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What is Coaching?

Coaching can be traced back to the humanistic movement of the 1950s, characterised by influential figures like Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and the principles of Zen Buddhism. Humanist thinkers critiqued psychotherapy’s focus on the past and pathologising individuals and wanted to shift the perspective to the client’s growth potential and the equal role they play in the process.

This set the stage for the evolution of modern coaching practices.

“Every client is naturally creative, resourceful and whole.”
(International Coach Federation Cleveland, 2021)

As Humanistic Psychology is at the root of coaching’s foundation, coaches believe that everyone has the resources for understanding themselves, for changing their attitudes, beliefs and self-directing their behaviour. The idea is that every human has an ‘actualizing tendency’ — a tendency to promote growth, direction and productivity.

There are many different schools of thought, modalities and ways to work with a coach but as I am studying at The Somatic School I will go with their definition of coaching (which closely tracks the International Coaching Federation definition):

“Coaching is partnering in a co-creative process of enquiry in service to the potential which is seeking to emerge in the life of the client.”

Coaching vs Psychotherapy

Many people ask me what’s the difference with psychotherapy. It’s hard to pin it down but I liked this distinction I heard on my course:

  • Psychotherapy deals with how someone’s present life is influenced by their past. Psychotherapy is looking more for a diagnosis — finding the root of an issue.

  • Coaching focuses on someone’s present and how they might design their future. Coaching is ‘being with’ and ‘accepting’ and walking alongside someone’s processing.

To note, you would share memories in a therapy session whereas you only might bring memories to a coaching session - however in coaching we are more interested in how the memory relates to the present moment and what it implies for the future that is emerging.

So what does a coach do?

Coaching in it’s most simplistic definition is really just a conversation, between a client and a coach, about the client.

“Coaching is simply a conversation where someone feels heard and gets new insights into their own stuff… The coach’s role is to facilitate someone else’s sensemaking, not to solve their problems.”
(Claire Pedrick Simplifying Coaching)

The modality of coaching I am training in is not working in a space of solution focused coaching, but more about awareness focussed coaching. This gives the client power of choice once they have awareness of the possibilities. There is an emergent quality to the coaching sessions and it feels more like an intelligent unfolding.

There’s an emphasis on forward-moving growth leading to momentum around unblocking. We are aiming for it to feel spontaneous, improvising, empowering and hopeful.

Claire Pedrick shared this excellent metaphor: As your coach I am there to steward your thinking, riding on the back of your tandem (which YOU are captain of). I will support your thinking with some pedal power whilst you steer us in the direction you need to go in.

Right ok, so then what is Somatic Coaching?

The Greek word ‘soma’ means body. Somatic coaching is a body-oriented coaching practice and the focus is on the whole self, sometimes referred to as the ‘bodymind’. Unlike traditional coaching methods that predominantly focus on cognitive processes, the attention is on the thinking mind AND what the rest of your body is telling you.

Western traditions keep us circling in our heady conceptual self-awareness (as opposed to embodied self-awareness) and over time we’ve developed this unhelpful distinction between mind and body. But humans are in fact integrated neuro-psycho-biological beings. The body is a reflection of the mind, and the mind is a reflection of the body.

[Fun sciencey side note…

  • In hemispheric neuroscience we understand that the conceptual mind is governed by the left hemisphere which is good at putting different parts together but not good at holding a sense of the whole (the role of the right hemisphere). It loses touch with the reality and creates alternatives (pleasant and unpleasant).

  • This is of course useful for the conceptual mind to think abstractly BUT too often in our daily lives the conceptual mind creates constructs (ideas built with words) that are disconnected with lived reality. And we get stuck there.

Ok enough of that…]

In somatic coaching, the body is seen as a living laboratory. By learning to interpret bodily sensations we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves.

You will be tapping into the classes of sensory perception:

  1. interoception: information from inside you (e.g. feeling hungry)

  2. exteroception: information from outside (i.e. via sight, sound, smell, taste and touch)

  3. proprioception: information about your body in the space it’s in (e.g. your posture)

This holistic approach recognises the vital role the body plays in our overall wellbeing. Our bodies hold valuable information and insights, which, when accessed and integrated, can lead to profound shifts in our lives.

The body has memory

Experiences, including trauma, can manifest in physical sensations, behaviours, and bodily responses. They are imprinted in the body’s nervous system.

Neuroscientific studies have even shown that traumatic experiences can lead to changes in the brain’s structure and functioning, affecting areas responsible for memory, emotion regulation, and stress response.

Through somatic techniques clients can gradually release this stored tension and access the body’s memory to promote a sense of safety and healing.

In light of the above, whilst you work on your self-development, exclusively focussing on the mind without incorporating your body’s wisdom seems like we’d be ignoring a large piece of the puzzle!

What you can expect in a Somatic Coaching session

“How do we turn up the resolution on the senses to get granular on our perception?”

In a session (on zoom or in person) you will be having a spoken conversation like with any other coach. You will bring something going on in your life that you’d like to explore and I, as your coach, will be supporting you by asking exploratory and open questions.

During the session I will invite you to tap into what your body might like to reveal to you, which might not make immediate ‘sense’. But the invitation is to resist the cognitive bypass (and layer a ‘top down’ solution or explanation on what’s happening) and just stay with the felt sense that is emerging.

A felt sense is that ‘gut knowing’ inside, when you have an obvious or a subtle sensation in your body that you might not fully be able to name but you can attach an emotion to it and ‘just know’ what it is telling you.

It’s more than ‘interoception’ (like hunger I mentioned above), a felt sense implies movement and helps you shift from a conceptual to an embodied understanding of something.

You will be invited to explore those sensations and start a dialogue with your somatic intelligence to gain insights.

I heard somewhere that a somatic coaching session is:

“A safe and held space for exiled parts of us to speak.”

It can be a truly transformative experience to allow those parts of us to take centre stage.

Things to remember

  1. You’re in charge: I might make an offer of something I am noticing or invite you to do something but you’re always in the driving seat and can correct me, adjust what we are doing and say no. I am here to support your process unfolding in the way that’s true to you (not forcing you on my agenda).

  2. Trust the process: you are organically intelligent and a somatic experience will help bring awareness to whatever change or next steps need to occur. This might happen immediately or it might take a while to unfold. Trust your bodymind’s organic process.

  3. Get comfy: whatever your body needs takes priority. You need some water, take a sip. You need to lie down, go for it. You need to pause, absolutely.

  4. Slow and steady wins the race: the body’s ‘bottom up’ messaging works slower than the ‘top down’ heady approach you are used to (this is because efferent nerves serve brain>body and afferent nerves connect body>brain and are smaller). The session might feel slow. You might not get obvious cues from your body. That’s ok. This is unfamiliar and takes time.

  5. Treat your body like a lab: let’s experiment! This is a curious and experimental space which requires that sort of attitude from client and coach. Stay non-judgmental and open-minded with your-full-self.

  6. It’s all a bit random: the body is usually non-linear and spontaneous. What arises might be surprising to you. Go with it, if that feels comfortable to do so.

  7. Silence is golden: at points in the session we might be very quiet, letting the body speak to you, checking in with yourself, pausing and seeing what emerges. Let’s get comfortable with being in that silence.

  8. Integration is key: make some space around the session to let the dust settle. It may feel different to how you were expecting and the insights can take some time to integrate.

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