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Coaching Services Are Increasing in Popularity but What Exactly Is Coaching?

I’m a certified coach with best-in-class training. Yet, sometimes I still make this mistake in coaching!

Sometimes I make a mistake and forget that people may seek out to learn about coaching services but may not know that much about coaching.

As coaches, we try to keep it simple and use clear, concise language whenever possible. Also, coaching, as a client-centered process, is focused on YOU and your desired outcomes in life.

However, there are also some pretty hefty science-based terms related to coaching. In particular, the science that backs coaching methodologies and makes up coaching psychology! (From a bird’s eye-level perspective, coaching psychology emphasizes applications used in coaching that are evidence-based). These heftier, sciency words may make the concept of coaching a little confusing.

Also, (and I will go ahead and call it as I see it), there may be some pretty irrational claims out there of benefits or expected outcomes from enrolling in coaching services. For those of us who have legitimate training and credentials and also work hard to deliver value-driven, personalized coaching experiences, erroneous claims make us a little batty as well.

So, Ashley, what is coaching & what can I expect from it?

Coaching is a modality rooted in human well-being and performance. The rationale of coaching is to support individuals with personal and professional goals and overall personal development. Coaching can support a wide range of individuals across an array of circumstances. From this perspective, coaching can be pretty relevant.

There are a few definitions of what coaches do floating around out there. One of the most common dialogues is something along the lines of the following:

Coaches engage with individuals and groups in evidence-based, client-centered processes that facilitate and empower clients to develop and achieve self-determined goals.

There are several “and’s” in that passage and, one of those heftier terms, self-determined goals. (Coaching methodology is rooted in a range of behavioral theories, including Self-Determination Theory which asserts that someone who feels a relevant degree of autonomy, connectedness with other people, and competency will be set up for stronger motivation).

Yet, in essence, coaching helps you through accountability, support, and thought-provoking questions. It’s a facilitated process, which can help you find clarity, agency, and even creativity in your life.

The concept of self-directed goals and priorities often confuses people. One may ask, what is the coach doing?

Coaches also empower people through facilitating exploration, support to mobilize internal strengths, identification of external resources, and promoting self-management strategies. An appropriately trained (and practicing) coach won’t advise or tell you what you should do. Coaches will help their clients to use personal insights, strengths, and resources in goal setting, life planning, and so forth. Essentially, this helps build a stronger sense of agency.

It may go without needing to say, but ultimately, there is an art and science to coaching. It is a practice about people, their thoughts, decision-making, and other things that make them whole (as in a real live person)! Coaching practice is rooted in specific methodologies but may take meandering paths. Also, many coaches specialize in specific development areas or niches.

Coaching is not to be confused with psychotherapy or other psychological treatments. Psychologists and therapists spend years learning about people’s psychological processes and what may throw them into disarray (such as experiencing some form of trauma).

Coaches are not therapists and should not represent themselves as so. (Unless, perhaps, they are, in fact, a licensed therapist!) Coaching does not substitute for therapy nor prevent, cure, or treat any mental disorder (as defined by the American Psychiatric Association) or medical disease.

However, coaches are trained to recognize topics better addressed through modalities, such as psychotherapies. Also, they may be prepared to refer you to appropriate therapists.

Coaches work with people who are emotionally and psychologically healthy. Also, most of the work in coaching focuses on the present and future. Although past experiences can provide relevant insights, the purpose of coaching is not to unpack the past. Coaching is also highly centered on learning opportunities, reflections, and goals.

People may also be in a place where working with a coach and therapist simultaneously could be beneficial. However, this option will be on a case-by-case basis.

More on what to expect from coaching is available on the Experience Coaching website by ICF (International Coaching Federation).

What should I expect when I meet with a trained coach?

Coaching sessions have a bit of a cadence. This cadence applies to the coach-client relationship and the coaching sessions themselves.

Early coaching sessions may focus more on building rapport in the coach-client relationship, exploration, and identifying the vision. Later sessions may be more topic-specific.

Often coaching sessions hone one desired outcome for the session. A skillful coach may be able to help you focus on more than one topic of the day if it proves relevant to do so. Also, some coaches offer longer session durations while others tailor to people with busy lives with shorter sessions.

Coaches will, however, facilitate coaching sessions to keep you on track for your stated and desired outcome.

Ultimately, coaches work to fill in the big picture of who the client is and what they want. Doing so may include discussions that incorporate a person’s values, sense of purpose, aspirations, life vision, and specific personal factors. The emphasis on learning priorities may prompt the coach to facilitate exploration into what drives a person and what ways they learn best.

While the client drives the goals and action steps, the coach explores and works to understand their goals and priorities, including the relevance, potential commitment, and what may need to change to accomplish those desired goals and action steps.

Finally, the coach focuses on ways to elicit true and personal motivations. Accessing and utilizing intrinsic motivation is one of those science-based areas that helps put a little proof of the pudding (so to speak) into coaching practice.

A coach may also help someone recognize and celebrate progress. Of course, the goal is the “big idea,” but small steps and learnings along the way also deserve acknowledgment.

In closing (and final remarks on what coaching is and perhaps isn’t).

Wellcoaches, a leader in coach training and service delivery, describes coaching as a growth-promoting relationship, which elicits motivation, increases the capacity to change, and facilitates a change process through visioning, goal setting, and accountability.

While some of those coaching science types, such as Anthony M. Grant, describe coaching as systematic applications of the behavioral science of psychology to enhance life experience, work performance, and well-being for individuals, groups, and organizations.

Coaching leverages theories of behavior science and evidence-based modalities to help people shift (or transform) their behavior and mindset so that their actions and lines of thinking more closely align with what they ultimately want and desire out of life.

Coaching focuses on personal growth and optimal experiences within someone’s life journey (despite their specific circumstances or backgrounds). Coaches typically believe that positivity and moving forward are within the scope of possibilities, even when life throws a few lemons (a.k.a. setbacks or challenges).

What does it mean to be a certified well-being coach?

Ashley completed certified training in positive psychology-based coaching, which is a popular modality in well-being-focused coaching. Although most coaches will receive an overview of applying positive psychology in coaching practice, not all coaches have dedicated extensive time and training within the applications.

Well-being coaching embodies the premise of thriving vs. just surviving. It typically emphasizes ways to cultivate self-awareness for how you work best. Doing so may include aligning priorities with one’s sense of purpose and meaning, finding personal rhythms, peak times, and flow, and managing energy over time management. 

Well-being coaching also operates on the premise that when people feel good about things, they are more likely to demonstrate positive behaviors, which may lead to a sense of flourishing. Garnering a steady sense of optimism balanced with realistic perspectives of the world helps support people in doing that. A well-being coach is also likely to be versed in areas of emotional and social intelligence.

Applications from positive psychology are an important part of well-being-focused coaching. In a nutshell, the perspective from positive psychology in coaching is to prioritize the optimization of personal strengths and attributes (vs. focus on weaknesses). It’s not that weaknesses, gaps, or struggles aren’t acknowledged. These factors may be relevant for a personal or professional development plan. However, the primary emphasis of positive psychology-based coaching is to leverage learning, intrinsic motivations, and applications of a person’s strong suits in working on goals, priorities, and challenges in life.

A systematic review of positive psychology-based coaching defined this style of coaching as a professional, collaborative relationship between a client and coach that is aimed at identifying, utilizing, developing, and optimizing personal strengths and resources to enhance positive states, traits, and behaviors.

Furthermore, the researchers identified positive psychology-based coaching as one that facilitates personal growth, optimal functioning in life, enhancing well-being, and actualization of a person’s potential. The research publication in Frontiers in Psychology also identified primary mechanisms that contribute to the effectiveness of this style of coaching.

Ashley was drawn to applied positive psychology in coaching because people often face complexities and entwined components across their life areas. Just because someone, for example, desires to lose weight and seeks out the support of a coach, doesn’t mean that they won’t end up identifying intersecting life areas to work on.

Ultimately, the lens and perspective from positive psychology-based coaching emerged time and time again in coaching people. The modality provides significance to the focus on real people in their normal lives.

In general, positive psychology-based coaching streamlines a positive and supportive coaching-client relationship. It helps people identify their core strengths, skills, aptitudes, character, and values and then translate those attributes into a clear vision plan. The idea of a vision plan could be like a master plan, such as a life vision plan, or could be specific to a topic or priority area. Finally, positive psychology in coaching focuses on realistic “do” steps for clients while also celebrating progress and learning that emerges along the way.

This style of coaching can be applied to a range of areas, including:

  • Lifestyle planning
  • Clarity/vision, Clear life vision plans
  • Identifying & applying personal strengths and core skills/aptitudes
  • Personal performance in life, work, family, etc.
  • Work-life-family integration
  • Stress & well-being
  • Life changes & transitions
  • Getting on track (or unstuck)
  • Cultivating resilience & coping skills
  • Responding to setbacks in life
  • Overcoming barriers or adversity
  • Standing up or advocating for oneself, Also, self-compassion & personal advocacy
  • Positive vs. Negative thought patterns & Getting out of rabbit holes of negative thinking
  • Specific areas of personal wellness

If you wish to learn more about coaching service options with Ashley, check out the Work With Me page. As always, we welcome your questions and encourage people to take advantage of our complimentary introduction calls.

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