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PART ONE - THE FUZZY SPACE: EXPLORING THE EXPERIENCE OF THE SPACE BETWEEN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND EXECUTIVE COACHING

Project Introduction The ‘fuzzy space’ I refer to in my portfolio introduction is a space I have found myself frequently entering into when working as an executive coach. This space is one in which, when coaching, I sense a movement from a transactionally-based relationship, focusing on specific performance goals, to a more mutually transformational experience borne in the relationship that is experienced in the coaching session and which draws on my need to be with my client in a more ‘I-Thou’ space i.e. Being-with the other as differentiated from Being-for the other.

Traditionally executive coaching has been seen as a service-based relationship where the clients (organisation and individual) buy from the coach their knowledge, skill and experience of applied leadership development. Usually this works best when the coach concerned has sound business knowledge and experience and has had some experience of leading in the organisational context themselves. Until very recently, this rarely required the coach to have any kind of counselling or psychotherapy training. In my coaching practice, I generally work with the middle-senior management population on presenting issues and opportunities as diverse as returning to work after a period of maternity leave, to understanding how to improve working relationships, to maximising success in new roles, to increasing self-awareness, to developing a more authentic leadership style. All of these require that the client has and wants to develop a certain level of self awareness and understanding.

From an existential perspective, I am keen to explore how ideas and processes like phenomenological exploration, authenticity, leaping in or leaping ahead and being-inthe-world with others are an essential part of not just existential counselling, but any kind of business/executive coaching relationship. I am also keen to explore and understand the broader use of counselling and psychotherapy in the coaching arena.

In my research for this project, I explored the ‘fuzzy space’ with 12 other executive coaches, six of whom also currently practise as psychotherapists or counsellors and another 4 of whom have formal counselling training. As we explored, through dialogue, their experience of being in that fuzzy space or not, my co-researchers highlighted a number of issues, which I have identified as recurring themes to consider (detailed on page 8). I will also explore each of these themes from an executive coaching

perspective and look more closely at how existential philosophy and psychotherapy can help us understand them further.

Finally, I will review what is currently written about existential coaching in an attempt to better understand my own and I am sure others’ struggles with a more prescriptive way of working as a coach and to help elucidate my own journey from ‘fuzzy’ to ‘clearer – but still questioning’.

Framework for Research Dialogues I felt very strongly that I needed to have exploratory, phenomenologically guided conversations with my co-researchers to both stay true to their experience but also to

retain some existential differentiation to my work – I was very aware of not being guided by any pre-formed view or expectation of my findings. I trusted that through attentive questioning that my own ‘fuzzy space’ would be ‘illuminated through careful, comprehensive descriptions and vivid and accurate renderings of the experience’ (Moustakas, 1994: 105).

The questions were designed with the hope of ‘revealing more fully the essences and meanings of human experience’ (ibid). With each of the co-researchers, I found myself exploring different areas in depth. This depth usually depended on three factors – their experience of a ‘fuzzy’ or ‘clear’ space, their philosophy as coaches (how they chose to work with emotions, how they use the relational space), and their level of comfort or discomfort with the ‘fuzzy space’ I describe. See Appendix 1 for my approach to the dialogue, my framework of questions and further details on the professional background of my co-researchers.

Reviewing the dialogues I chose to follow the Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method of data analysis and review (Moustakas, 1994: 122). Firstly I ensured I had recorded all relevant statements made by my co-researchers, then I identified and highlighted any key and repetitive sentences or statements that I had recorded and I then gathered them into broader groupings and ultimately into themes. The 6 general themes I identified in my research which help me to understand other’s experience of being or not being in the ‘fuzzy space’ are:

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Contracting (the conversation up front which clarifies not just what will be worked on but how)

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Relationship (how this is built and how it is used in the coaching work) Space that is different (fuzzy or clear but in both cases defined and distinguishable)

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Co-creation (of the coaching experience and the insights to be gained from it) Being authentic (with self and client and noticing when the client or self are being inauthentic)

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Potential for harm (and the awareness of doing harm to the client by leading them into a space they do not wish to or are not ready to go)

Clear not fuzzy All of my co-researchers were able to identify with my experience of a ‘fuzzy space’ or being in a place that is ‘not pure coaching and not pure counselling either’ (coresearcher no. 41). Nine of the 12 were not currently experiencing the space as fuzzy but instead described it as being quite clear to them i.e. they knew what they were doing and why and so did the client. They said that at some point in their careers they had probably questioned it or wondered about their own coaching approach or style but that over time they had increased in clarity and confidence about how they went about coaching. All nine were very explicit that they don’t do ‘transactional coaching’ which is

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As I have ensured the confidentiality of all co-researchers, I will identify quotations by the number of the co-researcher interviewee in the order that I dialogued with them i.e. the quote above was from the fourth co-researcher I interviewed.

just based on the achievement of set performance goals alone and were strong in their belief that ‘we cannot separate the person from the performance’ (co-researcher no. 1).

Some described the difference in themselves over time as a greater emphasis on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ in the coaching relationship. Bluckert makes this differentiation when he says ‘Good coaching is a dialogue rather than an interview, with a looser and more flexible rhythm. This requires the coach to relax, let go of fixed ideas of where the session should go and work more with emerging needs and process’ (2006: 77).

My personal journey During the research process, I noticed that I have been feeling less grounded and confident in my abilities as a coach. Whilst the dialogues have helped clarify some of the fuzziness, they have also raised many more questions. I have questioned my preference for a less structured, more emergent way of working with my coaching clients and I have questioned my desire to work and explore emotions. In reviewing the data and literature, I am building on that clarity through the exploration of these key themes, thinking more about my own existential approach to coaching and identifying questions that I will continue to ask long after this project has been completed.

Research Themes Contracting

10 of my 12 participants reinforced the importance of open and clear contracting. In psychotherapy, we talk about contract and framework in a similar vein to coaching, but from my research I understand that coaches are much more explicit and demanding of their clients in the contracting phase i.e. that they will always clearly state their preferred methods of working and their expectations of their clients in doing the work with them. In ‘The Skilled Helper’ a book initially targeted at the therapeutic community but now widely used in organisation consulting and coaching training, Egan describes a detailed contract with eight distinct parts, including ‘the nature and goals of the helping process’, ‘an overview of the helping approach together with some ideas of the techniques to be used’ and ‘how the relationship is to be structured and the kinds of responsibilities both you and the client will have’ (2002: 65). When discussing contract, the majority of my co-researchers also mentioned these three elements.

They also described being very explicit with their clients that sometimes the work would necessitate they explored their past experiences to try to understand their current dilemmas and that they were expecting to look closely at, and gain insight from the client’s way of living. They also were explicit about using their experience of the coachclient relationship to reflect on how the client experienced relationships in general or how they were experienced by others.

My experience in psychotherapy and counselling is that the initial contracting conversation centres more explicitly around the logistics and practicalities of the relationship i.e. meeting times, payment terms, arrangements for absence and holiday, whilst the three elements above may be considered and may be in the therapists mind

but are not as directly and openly discussed as they are in coaching. In coaching, there is also more flexibility around how client and coach access each other e.g. not every week, intermediate conversations can take place via telephone or email and often the coach can reveal much more of themselves in the relationship.

Relationship ‘There has to be an awareness of the importance of dialogue and exchange of views in quiet conversation, where each person is equal and capable of considering what can be learnt from collaborative exploration (Van-Deurzen, 2005: 14). Whilst Van-Deurzen is describing the counselling relationship, this quotation reminds me of the equality that my co-researchers described as being essential to the success of the coaching contract and what needs to exist in order for the coaching relationship to be one that is potentially transformational for the client. Furthermore, it was deemed necessary by my co-researchers that the relationship becomes one of the main foci for the coaching work itself. Bluckert strongly argues that the coach needs to bring themselves fully into the relationship and notice what is happening between him and client when he states ‘the very dynamics occurring in the coaching relationship may be a mirror image of client’s experiences in their workplace relationships and they may be completely unaware of it’ (2006: 85).

Existential thinking has some unique and powerful ideas to add to this understanding of the importance of relationship in coaching. Firstly there’s the Heideggerian concept of being-in-the-world-with-others. ‘Existential-phenomenological theory has always insisted upon viewing human beings from a relational rather than an isolated

perspective. In this way it speaks of existence as a being-in-the-world – in other words as a co-constituting self-world of self-other relationship (Spinelli, 1997: 5). Spinelli following Heidegger argues that we cannot exist in the world in isolation of others (although we may try to) and that existence is a with-world where relationships are everywhere. Existential thinking places a strong emphasis on the importance of the relationship and the individual’s experience of being in a world with others. The practice of existential psychotherapy has much to teach us about exploring our coaching client’s experience of being-in-the-world with others.

Buber, emphasised that the ‘I-Thou’ attitude requires the ‘I to take the risk of entering itself fully into the encounter: to leap into the unpredictability of a genuine dialogue with all of its being – including its vulnerabilities – and to be open to the possibility of being fundamentally transformed by the encounter’ (Cooper, 2003: 20). Perhaps through role modelling this willingness to take the leap and be with the other, we can develop in our clients the courage to do the same. As in therapy, it places much more emphasis on the relationship than on the outcome of the coaching work.

Spinelli talks of conflicts in both internal and external relationships. Internally we are in conflict between our values and behaviours or our ‘inability to live up to the demands and aspirations I have set for myself’ (Spinelli, 1997: 6). At the same time we are in conflict with external others i.e. ‘with partners, friends, colleagues or the world in general’ (ibid). I find it very interesting that my experience of coaching and other coaches is that they are generally more willing and comfortable to work with the internal conflict than the external relationship between themselves and client, although they are

comfortable exploring the client’s other external relationships. When coaches chose to ‘take the risk of bringing the present relationship to attention’ (co-researcher no. 2) it can often create a positive shift in the client’s degree of trust and willingness to look at self and potentially may have some ‘breakthrough’ impact. Spinelli describes this further when he says ‘whatever we can draw upon in the experience of the coaching relationship allows the other to reflect on relationships external to it’.2

Heidegger in his Zollikon seminars (where, interestingly, he was teaching psychiatrists what to do from an existential phenomenological perspective) highlighted a key question we should ask in exploring our being-with and relating to others when he says that we need to ask ourselves ‘'Wo, womit bin ich, wenn ich mit Ihnen bin?' (Heidegger, 1987: 145) This literally translates as ' Where with which I am if I am with you?' Cohn simplifies this slightly by interpreting it as ‘where and what am I when I am with you?’ (2002: 36). For me, this is such a powerful question to consider in understanding both the relationship between coach and client but also on what it might say about the client’s relationships with the external world – both in terms of where and what we experience as the client and where and what they experience of us. Again, in conversation with Spinelli, he proposes that it may not be the same ‘I’ that enters into the coaching or therapeutic relationship and that it is helpful to wonder ‘who was I being there’ and ‘what’s the difference that’s going on here’ (ibid).

Space

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In personal conversation with Ernesto Spinelli, 10/07/07 and quoted with his permission

Heidegger has been the most useful philosopher in helping me to understand my struggle in this ‘fuzzy space’. Heidegger distinguishes a dwelling place from relationship and refers to what I and my co-researchers described as the ‘separate space that is created and entered into by coach and client’ when he says that he relates to the other not just as an individual but that ‘I stay with you in the same Hiersein.' (1987: 145). Again, Cohn gives this added clarity in translating it as ‘I am not related to your presence as an individual, but dwell with you in the same Being-here’ (Cohn, 2002: 36). So, what I take from this is that whilst the coaching relationship is significant, what is also significant (and may, with some clients, be critical) is the ‘dwelling place’ or ‘space’ that is created for you both to work in.

Lee describes a ‘learning’ space created between coach and manager that invites openness to possibilities. ‘It is a space where long-held certainties, conscious and unconscious can be examined; where fixed patterns of feeling, thinking and doing can be understood in terms of the results they achieve’ (2003: 62). Bluckert describes it as a ‘holding space’ that provides a safe enough, strong enough space to contain the stresses in the situation (2006: 101).

Lee gets very close, from a coaching perspective, to describing a possible existential phenomenological approach to the development of this space, when he says ‘the creation of a learning space depends on a particular quality of the coach that we might describe as ‘not knowing’....the coach’s capacity for openness, reflection, questioning, wondering and entertaining possibilities.......a willingness to stay with the uncertainties without reaching prematurely for fact or reason’ (2003: 63). I wonder if he has been

informed by Spinelli’s well-known description of on the phenomenological method that he calls ‘Un-knowing’ i.e. ‘the attempt to remain as open as possible to what presents itself to our relational experience’ (1997: 8). It appears that this phenomenological stance is required to create a higher quality learning space for the client. One of my coresearchers stated very concisely ‘coaching is learning’ (co-researcher no. 9). I believe as coaches, we serve better in taking the co-learner role rather than creating a relationship of expert-learner which might reflect a more psychodynamic approach to counselling. I have often, as a coach and counsellor experienced the client needing the expert to be brought into the space – often due to their anxiety at not-knowing or their lack of confidence in them self to find the answer. I believe it is the coach’s job to help them understand this anxiety and find ways to refine the questions they are asking until the answer presents itself to them.

In training as existential therapists we are encouraged to explore the client’s experience of their own world with a genuine interest. This requires a certain kind of space, with less emphasis on time limitations and less focus on outcomes. Bluckert describes the benefits of setting a different pace to create this learning space: ‘when we slow down and examine issues more thoroughly, becoming aware of the process we are really dealing with, a new factor often emerges into the equation – ourselves (2006: 48). He also notices how difficult it is for coaches to do this, particularly those who are less experienced or may be used to working differently – ‘Many of our trainee coaches begin with a strong tendency to look for the solution to the client’s problem in the external reality – the outer game. ‘They eagerly race towards a practical set of actions before fully understanding the complexities of the issue in the first place.’ (2006: 48).

Co-creation Most of my co-researchers described a process that happens in this learning space, where coach and client work together to develop a joint understanding of whatever is being considered. There is a feeling that something new emerges for both coach and client which they can share in the experience of the coaching relationship and often are able to take away and reflect on separately afterwards. In discussion with Spinelli, he described the coach and client ‘co-creating a world where they experience themselves being with each other in a certain way that is different to how they are when they are not in that particular relationship’ (July 2007).

Strasser and Strasser provide a rich description of it from a therapeutic perspective: ‘The client and the therapist may experience a feeling of togetherness. These are the moments when there is an intense understanding of how the client gains his or her meaning, where there is a combining of two understanding minds working towards the greater goal (1997: 24).

The intensity of co-creating with a client creates for me, and for a number of my coresearchers, an experience of minimal self-consciousness, of my ‘I’ being minimised. They expressed a particular shift in energy and physicality when this happens e.g. ‘I stop noticing what I’m doing’ (co-researcher no. 10), ‘I get an enormous sense of wellbeing, of being ‘in flow’ (co-researcher no. 9), ‘the work seems effortless and yet we are both carried along by it’ (co-researcher no. 11) and ‘it is often when we are in this

place that we have our greatest breakthroughs and insights’ (co-researcher no. 5). Spinelli interprets what Husserl has to say on the experience of minimal selfconsciousness and in the paradox Husserl himself identified – ‘when we consider the most astounding, the most vital, the most involving experiences in our lives, those times when we felt most ‘alive’ we find that here too, the I is minimally self-conscious; indeed during such times there seems to be little, if any I-related experience (Spinelli, 1997: 121).

Often in minimising our ‘I’ and facilitating this with the client, we are able to move experience from ‘subjective’ to ‘objective’. Kegan talks about ‘subject’ as ‘the place where things are experienced as unquestioned simply because they are the very lens through which we see life. They are taken for granted....Our reality. Object on the other hand refers to things that are now in fuller awareness and can be seen, thought about, questioned and acted upon in a new way’ (Bluckert, 2006: 81). In coaching, we encourage our clients to practice reflection, to master the art of moving the subjective to the objective, in order for them to be able to have a fuller understanding of their behaviour, thoughts, and relationships and thus hopefully prove greater insight and be potentially transformative. In fact, the entire coaching session can often be one of reflecting on what’s been going on for the client and bringing it more into a more objective and illuminated view.

Being Authentic Many of my co-researchers talked about the need for congruence in both developing and maintaining an effective coaching relationship and as necessary for creating a

learning space. When asked to describe it further they talked of a genuineness of feeling, an ability to openly express what one is experiencing in the relationship with the client, and a matching of values with behaviour. One of Carl Roger’s descriptions of congruence says that the ‘feelings the therapist is experiencing are available to him, available to his awareness and he is able to live these feelings, be them and able to communicate them if appropriate’ (1951: 61). Of course, he then goes onto describe how no-one fully achieves this all the time but that we must listen to what is going on within ourselves and ultimately understand what it might be saying about the relationship.

Existential authenticity is about being true to one’s own values and beliefs, not to those of the herd (Cooper, 2003: 27). Often as coaches we have to role model this authentic being, including noticing when we are acting in ‘bad faith’ (Sartre: Being and Nothingness, 1943) and being open about when we are doing this. In addition, we have to attend to and often, highlight with our clients, when they are finding it hard to be authentic themselves. I often find myself in conversations with clients in organisations about their choice (or as they see it, lack of choice). Sartre’s idea of ‘bad faith’ is also helpful in understanding our refusal of choice. As Cooper puts it ‘At the heart of such self-deception is a denial of our freedom and responsibility’ (ibid: 23). Often we hear clients saying things like ‘they expect me to behave this way’ or if I want to get on in this organisation I am going to have to start behaving like this’ which is an example of the client falling into the world of the ‘they’.

Potential for harm

I have been reluctant to criticise any of the methods or approaches to coaching which encourage working with emotions without the necessary experience or training of coaches. However, most of my co-researchers were keen discuss the subject of the potential harm that can be done when a client is led into a place that he or she may not be ready or willing to go. One of my co-researchers described an experience they had had with a client before they were trained or more developed as a coach which had resulted in a serious emotional breakdown for the client. Some shared stories of interventions that had gone wrong with other coaches who were untrained or unprepared to deal with the experience of tapping into deep emotions. A number referred to Roger’s basic trio of congruence, empathy and positive regard as the most essential elements of avoiding harming the client.

In the last 3-4 years, there has been an increasing drive to encourage coaches to have some counselling or psychological training, or at the very least some coaching supervision. There are a number of professional coaching bodies who require supervision as a key part of their coaching accreditation process. APECS, of whom I am a member, require that the coach has BACP/UKCP level psychological training or is well on their way towards it. Not all experts see counselling training as necessary but instead talk of the need for ‘psychological mindedness’ – ‘an umbrella concept that refers to people’s capacity to reflect on themselves, others and the relationship between’ (Bluckert: 2006: 87). Vaughan-Smith makes a clear distinction on the emotional aspect when she describes coaching as ‘a future focused, goal and action oriented process that uses many of the same skills as therapy but with a different orientation and relationship (2007: 3). I am not sure that the distinction is as clean cut as Vaughan-Smith describes. Lee also appears to disagree when he says ‘In practice,

the process of change in coaching and therapy are more similar. Both require an engagement with the personal and the practical......working through emotional blocks can be essential for realising positive and sustainable change (2003: 22).

The majority of my co-researchers talked about the potential harm that can be done from a badly timed, poorly intentioned or unskilled intervention which seeks to explore a person’s deeper feelings about a work situation, as well as highlighting the potential harm that can be done by not recognising or not attending to heightened emotion or emotional distress. This harm can be as severe as triggering a vulnerable individual into a severely emotionally distressed state, to a loss of trust in the coaching relationship, to the client feeling robbed of their own responsibility for change, to a breakdown of confidence in the coaching process, to ‘burn-out’ for the unsupervised coach and much more.

The majority of current coaching practice is heavily influenced by cognitive behavioural therapy. McMahon, one of the most well regarded coaches, and herself a BACP accredited counsellor, talks of a ‘cognitive-behavioural coaching approach’ which uses a process of ‘guided discovery’ or Socratic questioning which ‘enables the client to become aware of the way he is thinking’ (2007: 53). However, Brunning believes that a number of these cognitive-behavioural approaches can be too quick-fix and that there are potential dangers with ‘coaches who lack rigorous psychological training doing more harm than good’ (2006: XXV). Maybe coaches do not all require ‘rigorous psychological training’. Indeed I have met and worked with a number of coaches with no formal training but with considerable self awareness and ‘psychological

mindedness’.

Bachkirova & Cox take a more balanced view in their 2004 research

paper where they looked at ‘a considerable body of research into the dynamics of the relationship during psychotherapy and counselling and we believe that coaches cannot work ethically without some form of understanding of these’ (International Journal of Coaching and Mentoring, July 2004). In fact, they elaborate further on what they mean by understanding when they say: ‘Coaches cannot avoid working with ‘blocks’ to development with the client and for this reason we would argue, they need to build on the body of knowledge developed in psychotherapy and counselling.........a good understanding of counselling theories is necessary in order to be able to notice and interpret developmental phenomena and blocks to development’ (ibid).

Bluckert believes ‘it is entirely appropriate on occasions to facilitate emotional expression in the coaching context. Sometimes it is the very breakthrough that is urgently needed for the client to get unstuck and move on’ (2006: 83). One kind of ‘unsticking’ I have been made aware of in my conversations with my co-researchers is the ‘cathartic intervention’ as described by Heron in his ‘six category intervention model’. This catharsis, he describes, seems to be able to take many forms, from a more phenomenological ‘literary description’ to a more psychoanalytic ‘hypnotic regression’ to ‘hyperventilation’, ‘physical holding’ and even the use of ‘psychotropic drugs’ (2001: 103). Heron’s original work was focused on counselling training, but has more recently been taken up by a number of coaching training institutes and Heron even states one of its central uses is the training of trainers and facilitators in business professions (2006: preface to 4th edition). This does cause me concern as even as a trained

psychotherapist, I am uncomfortable with the use of the majority of cathartic interventions and can only fear what they might do to an emotionally vulnerable individual as well as the potential damage to the coaching relationship itself e.g. breakdown of trust. Existential Coaching There is not much out there written about ‘existential coaching’ Ernesto Spinelli and others (including myself) are mostly independently, practicing their own approach to it. On his ‘Existential coaching’ website, Spinelli talks about a ‘life-space’ being created for clients: ‘Existential coaching argues that it is not terribly useful to apply general techniques to specific and uniquely experienced life issues. Instead, the creation of a secure and trustworthy ‘life-space’ encourages clients to get to know more accurately and to experience more honestly just what their worldview is, what it is like to experience oneself and others through that worldview, and how the current dilemmas, concerns and uncertainties that are presenting themselves may be challenges to, or outcomes of, that very same worldview’ (2005, http://www.plexworld.com/exist01.html).

From this I understand that there is a reluctance to develop and rely on tools and techniques in the coaching relationship and that the focus is in creating an exploratory space to understand how the individual experiences living and to help them identify and understand the paradoxes that life presents. In conversation with Spinelli he described

the process of one of ‘active investigation’ into the client’s way of being into the organisation as well as how they interact with the organisational system itself.3

As part of the special group in coaching psychology set up within the British Psychological Society, Spinelli talks about the emphasis on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ in the coaching relationship: ‘Existential coaching emphasises a way of being in the world as opposed to focusing principally upon change-focused ‘doing’ interventions. Rather, it relies principally upon the clarificatory possibilities arising from the coach and client’s experience of being in relation with one another and how this experience illuminates the whole of the client’s worldview’ (2005, http://www.bps.org.uk/coachingpsy/coachingpsy_home.cfm).

Bruce Peltier dedicates a chapter in ‘The Psychology of Executive Coaching’ (2001) to the ‘Existential Stance’ where he recommends six core concepts that the executive coach needs to understand if choosing to work existentially with clients. These include among them: ‘Choice’, ‘The Herd Instinct’, ‘Confrontation’ and ‘The Absurd’. He also provides ten existential guidelines for the executive coach, including ‘Anticipate anxiety and defensiveness’ where he warns ‘beware of the client who reports no anxiety, for it means that he or she is not able to notice or discuss feelings or his or her subjective inner state’. Spinelli also places an emphasis on anxiety as a focus for existential coaching:

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In personal conversation with Ernesto Spinelli, 10/07/07 and quoted with his permission

Existential Coaching recognises that anxiety is not necessarily "a bad thing" or a problematic presence that must be reduced or removed. The feeling of anxiety can be stimulating, can put us in touch with our sense of being alive, and is the source to all creative and original insight and decision-making. On reflection, a life that was anxiety-free would be empty of meaning, enthusiasm, curiosity and the urge to advance itself (2005, http://www.plexworld.com/exist01.html). Explaining this further from a coaching perspective4, he talks about the executive’s anxiety as s/he looks forward at the several possibilities open to them and the choices to be made. He also points out that as coach’s we have to pay attention to the wider system and that organizations themselves have different responses to their own uncertainty and anxiety and that it is helpful to understand the client’s response to this.

In my own practice as an independent executive coach, I often work with my clients using an existential approach e.g. exploring and understanding meaning and purpose in their working lives as well as in their ‘whole’ lives, identifying and understanding paradoxes, understanding how my client responds to existential ‘givens’ in their working lives e.g. the absurdity of organizations, responsibility and the freedom to choose . In my work with clients I am aware of avoiding the Heideggarian ‘leaping in’. From a coaching perspective, Van Deurzen’s description is helpful when she says ‘we may care so much for the other that we take over from him and take away his care for himself……..when we leap in for the other we rob him of himself and his openness to the world’ (1997: 38). I believe that there can be more of a risk of this in coaching where there is more of an emphasis on outcome – for coach, client and organisational
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In personal conversation with Ernesto Spinelli, 10/07/07 and quoted with his permission

sponsor. As Cooper puts it ‘Leaping-in involves taking over the other person’s concerns and projects for them, and handing them back the task when it has been completed or disburdening them of it altogether’ (2003: 19).

I also use Van-Deurzen’s four existential dimensions when I am working with my coaching clients, particularly at the start of the relationship, when their story is being told. In the same way that I do in counselling, I pay attention to and explore their experience of each of the dimensions as a way of hopefully illuminating their experience of living e.g. I will explore the clients world of being-with self and others as well as wondering about their experience of the physical world. If a client presents to me as highly driven and successful, yet physically shows signs of stress or self-neglect, I will subtly explore the physical dimension with in an attempt to have a fuller understanding of their overall sense of wellbeing or struggle.

There is so much more to explore and understand in relation to an existential approach to coaching. I am aware that what is out there is limited, but I believe there is a growing body of existentially oriented coaching practitioners who I hope to engage with and cocreate ideas with in the fullness of time.

Leaving the fuzzy space behind As I said at the start of this paper, my research journey has taken me away from the fuzzy space and toward a clearer understanding of what goes on between myself and my client in the coaching relationship and how this is different from and mostly similar

to my experience as a counsellor. I have come to realize that in the same way that coaching and counseling cannot be distinctly compartmentalized, nor can I compartmentalize myself. In my coaching supervision, I work with a very helpful framework of coaching styles which gives me the freedom to explore what I am naturally drawn to and the extent to which I can and am willing to flex for my clients. I am always aware that it would be in bad faith for me to avoid talking about the relationship or attempting to co-create a learning space, whilst at the same time I need to be guided by the client’s willingness to bring their full self. In researching this project, I am clearer about what I mean by a fuzzy space, I am even certain that for me that space is less fuzzy.

Appendix 1 – Research Dialogue and Participants Each of the dialogues began with some sharing of experiences. Where the coresearchers were unknown to me, we spent a lot of time ‘getting to know each other’ in terms of experience, background in coaching and counselling and general orientation. Where the co-researchers were known I would briefly recap on anything about my research they were unclear about or any gaps in their understanding of my background or mine of theirs.

The second stage of the dialogue would usually be my contextualisation and description of what I call ‘the fuzzy space between coaching and counselling’ and my sharing of my own experience of this. This would often then naturally lead into the flow of questioning.

I did not record any of the dialogues. I made fairly detailed notes of each conversation as it took place which I then reviewed and elaborated on immediately after the conversation.

Questions The following is a list of questions that I used as a framework in conducting my face-toface and telephone dialogues with my co-researchers. I walked them through the list of questions, reading them aloud and noted down their answers as they spoke. When the

dialogues were complete, I checked over my notes to fill in any gaps I saw and ensure nothing key was missed. 1. How would you describe the space I am talking about as the ‘fuzzy space’? 2. How do you feel about that space? 3. Can you describe a particular client situation where you have clearly entered into a more personal, emotional and potentially transformational space? If so, can you talk me through the events leading up to it and what happened in the space itself? 4. What was going on for you when you were in that space i.e. what were you thinking? What were you feeling? 5. How would you describe what you were doing in that space – for the client or together with the client? 6. Did you notice any change of energy – of yourself or the client? 7. Can you tell me about what you experienced immediately after the session was over? 8. Can you tell me what you experienced a little while later when reflecting back on the session? 9. Is there anything else you would like to share or discuss as part of this dialogue?

Participants The 12 individuals who participated in my research project as co-researchers have varying levels of coaching and counselling training (the descriptions are taken broadly from their own words). The breakdown is as follows: UKCP/BACP registered counsellors and trained coaches (including personal therapy as part of training) Trained coaches with some counselling training (including personal therapy as part of training) Trained coaches who have experienced their own therapy or counselling Trained coaches who would describe themselves with a high degree of self-awareness and a high degree of comfort in working with the client’s emotions 6 2 2 (+ 8 above) 2

I am deeply grateful to the generosity of time and thought that I benefited from with each of my co-researchers.

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