of relationship with the client in each moment

  • Be curious about context and its meaning for the client and the coaching relationship

  • Explore one’s reliance on elder’s/trainers’ advice (“advice”, as opposed to their facilitation of exploration)

  • engage in coach supervision, and/or explore one’s hesitation/resistance to it

A coaching culture in which practitioners have well-founded trust in themselves through integration and flexible use of process, is healthy, ethical, professional, effective, and sustainable.