In the last ten years, I (Elloa) have worked with at least a dozen coaches. Some I worked with for just one session, others for an extended period of time. Some offered structured programs, others held an open space for me to explore whatever I wanted or needed. Some worked primarily 1:1, others ran group programs, and some offered a combination of both.
I have never had the same experience twice. That’s part of what makes coaching so brilliant, and so tricky to talk about in definitive terms.
As one of the lead coaches with The Work Psychologists, I work with leaders in multiple industries, levels and roles. There are things about me as a coach that are consistent, regardless of who I’m working with, but at the same time, every relationship a coachee and I build is unique, making the coaching unique too. However, there are certain definitive elements of coaching, things that set it apart from mentoring, a good conversation with your line manager, or even an excellent training course.
We've been wanting to share a bit about our approach to coaching for a while, but it's one of ‘those’ topics – do a quick Google search, and you’ll get a ginormous 2.3 billion search results. We don’t want to add to the noise, but we do want to offer our thoughts, based on many years’ experience of working with leaders, on what does and doesn’t work.
In this article we will explain the approach we take to coaching at The Work Psychologists.
Back to Basics
There are countless methodologies and approaches to coaching, and life coaching is reportedly the second-fastest growing industry worldwide. Whatever a coach’s approach – whether they are directive or not, specialised or a generalist, there are certain key features that you’d expect to find in any good coaching conversation:
A commitment to confidentiality by the coach
A dedicated, focused space (virtually, on the phone or face-to-face) for the coachee(s) to work in
The issue of change, growth or development.
However, coaching can also vary wildly when it comes to other aspects. For example, it might be:
Structured or unstructured – working through a particular framework or model, or working in a much more open, exploratory or free way.
Drawing on one model or methodology, or many
Highly outcome focused, or much more reflective and exploratory without a fixed ‘outcome’
Very short (‘flash coaching’ sessions can last just 10-15 minutes) through to immersive ‘deep dive’ conversations (the longest coaching session I led lasted nearly 3 hours!).
There’s also a lot of discussion around the differences and similarities between coaching and therapy, with some coaches offering clear cut definitions such as saying that therapy focuses on the past and coaching on the present and future.
However, at The Work Psychologists we do not agree with these definitions and feel they simplify a very complex and nuanced issue. For example, I am in ongoing psychodynamic psychotherapy and talk consistently about my present and future with my therapist. I have also had coaching involving very deep work on my past.
A simple way to differentiate between the two modalities is by the qualifications and training the practitioner has undertaken: becoming a psychotherapist versus a coach entail two quite different paths. Secondly, the school of thought informing the therapist versus the coach may be similar, but will likely stem from different roots: psychotherapy has many different strands, but of course is rooted in the theories of Freud, whilst coaching originated as a profession in the sports world.
In addition, many coaches are not trained to work with trauma, whereas trauma is often treated through therapy. There are of course many other differences, but these three are significant in terms of how we approach coaching at TWP. We’ll explain more in a moment.
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Here at The Work Psychologists, we have spent the last couple of years thinking quite carefully about our approach to coaching.
We were becoming frustrated at working with people for six sessions, usually taking place over a three-month period, and feeling at the end like we had only just got going, that the coaching relationship and process had so much more potential for the people we were working with. People had breakthroughs and made major changes, but all too often we would hear our coachees say that they couldn’t believe the process was ending and they felt like they were just getting started.
We also noticed a few issues cropping up again and again:
Coaching is often viewed – whether consciously or unconsciously – as a one-stop shop to tackle leadership, culture and organisational challenges that would be better served by group or organisational interventions
It is often crammed into people’s already overflowing schedules, resulting in missed sessions, action not being taken in between sessions and sometimes, a lack of space to really reflect on the process and as a result, a lack of personal accountability
It supports individuals to tackle key challenges or areas for their own development, but these sometimes do not serve or tie in with the wider business objectives and needs
It’s often perceived by senior leadership as something that needs to demonstrate an immediate and obvious ROI that's visible in 3 months’ time. This can result in a lot of ‘busywork’ and action, but no deep change – fast forward a few months, and these surface-level changes, put in place to prove that coaching was a worthwhile investment, ends up making a much smaller impact than it should have.
Time and again when clients come to us, it soon becomes clear that the challenges they’ve brought run far deeper than it initially appeared. Performance issues aren’t just about behaviour, but about beliefs, emotions, relationship management and self-regulation.
Therefore, after a fair amount of experimentation and reflection, we developed an approach we call “Therapeutic Coaching,” which differs in philosophy and practice to many other kinds of executive coaching.
Therapeutic coaching is not therapy, but it is a form of coaching that people often find therapeutic in nature. Not only do people experience feeling better, but they find themselves changing, able to understand themselves more deeply and able to respond to the challenges they find themselves in and problem-solve in new ways, rather than returning again and again to old patterns and entrenched ways of reacting.
Therapeutic Coaching: The TWP Approach
Here’s a bit about our approach. If this speaks to you and you’d like to find out more, email Sophie@theworkpsychologists.com and she’ll send you our thought paper, ‘Our Approach to Coaching’.
Every request for coaching now begins with a Discovery Phase, in which we run a diagnostic on the person being put forward for coaching. The goal is to understand who they are, the context they’re working in, and whether 1:1 coaching is the best solution.
We’ll then kick off with a tripod meeting with the coach, coachee and coachee’s line manager to ensure alignment on goals
Session 1: 90 minutes – building the coaching alliance, doing a needs analysis and goal setting. Goals may be communicated to the line manager if relevant.
Subsequent sessions: 50 minutes every two weeks.
The process closes with a semi-structured closing session offering hte coachee the opportunity to clarify their growth, accomplishments, areas for improvement
Research shows that coaching is most effective when it occurs every 10-14 days.
The minimum commitment is 6 sessions over 10 weeks, although we encourage a longer commitment wherever possible. Sessions are delivered away from the person’s desk (even if on Zoom) to support them to be fully present and engaged.
We’ll only take on a coaching contract if our analysis shows that it is the best solution. If our Discovery Phase unearths systemic issues or other potential interventions that would serve the individual and the business better, we'll suggest that instead.
Where other coaches sometimes work on behaviour first, we work in collaboration (and with permission from our coachees) to look at root causes, hidden blockers to change and competing commitments.
Where others look only at the individual, we address the individual in context – and as mentioned earlier, we will sometimes recommend a group intervention if that is more suitable.
We won’t agree to a coaching contract unless the individual and their line manager are fully on board.
We make organisations aware that coaching results in change, and that sometimes means that people set boundaries, make requests, implement changes that ultimately serve their own wellbeing, or even leave. If we're brought in to challenge the status quo, changes - both wanted and unexpected – often result.
Our coaches are trauma aware, and some are also clinical psychologists or psychotherapists who are trauma-trained. Our non-clinical coaches do not explore or open up traumatic material, and our trained trauma specialists will only do so in a long-term engagement after specifically contracting with the coachee around this.
We're in the business of unleashing potential, as many people are. For us, that means consciously working with the idea that every individual and group we coach is creative, resourceful and whole (a term from Co-Active Coaches Training Institute).
At the same time, we recognise that people need input. We bring ourselves to the conversation and, with permission, offer alternative perspectives or resources when we sense they are helpful.
Our coaching is grounded in the reality and demands of the business world, but also goes deeper, addressing psychological blockers, issues and derailers that standard coaching often doesn’t address. Our testimonials provide a window into just some of our clients' experiences.
We combine therapeutic principles with coaching models helps clients achieve deeper levels of insight. Our clients are empowered to move forward more effectively, and achieve change that lasts.
Images in order:
Drew Beamer, Pierre Chatel Innocenti and Ben White, both via unsplash.com