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Coaching case study: The coaching/counselling barrier


Our resident coach, Richard Hawkes tackles the age-old coaching/counselling conundrum.

This month we are going to take a look at the coaching/counselling barrier, which presupposes we need to clarify exactly what each is, a conundrum in itself!

A definition of each of these is:-


Coaching is the process of self-understanding and self-analysing to fully understand our individual potential; the clarification of self-limiting beliefs and barriers leading to an improved focus on goals and objectives.


Counselling is the process of understanding the factors that have led to obsessive or self-debilitating behaviour, which is having a deleterious impact on the life of the individual, and then addressing these in a constructive and healing way.
So let's pick up a coaching session when it may be approaching this interface. The subject matter of this conversation is not necessarily relevant to the point we are making in this conundrum.
Coach: "So, as a result of the last hour, what have you heard and what action are you going to take as a result?"
Maria: "Well I am going to be more positive with myself, approach people at work and tell them what I am feeling and want, so that I can get what I need to get on with my work. However, this is not going to get rid of this feeling that I have, of persecution; that people, both inside and outside work, are always trying to get at me and put me down."
This should raise an alarm bell in the coach's mind at this point; is this counselling subject; is this a step beyond coaching? Maybe the coach should just test this a little further before stepping back in this area.
Coach: "Tell me a little more Maria."
Maria: "Well, when I was little, my mother used to..."
There are a few times when a coach should interrupt, and this is one of them.
Coach: "Maria; we are going in to an area which may need some help but is beyond our coaching remit. Coaching is about the present and the future; unfortunately it does not, in most circumstances look backwards."
Now how does the coach continue without upsetting Maria and compounding the negative thoughts that are now welling up that yet another persecution is about to take place? Use one of the many techniques available to us as coaches; negative/positive, visualisation, time shift, role reversal, for example.
Coach: "Let's now look at this a different way, Maria. I am going to ask you to swap roles with me. You are to be a trusted advisor who knows all about Maria, and I am going to be Maria – are you ready?"
Coach (in the role of Maria): "Please give me some help, trusty advisor, in deciding on a way to approach my boss over the way she gives me work to do and then walks away without explaining it. I find that it is very discomforting, it means I have to spend a long time deciding what she really wants and then have to put up with being told that it was not quite what she wanted when I finally hand it over."
Maria (in the role of trusty advisor): "Well, there are several ways I can suggest that you can do this. Firstly ask for a dedicated meeting on a one-to-one basis and simply tell her how the lack of proper instruction affects you. You could produce a query list as soon as you have a piece of work given to you. You could produce a simple standard form with all the details you need for a piece of work."
Coach (in the role of Maria): "Well I had never thought of doing any of those. What do you think, trusty advisor if I arranged a meeting with the rest of the team who all feel the same way as I do and see if we can come up with an idea that will solve this without making too much fuss."
We do not need to continue with this role play, but it probably would go on for some time. The key point is that Maria is now beginning to come up with her own ideas and this is now a positive coaching session. This section of the conversation may end something like this...
Coach: "Maria, you can now be yourself again. Tell me what you think of the advice that you have given yourself?"
Maria: "Well some of the ideas are great! I shall go away and make some of them happen."
The coach can now continue and look for action points and a commitment to do something about them. 

So how does the coach handle the point that has come up in this coaching conversation that Maria probably needs some counselling, cognitive therapy or something deeper? How would you handle it?

At the end of the session it may look like this.
Coach: "Well Maria, thank you for being so open with me; however it seems that you may need some help which is beyond the coaching sphere. If you feel that you would like to consider that route, I can put you in touch with somebody who is fully qualified in that area (you may, or may not, wish to take this line)."
Who knows what action Maria may take but the coach has maintained their integrity and credibility and not stepped beyond their coaching responsibility. Maria has gone away with some benefit and a plan to deal with the immediate issues facing her. This in itself may help her longer-term problems. We, as coaches should not and will not judge.
Coaching/counselling – probably one of the biggest conundrums anybody who does any coaching faces. If you are at any time in this position, be aware and do not go over the line. Our coach did not do that and demonstrated the high standards that he maintains.
How would you tackle this issue? Let us know by commenting on this thread.
Richard Hawkes is a leading business coach with Unlimited Potential You can follow their tweets: @unltdpotential

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