Working with What Manifests in a Coaching Session

One element of my coaching and supervising philosophy is the belief that the work must have an appropriate balance of transformational and transactional impact. The thinking is that the client’s action will not be as meaningful or sustainable unless they have experienced some sort of internal shift. Focusing purely on the behavioural outcomes is unlikely to be a different process from what the client could do in their own time.

It is necessary for me to set the stage with this declaration of my philosophy because working with what manifests in the session happens when the practitioner and client are at a deeper layer of connection, consciousness and functioning.

As a practitioner we may notice clues as to what the client’s internal experience is as we engage with them in a session. Some examples are:

  • The client’s behaviours in the session
  • The client’s narrative and themes therein
  • The mode/framing of the client’s narrative
  • Incongruencies in the client’s thinking
  • Phenomena in the practitioner’s thinking, feeling or behaviour
  • Dynamics in the relationship between client and practitioner

When noticing something in these areas, the practitioner has various options in what to do with the information. (These points are not supposed to correlate with the markers above).

  • Ignore it
  • Remember it for an appropriate time in the future (in session or later)
  • Name it there-and-then
  • Validate it against the client’s challenge/desired outcome
  • Validate it be observing other phenomena in the work with the client

The practitioner’s choice of what to do might even have some meaning in relation to the client’s challenge. For instance, if the choice is to ignore that the client is avoiding any mention of their emotional experience, the practitioner might ask why they themselves are avoiding working with this explicitly. Perhaps they picked up the client’s covert messages that this is sensitive territory. Acknowledging the existence of something is the first step in problem-solving, and the practitioner’s potency in naming their observation may open up a deeper exploration of the core issue.

After having noticed a marker in the session, the presence of that marker outside of the session can be checked. The practitioner can ask how “x” (what they have noticed) relates to the client’s grappling with the issue, the outcome, or their challenge. Saying something like “I’m noticing I’m having difficulty in making sense of how all the aspects of what you’re saying relate to each other. What does that mean to you?” may be helpful to the client in realising how they are attempting to problem solve. Or “I’m noticing that what you say is happening with your colleague also seems to be happening with me in this session” followed by a question on roles, feelings, thoughts, attitudes etc, could help the client notice how they set themselves up for a predetermined relational outcome.

The philosophy in working like this, is that energies/patterns etc occurring in the client’s life will show up as echoes and parallels in the session. The practitioner’s skill in noticing these and introducing them appropriately into the conversation plays a part in the success of the session, the client’s readiness to confront the issues and their ability to reflect also play a part. There is potential for clients to feel “caught in the act” if there is any hint of judgment or criticism from the practitioner, so it is vital to co-create a safe, curious and exploratory space for this work to succeed.

In coach supervision these markers may indicate phenomena related to the coach’s own client’s environment. Organisational challenges, strategy, culture, and changes may show up in the supervision session. This is useful for practitioners who provide high-level thematic feedback to an organisation’s representatives. The product of this supervision is more effective coach/client relationships and more effective organisational responsiveness to widespread issues.

Using a transactional analysis lens, this methodology brings that which exists on the psychological level of the contract into the light, where client and practitioner can work with awareness, potency and choice.

In Conclusion

Practitioners will likely apply their existing modalities or practice frameworks in much the same way as they are used to, with the difference being a focus on parallels between what occurs in the session and what occurs outside the session, less attention to circumstances and content and more attention to the client’s energy, attitudes, thinking styles, feelings, approaches etc.

Working this way, the external gives clues to the internal. It is working on a meta-level and a subjective level at different parts of the session so the client can notice patterns in various aspects of their lives and respond to them with awareness.

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