“I have great potential, but I also have inner gremlins that get in my way”.
“Deep Coaching” focuses on your vision, strengths, psychological resources and potential, but also seeks to heal disempowering memories and generalisations that undermine you.
A UK IT director for a famous global organisation was going to be promoted to a pan European role. John(1) was competent but was nervous about sitting at the top table with his new peer group. He experienced a lot of fear about not being good enough for the role and that he would be found out to be incompetent, medium IQ and a fraud. Imposter syndrome is surprisingly common in all walks of life. These feelings were heightened by the fact that his new boss was based in America, and he only saw him once when he started the job, and then not again for 3 months. “Daddy” wasn’t giving him positive appreciation, support and feedback. When we explored the feelings and the source of these feelings, it reminded him of the transition from primary school to secondary school. Primary school had been in a small village and had been emotionally warm and welcoming. When he moved to a large secondary school with 1000 pupils at the age of 11, he entered a new, unsafe world. John was teased and bullied by the other boys. His father was on a work assignment away from home and couldn’t support him. By focusing on bringing loving attention and care to his 11-year-old self, the extent to which those old experiences coloured his current circumstances began to reduce. It still annoyed John that his boss hardly talked to him – but, rationally, he knew that this meant his boss thought things were going well. He soon worked out who he could trust in his new peer group and created positive relationships with other senior people. His emotional sensitivity meant that he sought to build good relationships with a broad range of people in the organisation. He found he was often able to circumvent conflict by using emotional intelligence rather than the macho behaviour common in the organisation. After a while he developed a reputation for delivering results and also, for his skill in handling relationships. His emotionally sensitivity and need for security had become part of his gift. Since then he has had two further promotions and is just about to move to a senior role at the company HQ in San Francisco.
What is the difference between coaching and psychotherapy?
Traditional coaching supports a client in “achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance”(2). Traditional Psychotherapy aims to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviours, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills(3).
Yet people seeking to fulfil their potential in life through coaching will often find they have had disempowering early life experiences that hold them back.
We can see that in the history of coaching there have been 3 generations of coaching:
First generation coaching: focused on the vision and goals, goal-setting and teaching behaviours and skills.
Second generation coaching: builds on first generation coaching but also includes the recognition that empowering beliefs are crucial to high-performance. Cognitive methods are used, in order to change undermining experiences and beliefs into new, empowering beliefs.
Third generation coaching: builds on second generation coaching but also uses somatic tools for turning undermining experiences and beliefs into new, empowering beliefs. Somatic memories of states of well-being and Flow(6) are used as the foundation for exploring difficulties. Third generation also seeks to utilise (build on the lessons from) disempowering experiences and beliefs, so even the old wounds are transformed into gifts. The ideal is that both the difficult experiences, and the empowering experiences of your life, are resources to help you fulfil your potential in the future.
Deep coaching is third generation coaching.
Let’s explore 3rd generation coaching -“deep coaching”- in more detail, especially the 3 special features which are:
- Somatic: engages the felt sense.
- Body-mind problem-solving: uses body-mind states to bring the best of the nervous system to bear, in solving problems.
- Turning the wound into a gift: “utilisation(4)” is when all of the client’s experience is seen as having a gift to offer.
1. Somatic: engages the felt sense
Research in psychotherapy(5) shows that therapeutic change depends on the degree to which the client engages the felt sense, their moment by moment lived experience. Instead of focusing just on what the client discusses (the content), the focus needs to be on what the client is experiencing (the process). Only when feelings are engaged does deep change take place.
Third generation coaching applies these insights in coaching.
A woman on The Life Talent Programme, Imogen, knew that something felt “wrong” about how she felt about her body, and brought her attention to the visceral feeling (physically located emotion) in her body. Staying with the feeling, memories began to emerge of sexual assault as a young adult that she had brushed away as “just life”. Once she had identified the feelings and the memories, healing could start to take place.
2. Body-mind problem-solving
Mindfulness, various centering exercises and states of Flow(6) engage the whole body-mind system. We have significantly greater creativity in these states, and the larger body-mind system can more easily hold the difficulty rather than being swamped by it. Meditation, remembering times of high performance, or being at peace with the world, can all be used to engage the larger body-mind system, holding a larger context in which the problem emotion or belief can be healed. In my own work, Life Talent, we engage both “the wise adult mind” and “the warm tender heart”. The wise adult mind is the competent professional self and we use questions like “what is the best thing about being your current age?” to evoke this. For the “warm tender heart” we evoke somatic memories of people who believe in you and care about you, and memories of people you believe in, and you care about. Taking a slightly different approach, Generative Coaching describes this resourceful body-mind state with the acronym COACH: Centered, Open, Aware, Connected, Held.
When Imogen paid attention to the visceral feelings and remembered what had happened, she could then bring her own, wise adult mind and warm tender heart to her own experience. With the loving care of her adult self applied to this old felt sense, she started to feel differently about her body and her past sexual experiences.
3. Turning the wound into a gift
When a disempowering experience and associated belief has been significantly healed, rather than holding you back, it can become part of what helps you fulfil your potential.
In the words of Mary Oliver
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
Once Imogen had sufficiently healed herself of the shame she had felt as a result of being sexually assaulted, she wanted other women to heal, and uses her own story as an example to start conversations about sexual violence. Her old wound became part of her gift.
She is Imogen Butler-Cole(7), actor, theatre director, trainer and activist. Her play Foreign Body has toured the UK and India was described in Hiive as “A truthful, tender story of reclaiming the body after abuse… this show will only continue to grow and charge people with the courage to speak out.”
In my own life, my twin brother become a heroin addict at the age of 18 and I asked a psychotherapist “what can I do to help my brother?” The psychotherapist replied “You cannot help your brother, you are both part of the same toxic family system; you cannot see the wood from the trees”. I then made an unspoken vow that if I could not help him, I would help other people, with the poetic idea that if I helped other people then maybe, somehow, someone would help him. Many people did help him, but all the same, he died at the age of 42 of an overdose. And I am still helping other people. A few years ago, I realised this while I was teaching a large group in China, and it seemed as if I felt my brother’s presence in the room. I was giving a gift to the world on his behalf too. The tragedy of my brother’s death was being redeemed in our shared gift to the world.
It is important to be honest and state clearly that it takes time for a deep wound to become a gift, and that the healing process may go through a number of phases: awareness of the issue, self-compassion, alleviation of the symptoms, significant healing, and finally, a felt-sense realisation that what you have learnt from being wounded contributes significantly to your gift to the world.
Deep coaching – third generation coaching – is practiced by coaches who have either had a felt-sense psychotherapeutic training or have been accredited in third generation coaching, such as Generative Coaching.
A deep coach will limit their interventions to psychological conditions where they have expertise, and will refer to clinicians when there is psychopathology.
Deep coaching concerns itself with psychological events that undermine the agency of an effective individual, but mental disorders are the domain of psychotherapy. A deep coach will have supervision to help determine the boundaries of their coaching expertise and their client relationships.
However, the primary focus of Deep Coaching is to help you achieve your potential: to have a vision for your life, to know what is unique about yourself and to help you express this into the world; We want to make the most of the three marriages: the marriage of love, the marriage with work and the marriage with yourself.
Julian Russell has private client coaching at his practice in Hampstead, North London, as well as executive coaching clients on several continents. I also run a deep coaching 20-day personal transformation programme called The Life Talent Programme. If you wish to discuss coaching with me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a time to talk to me on the phone at https://julianrussell.youcanbook.me
1. Name, function and industry has been changed to protect client confidentiality.
2. Passmore, J. (2016). Excellence in coaching. London: Kogan Page.
3. En.wikipedia.org. (2019). Psychotherapy. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychotherapy [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].
4. “Utilization is the attitude to address each individuality of the client and his life situation with appreciation and to use the unique in each case.” Stefan Hammel: Utilization. In: Jan V. Wirth, Heiko Kleve (ed.): Encyclopedia of systemic work. Basic concepts of systemic practice, methodology and theory. Carl-Auer-Verlag, Heidelberg 2012, p. 441 ff.
5. Gendlin, E. T. (1964). Personality Change. In P. Worchel & D. Byrne (Eds.), A Theory of Personality Change (pp. 102–148). New York, NY: John Wiley & Son; and Gendlin, E. T. (1996). Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.
6. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2016). Flow. [United States]: Joosr Ltd.
7. Imogen Butler-Cole has kindly given permission for her name to be included in this article as an expression of her activism.