The Principles of Narrative Health Coaching

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March 24, 2016
Listen to Dr. Joel Kreisberg and Reggie Marra discuss the four principles of Narrative Health Coaching and the importance of allowing the Narrative into the process of Health Coaching.

Interview Transcript

JOEL KREISBERG: Hi, I’m Dr. Joel Kreisberg.

REGGIE MARRA: And I’m Reggie Marra.

JOEL KREISBERG: Today, we’re going to talk about narrative health coaching. In our experience of teaching narrative health coaching, we identified four principles–stories matter, growth is healing, learning through mastery, and relationships engage. So let’s start with the stories matter, which is a great one to start with because, Reggie, you are our poet, and stories matter relates to narrative and how we use narrative in narrative health coaching.

REGGIE MARRA: Right. Whether we’re aware of it or not as coaches and even as clients, we come to whatever we do with a story about it. Again, even if we we’re not aware of it, the story is still there, and to the extent that we become aware of our story we’re better able to work to change it and preferably change it in a way that serves us moving forward in healthier ways.

JOEL KREISBERG: And so to be clear, when we say your story, it really is how we are in the world, our subjective experience basically is our story. And so often, health coaching has a habit of paying attention to the outcomes and the behaviors that we do that we’re engaged in, but what’s key to our work is that there’s a balance between what we do and how we’re doing it. So that’s our story. That’s our narrative, the way we are aware of ourselves, the way we are living our lives and the way we approach it – our mindset that goes along with what we’re doing.

REGGIE MARRA: Sure. I mean, some other language that’s pretty close to what we mean by story is worldview or point of view or even mindset. They don’t mean exactly the same thing, but they’re pretty close. And depending upon our worldview, our mindset, our point of view, we will engage in certain things or behave in certain ways for better or worse, and we always have the opportunity to change that if we feel stuck in some way. So the story is really – and I have a bias here as a writer and poet – but story is really a big deal and more and more people in health coaching and other disciplines are paying attention to it as we move forward here in the 21st century for sure.

JOEL KREISBERG: Oh, exactly. That’s what we’re seeing our clients – actually, our students really find that it’s such a relief to be able to allow the narrative into the process. So that means that as we learn to be health coaches, we are actually engaged with how we got here, what we do, how we show up, and then we can bring that to our clients in a way that actually keeps them more motivated, more engaged in the process and feeling like, well, this is not just ‘I want to get rid of something’ or ‘I got a pain or I got a goal.’ It’s actually ‘I want to bring my whole self forward.’ And that’s really what is key to the idea of stories matter.

REGGIE MARRA: And once any one of us, and we’ve seen this in our students, once they discover that in order to get to a specific behavioral outcome, if they’re able to change the story that’s leading to it, they just really begin to enjoy the story and see the value. I think it’s impossible to really change an outcome without changing the story that leads to it. But, you know, that’s something we can debate at some other time.

JOEL KREISBERG: But it’s a good transition to the second principle because using the word “change” and in our work change is – we’re going to call it growth. And so I’m the person who has the background in healing and healthcare, and we don’t spend a lot of time talking about how we heal in a medical setting, but in narrative health coaching, we’re very interested in what is the model for healing, and so we use this idea that growing, as I grow, I heal, or part of my healing is to grow something internally, so that leads to the principle of growth as healing. And this is really accessing the idea of how our clients are changing. They’re changing through growing.

REGGIE MARRA: So could you speak a little bit more specifically to what you mean and what we mean when we use the word “growth”?

JOEL KREISBERG: Well, to some extent, we’re basing it on Lectica’s learning model. Lectica is an assessment company that works in third person assessments for various skills, and so Lectica’s model is set, seek, apply and assess in order to reset. I’m just going to break that down. We set a goal, right? Then we seek what is it we need to learn in order to actually make that move, to be able to become that way, to grow. Then from that learning, we apply in real time, what am I going to do? What is this like to actually try this out, to learn these skills, to actually grow in this way? And then we assess, how did it go, what have I learned, what’s happening for me in order to reset. So it’s called the learning cycle, okay? And that learning cycle leads to growth. And then, of course, that’s the growth we’re talking about when we say growth as healing.

REGGIE MARRA: And what we know and, you know, both of us have been educators for some decades now, is that we don’t go through one learning cycle and be done with it. The real growth that we’re looking for occurs over various ongoing iterations of this cycle, of set, seek, apply and assess.

JOEL KREISBERG: This is where it takes several cycles for us to grow skills and be able to grow enough and have our stories change. So it’s actually – it’s nice. It feeds back onto the [idea that] stories matter. Because how do our stories change? They change through growth. How do we grow? We grow through going through learning cycles. That’s actually in a way what our coaching process is; it’s a series of learning cycles. So we become aware of what’s happening in the sessions, and then we go apply it outside the sessions. Our stories start to change and then healing occurs.

REGGIE MARRA: And the language that I like to go back to because of the literary background is to revise a story, and a nice way to picture what revision is, is to hyphenate the word. So you have “re-” with a hyphen and then the word “vision.” So rather than saying I’m revising something, I’m re-visioning it. And that basically means to see it again. And with each learning cycle, a client or a student is able to see their story again with fresh eyes, and that perspectival shift is a big part of growing.

JOEL KREISBERG: Exactly, which leads us to learning through mastery, right? And so learning through mastery is this idea that rather than just focusing on a change of behavior, we’re getting to focus on a broader notion that we have many capacities as human beings, and we want to master as many different capacities as possible. So the learning is actually less focused on, “Well, I have to go from A to B,” and it’s more [focused on] how we can begin to master a variety of skills as part of our learning. So how would you, Reggie, discuss this idea of mastery?

REGGIE MARRA: I was hoping you’d ask that question. Mastery can often be misinterpreted as an attempt at, or a final destination of, perfecting something or being extraordinarily good at it. And my favorite perspective on mastery came from the late George Leonard who wrote that at its core, mastery is essentially staying on the path. In other words, being open to ongoing growth and development because mastery isn’t the final endpoint; it’s a way of being or process that we can choose to engage in. That’s my particular holding of the word “mastery.”

JOEL KREISBERG: So that’s staying on the path and progressing and learning, and that’s why we have the principle of learning as mastery. And what we’re also trying to add to that, I mean, I love Leonard’s work, and if anybody gets a chance to read his book, I think the book is called, Mastery, is it not?

REGGIE MARRA: Yes [I believe so].

JOEL KREISBERG: In this idea, what we’re trying to distinguish is rather than just seeing it as a proving or getting better at whatever our goal is, whatever our desired outcome, it’s actually seeing it as more broad-based. There’re many components to our learning, and mastering each one of these or paying attention or focusing on different elements increases our overall capacity and leads to mastery, not just, well, ‘I achieved my goal.’

REGGIE MARRA: We humans are occasionally complex, and there are various components and intelligences and perspectives that we have available to us that make us who we are. And as one human being, the more of those components or disciplines or intelligences that I can master or be on the path with, the more whole and complete and comprehensive and integrated I am as a person, for sure.

JOEL KREISBERG: Yes. And it’s interesting because I heard that word “individual,” and more, and that leads to the last one because doing this alone isn’t as powerful as doing it in community. So the last principle is relationship engages, which is key for us. So in narrative health coaching, how do we view relationship?

REGGIE MARRA: Well, besides the simple bullet point that it’s essential, in narrative health coaching, our stories can go through various iterations, and I’ll speak specifically to that. One is the story we hold inside of ourselves. And so it’s my story, and I haven’t shared it with anyone yet. It can become significantly ‘more real’ if I either write it down or speak it to someone whom I trust, whether that’s a client or a loved one or a coach, it doesn’t really matter. Once I speak it or write it and share it, it becomes even more real for me, and if I’m willing to invite responses to my narrative, the relationship deepens. I’m building intimacy with the other, whether it’s a coach or a loved one, whomever, and we just move on from there. So relationship deepens the story. It increases trust and intimacy and allows me to be seen more fully as who I am. More specifically in narrative [health] coaching, we provide that safe space for our clients so their story can be heard in a safe place, and they can move further into their own sense of vulnerability and their own realization that their story impacts them, but it doesn’t define them, and it’s always possible to revise it.

JOEL KREISBERG: Nice because – so we take this idea – this is where we really embrace the interpersonal process of coaching. We’re showing that stories, healing, learning, mastery are all an interpersonal dynamic in some way. And then, of course, this is where narrative health coaching also talks about how we as a school value community and value learning together. So the way we can access this particular element of relationships engage is to have a very engaging, dynamic relationship and community at Teleosis Institute. Narrative health coaching is very much a community building process that we start with ourselves.

REGGIE MARRA: And as you and I learned when we were teaching some university classes together and as we saw again in a Narrative Healing class with Teleosis that Lois MacNaughton and I just completed yesterday, the live sessions are important, and there is some formal instruction going on there and some writing and sharing, but the students inevitably look back on the forums where they actually posted [their] writing and respond to each other. And in those responses, again, not feedback to try to fix someone, but just to respond from a truly empathic place, without fail, students tell us how valuable those online exchanges are because they’re basically building relationships of trust and vulnerability with their classmates.

JOEL KREISBERG: Right. And which is interesting because then you’re also learning. The learning moves outside of ‘I’m learning my own experience… I’m learning about myself’ and begins to include ‘I learn from other people’s experience’ because we set it up in a such a way that we’re sharing our experiences, and that allows us to have a way of becoming more vulnerable in a safe container. So in the school, the classroom, our work in the online classroom, there’s really a safe container for opening up and sharing and understanding both my own dynamics and watching as other people learn and seeing how they grow.

REGGIE MARRA: And I love that you refer to it as a safe container because that’s – while I don’t like to say something is more important than something else in this work – but the safe container is essential. Without that, vulnerability is much more risky, and intimacy is almost impossible. So creating a safe container is foundational to what we’re doing for sure.

JOEL KREISBERG: It’s interesting to listen to our language as we’re moving more toward what we like to talk about, what we like to think about. In a lot of ways, this is key stuff for the way coaching is engaged at Teleosis. What we’re here discussing is narrative health coaching and the four principles of narrative health coaching. So just a quick review to see if they make sense. We talked about stories matter, growth is healing, learning through mastery and relationships engage. In the field of health coaching there are different approaches. At this stage, it’s been a few years of our developing this particular lens of looking at it. We’re not really talking about technique now because there is a very specific technique that we’re teaching at school. We really want to take some time to say, well, what is narrative health coaching?

REGGIE MARRA: And I would just say that any one of those four points–story matters, growth is healing, learning through mastery and relationship engages – if we try to take any one of those out, the process would definitely feel incomplete. And that’s not something that you and I came up with theoretically, but it’s a direct experience of working with both students and clients to be able to point to those four and describe them as essential elements of what we’re doing here.

JOEL KREISBERG: That’s nice. Well, I think we’re going to come to a close on this one. These are the four principles of narrative health coaching and we look forward to your finding out more online at Teleosis.org or you’re welcome to take our course in narrative health coaching. Have a good day.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

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