Friday 23 February 2024

Boundaries of coaching

One of the questions that often arises for coaches, and in my supervision of coaches, is around the boundaries between coaching, counselling and psychotherapy. It is an important issue, as coaches should not stray into areas where they do not have the right training and skills. 

It was brought to my attention (yet again) when a friend asked if it were normal for a coach to suggest to a client that their problems might, perhaps spring from childhood, and then to ask (with no hint of this from the client) if the client had been abused as a child. My immediate response was that is not normal. That seems to me to be overstepping the boundary quite significantly, with the coach venturing into territory that he or she is not competent (probably) and certainly not contracted to address.

But it is surprisingly hard to define quite where the boundary sits. Is it about the subject matter (eg work, not personal life?). But what about when personal life impacts on work performance?  Is it about techniques and processes used? But many coaches use techniques derived from counselling or therapeutic sources, form Roger's Non-Directive Counselling approaches, to Gestalt, and many others.

Is it then about the context and purpose of the conversation? Coaching is about work improvement, not resolving life traumas? I think that is true, but not in itself enough of a boundary marker.

So I my current thinking (and I would welcome others' views on this) is that our sense of when we are up against the boundary of coaching needs to be informed by a number of considerations, as summarised in this handy grid. Such issues should be discussed at the initial contracting meeting, so that clients are reasonably clear about them.  And coaches should be very careful about borrowing tools and approaches from therapy or counselling, and in using any such approaches in ways that don't delve into the unconscious, childhood, or trauma.

But as ever this post is my thinking aloud as I develop my thinking, not my final position: I would be very interested in others' views on this.

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