Psychological dimensions of coaching

This post is based on insights and takeaways gained from a book that I was recently reading: “Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching” (2006), written by Peter Bluckert.  Even though the book focuses on executive coaching, the psychological dimensions of coaching relate to all types of coaching.

What are the psychological dimensions of coaching? To answer this question, we need to consider the key dimensions of a coaching session. According to Peter Bluckert, these are four:

a)      The client’s story

b)      The client’s emotions

c)       The client’s thoughts

d)      The coach’s use of self

These four dimensions are interrelated to each other. In a coaching session the client always comes with a story. The client wishes to tell the story to help the coach understand the background of the issue that he /she brings to the coaching session. Storytelling is just one dimension in a coaching session and a skillful coach needs to go beyond that. And beyond that lies the understanding of the client’s thinking processes and emotions.  The client’s storytelling is always full of personal interpretations and beliefs and is emotionally charged.  The coach’s job is to listen without judgment and support the client to become aware of his / her emotions and thoughts in relation to objective facts. Coaching is future oriented and is about helping a client move forward. Raising the client’s awareness on an emotional and cognitive level is the crucial first step towards learning and change. The coach’s use of self is inevitably a key dimension in a coaching session that requires a lot of attention.  The coach is not there to share his / her  own thoughts, opinions, worldviews and judgments. The coach is there to reflect back and help the client reach their own conclusions and take their own decisions.

Considering more deeply the causes and meanings of behavior, thoughts and feelings, requires a certain level of psychological skill and competence. According to Peter Bluckert the foundation stone of this competence is psychological mindedness. And how is the competence of psychological mindedness developed? Does one need to study psychology or become a licensed psychotherapist? The answer is NO. It is simply a matter of personal development and personal development is not a simple matter. However, it is an essential element in the development of a coach and it can be argued that it is as crucial as or even more crucial than the development of coaching skills. The development of psychological mindedness requires great self and social awareness, a commitment to continuous personal development, a desire for introspection, an openness to the unknown, and a mindfulness approach to living. It requires being present into NOW and being genuinely curious.

In his book Peter Bluckert highlights the commonalities between coaching and the Gestalt school of psychology. “The fundamental premises upon which both Gestalt and coaching theory are based have much in common. Both are founded on awareness as the precursor to change and each stresses the paramount importance of choice and personal responsibility.” Bluckert explores the application of the Gestalt perspective in executive coaching.

An important proposition of Gestalt about our nature and our change processes as human beings is that we seek to gain closure around issues. According to Gestalt our functioning is a cyclical process that is called the cycle of experience. “Our needs (figures – whatever occupies the foreground of your interest right now) arise from the ground (all those things that go to comprise our background) and are satisfied producing a withdrawal of interest in a cyclical or wave-like rhythmic pattern. This is typically represented in the cycle of experience, a seven-stage process beginning with sensation, moving through awareness and energy mobilization to action and contact producing resolution/ closure and withdrawal of interest.”

Learning, and therefore change, from a Gestalt perspective has to do with changing the ground, not just the figure. Clients often need to dig deeper within the ground to find unfinished businesses, things that they need to get closure on in order to move forward. In this respect, the coach’s job is to identify where the client is standing now and help them raise their awareness, move forward in the cycle of experience and take actions with the aim of getting closure around a specific issue and reach the withdrawal of interest.

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