Exploring the Links between Coaching and Psychology 9: Self Compassion


This week we will take a look at a psychological concept that has the potential to generate a little controversy and regular disagreement

That concept is self-compassion and in this blog I will attempt to convince you that it can be very motivating and very useful for coaches to be mindful of.

Self-compassion and compassion are hot topics these days. Doctors and nurses in our National Health Service are urged to be more compassionate towards patients and Compassion-Focused Therapy is increasingly being used as a treatment for a broad range of psychological disorders.

“But we are coaches not therapists” I can hear you saying; and that is a very good point!

It is very important that, as coaches, we do not try to diagnose or treat our clients. That must be left to a qualified professional and our role, if necessary and appropriate, should be limited to helping our clients find that help should it be necessary.

So, how can coaches use self-compassion?

One of our roles as coaches is to make the unconscious, conscious. To bring things out in the open, give them a brush down, turn them around and give them the right perspective. We talked in previous blogs about automatic behaviour and sometimes that automatic behaviour can include being self-critical.

I don’t think that anyone is immune from self-criticism. I know that I’m certainly not.

There is a normally accepted view that self-criticism can be a good thing. We give ourselves that metaphorical kick-up-the-backside that we need to get going. In my experience that can work, but only in the very short term. What doesn’t work for me is when critical thoughts arise. For me they sometimes come to the fore when I think I have made a significant mistake or might have upset someone.

I know and understand (I have to in order to be an effective coach) that not everyone will experience the same thoughts, feelings and levels of self-criticism that I experience. Some people will experience less and some will experience more. The unfortunate clients that suffer more will be the ones more prone to depression.

Have you noticed some of the language associated with this topic?

Self-criticism and depression, plus some others like struggle and shame, are not the usual vocabulary associated with coaching. However, sometimes the reality for our clients is that they exist and have to be acknowledged. Having acknowledged them it would then be great if we could reduce their demotivating effects and release our clients from their struggle.

This is where self-compassion comes in and where the controversy lies!

In our western, individualistic society personal responsibility is held in very high regard both in terms of achievement and social obligations. For example we have to achieve to provide for our families and we should keep ourselves fit and healthy so that we don’t cost our NHS lots of money. This social norm has been a foundation of our national economic success.

Our widely accepted notion of personal responsibility can be at complete odds with the foundation of compassion and self-compassion. That foundation is ‘It’s not your fault.’ It’s not your fault that your parents separated when you were a small child. It’s not your fault that you were bullied at school. It’s not your fault that someone else is struggling more than you and gets easily triggered. It’s not your fault that your boss is a psychopath (and that’s not meant as a joke).

To say ‘It’s not your fault’ to someone may be the most motivating thing you could ever say!

However, I recognise that it could also be the most difficult thing to say. So try this; instead of saying it out loud just think and assume it. It will allow you and your client to explore what’s really going on and to reframe and reappraise those tricky situations. You may quickly spot that when your clients are kind to themselves (and you are compassionate towards them) their motivation increases and the burden they were carrying gets much lighter.

Next week we’ll have a look at some formal self-compassion exercises and the potential risks that go with them. In the meantime try this one on for size:

‘It’s not my fault!’

If you notice any way in which psychology is influencing your coaching practice then it would be great if you could share it with your coaching colleagues.

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Posted in Blogs, Coaching & Psychology