I was interviewed by Eric Maisel in 2016 for his Future of Mental Health Series on Psychology Today. This is my take on what Transformational Coaching is and how it differs from psychotherapy.
Rosie Kuhn takes the interesting position that coaching is actually more rigorous than therapy, because coaching by it nature demands that the client work and therapy, which focuses on "diagnosing" (which the therapist does) and "treating" (which the therapist does) by definition doesn’t. Naturally this point of view could be hotly disputed; but it is surely a consequence of the current, dominant paradigm of "treating mental disorders with pills and expert talk" that it fosters passivity in the person being helped. Here is Rosie Kuhn on transformational coaching.
EM: You are a transformational coach and you train transformational coaches. What is a transformational coach and with whom does a transformational coach work?
RK: First I want to clarify what transformational coaching is, and that "transformation" can mean different things to different people. My specific model of transformational coaching is not meant to suggest that through a few light sessions “ Bing!- a client will be transformed. It is meant to suggest that as an individual proceeds through the sometimes arduous process of transforming their way of being in the world, a transformational coach will steward them through a process of peeling back the layers of self-revelation, which frees them up to live into the experience of self-actualization. A transformational coach has the experience, the tools, and the skill to be a steward, guide and thinking partner for individuals wanting to optimize their livelihood.
My specific model of transformational coaching is actually a highly practical spiritual practice. As one un-conceals all of the limiting beliefs and interpretations they’ve been holding onto, which may be embedded deep within their emotional and pain bodies (as Eckhart Tolle calls them), the individual then finds themselves liberated and free to choose in service of fulfilling their highest expression of their essential nature. Thus, they will have access to their fullest potentiality, and can effortlessly manifest even the impossible.
A transformational coach works with individuals who have enough ego-strength, self-discipline, and dedication to the fulfillment of their desired outcome that they willingly immerse themselves in self-exploration. These clients are daring, enterprising, curious, and capable of meeting themselves with self-honor and self-respect. They have a level of confidence which allows them to face frightening self-imposed perspectives and do whatever it takes to emancipate themselves from patterns of living that have enslaved them for lifetimes.
Intentional transformation takes time, discipline, dedication, and the cultivation of resilience, so the coaching client must be willing and able to pursue this level of being. The result is that greater degrees of sustainability of that which is desired by the client will be maintained as the client commits to this process. Inevitably, when true transformation has occurred, like the complete metamorphous of a caterpillar to a butterfly, one has little memoryof who or what transpired before that moment. It takes preparation for this moment of freedom, and flight is possible.
Coaching works well with people who accept that they will meet fear and failure in their transformation process, and then they willingly move through these possibilities, knowing and holding fast to the truth that the outcome will be far more fulfilling than living within the constraints of a reality solely based on fear.
EM: What in your view are the essential differences between coaching and therapy?
RK: In many ways, coaching and therapy are the same. However, I see them working at different ends of the spectrum of human potential, with some overlap in the middle. That spectrum runs from a 100% fully fear-based reality to the other end, which is 100% essence-based, or a fearless reality. The biggest difference is that coaching requires the client to take action “ practicing new thinking and actions, in alignment with their desired outcome. Therapy does not insist on the client taking action in alignment with any insights they experience through a therapy session.
Both therapy and coaching work toward self-realization and self-actualization. Both work to empower clients to know themselves and to act in alignment with their values, principles, and truths; in essence, to be in integrity with themselves, to trust and respect themselves. Both therapist and coach are thinking partners for their clients. They support and empower them to live in their highest capacity to thrive.
Both coach and therapist distinguish and empower. Both coach and therapist work to expand the client’s comfort zone to include greater capacities to be their greatest contribution to themselves and to the world. The coach is as committed, and sometime more committed, to the client’s desired outcome.
Therapists empower people to heal the emotional wounds that seem to cause the fear-based interpretations and actions that have been developed by the client. Therapists work with clients who are stuck in fear-based thinking, interpreting, and acting, and help them heal the underlying emotional wounds that keep them there.
Coaches work with clients who are alert to and eager about moving into more of an essence-based way of being in the world. They may have already done some therapy to heal their emotional wounds and bring them to a place where they’re ready to choose how they choose to be in the world, rather than being stuck in action/reaction mode. To a larger degree, coaching clients have often developed the resilience to meet their fears and move past them, so they can more effortlessly access and manifest a fearless or essence-based reality. Through coaching, clients will face their worst fears; the coaching process distinguishes the context of the fear, so that they can choose different interpretations for themselves. In doing so, they then can choose actions that align with these new interpretations and thus with the desired outcome.
Therapy works to shift dysfunctional thinking and behavior to functional. It works within the rules of consensus reality. Therapy supports individuals to be "normal." It strengthens an individual’s ability to function more effectively within relationships. It provides support and a place to be seen and heard. Therapy cultivates emotional intelligence. The greater the client’s emotional intelligence, the more likely they are to be present with their emotions in a respectful way that gives them room to be expressed authentically without the client interfering, restricting or controlling them. This is the beginning of self-realization and self-actualization.
Coaching is a specific set of skills and tools, with the specific objective of getting clients to their desired end results. It is action based, in that clients have to self-empower themselves to take specific responsibility and accountable actions in the directions they say they want to go.
When obstacles present themselves and stop the client from forward momentum, the coach acts as a thinking partner, assisting the client, only through inquiry, to unconceal specific belief patterns.
The tool of inquiry is foundational to coaching, as it reflects the coach’s confidence in clients having the ability to source within themselves for what is required to fulfill their desired outcome. In coaching, the client is 100% responsible for the outcome of their interpretations and their actions. The client’s total belief system is up for exploration. The client is required to experiment with shifting their beliefs and their actions, only in service to what it is they want.
Coaching stretches and expands the individual’s bandwidth of comfort and "what is normal" to include more of their unlimited potential. Coaching takes the client from impossible to possible, by reworking the context of limiting beliefs.
At some point, each of us will have to take a leap of faith, again, making the impossible possible. It is the willingness to shift a thought, or an action for one brief moment of time, time and again. It’s training oneself and empowering oneself to take control of all of their thoughts and actions. Each of us has the capacity to do this work.
EM: You have a spiritual perspective on helping. How does that spiritual perspective inform your work with people in distress?
RK: Before I became a coach, I was a trained as a Marriage, Family, and Child Therapist, with an emphasis on systems theory. I believe this training set the groundwork for my coaching practice, as did my training as a spiritual director. From this perspective, every individual is whole and complete, and 100% potentiality. It is only their limiting beliefs and interpretations, which can be unconscious and deeply embedded, that are what restricts them living an optimum life, whatever that means individually.
As a coach, I see people as not having problems, but rather facing human dilemmas, which pit their higher self and values against that aspect of self that fears annihilation (the ego-self). The question that a coach will ask their clients, no matter what the client is facing is: "What do you want?" Until a person is clear about what it is they want, they won’t be able to choose, for themselves, what actions are in alignment with the end result they are wanting. Aside from circumstances that present challenging situations for an individual, problems are caused, more often than not, by a lack of clarity about what is the desired outcome. The clearer the intended result, the clearer the actions that need to be taken, and the clearer the client becomes about their resistance to following through towards the desired end results.
My work is grounded in spiritual principles. People’s suffering is caused by a misalignment of their actions and their truths. When asked: "What are your absolute truths?", clients will tell me that their absolute truths are love, kindness, the presence of Divine Guidance, abundance, service, and many other qualities that reflect a point of no fear. Their actions, they will tell me, turn out to be aligned with fear. The work is to get their actions in alignment with their absolute truth. I have found that through working at this level of intelligence, people discover an ability to shift and change, thus liberating themselves from beliefs and interpretations that, up until now, have been sometimes unconscious and always disempowering.
As much as my work can be described as spiritually-based, I would say it is based on universal principles, one of which is that the Universe and all its matter and non-matter is conscious.
I see us as vibrational beings, made up of the same material as the stars and the planets. I see us as conscious energy beings who chose to come into human form in order to learn and to grow our capacity to be love, be abundance, to be the fullest potential of our essential nature. To bring ourselves to the state of awareness of our divine wisdom while in our human limiting form.
My experience over 30 years of evolving my practice, both personally and professionally, has proven to me time and again that, the source of an individual’s distress is a separation from their authentic expression of their essential nature. In other words, for the sake of their survival, whatever that means to them, they trained themselves to forget their innocence – their spontaneous and wise presence-self. They learned to compensate for their loss by following rules that would supposedly keep them safe and secure, and provide enough nourishment for their spirit-self that they wouldn’t fail to thrive. I talk about this in depth in Cultivating Spirituality in Children: 101 Ways to Make Every Child’s Spirit Soar (2015).
By attending to the source of an individual’s distress “ the abdication of their essence-self for the sake of survival and their fear-based-self – they remember those moments where they chose to separate from their truth. They see the courage it took to make that choice, and that now it will take courage to re-member themselves. This is a very deep level of coaching. It makes my heart soar to empower people to engage with themselves in this way.
By engaging in this level of deep presence, clients in distress quite often quickly experience a calm relief. They are able to make sense of all of the choices they made in service to survival, belonging, and fitting in. They see that they weren’t stupid, crazy, bad, or wrong. They realize that, given the circumstances they were presented with, they made the best choices possible. They often experience a sense of empowerment, that, if under duress and poor circumstances they were able to make the best choices possible, this must mean that they have a wisdom and intelligence they can count on to choose consciously now, with their highest intention in mind. They are compelled to move from a survival-oriented model of living to one that will bring about thriving.
EM: What sorts of issues or challenges would you say are best suited to a coaching approach and which issues or challenges would you be reluctant to tackle?
RK: Regardless of the degree of success an individual has acquired in their lives, I’ve not met one who has not been restricted by some limiting beliefs about themselves. Through coaching, I empower people towards self-realization, which moves them into self-actualization.
Because my work as a coach focuses on an individual’s capacity to empower themselves to act in alignment with their desired outcome, it’s important that people who work with coaches have the capacity to self-discipline. Every athlete, artist, or student of any kind knows that only through personal discipline, practice, and training, and a dream that is compelling enough to bring to fruition, will they achieve the degree of success, fulfillment, and reward that they are seeking. No one can do that for them.
Those who don’t yet have the capability or interest in developing self-empowerment will work best with a therapist, who can support them to work in a way that may be less rigorous. Eventually they will find the inner strength and conviction to do whatever it takes to fulfill their dreams. This is when they will hire a coach. I cannot help people who are not ready to do their part in helping themselves.
EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?
RK: The answer to this question depends on my loved one’s ability to act outside the oppressive influence of fear, and their capacity to self-direct and self-manage. If they are so enmeshed in a context filled with fear, and are frozen with indecision and emotional angst, I would encourage them to work with a therapist. If they are in crisis I would also encourage them to work with a therapist for support, comfort and a listening ear.
If, however, they have a level of intelligence and emotional maturity to engage directly with the source of their distress, the discipline to self-direct, the courage to explore and experiment with thinking differently, and the outcome would be that they experience greater ease and integrity within themselves, then, I would encourage them to work with a coach.
Again, it’s really important to ask the individual what it is they are wanting. Some people just don’t want to do the work that personal empowerment takes, even if this path will give them the outcome they want.
I believe that the specific skills and tools of coaching “ especially transformational coaching, can be very valuable to therapists, psychologists, and really to every field of work, where clarifying the individual’s highest and most valued desires can be distinguished.
Dr. Rosie Kuhn is an international speaker, trainer, and transformational coach in the US, Moscow, London, Prague, and Tel Aviv. All of her work, including her books and blogs, focus on self-empowerment, in service to the fulfillment of the human spirit. Her latest book is: Cultivating Spirituality in Children: 101 Ways to Make Every Child’s Spirit Soar. You can find more information about Dr. Rosie Kuhn and her work at www.theparadigmshifts.com.
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com