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Coaching and Narrative Healing

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September 27, 2016

By Joel Kreisberg, DC, ACC


The path from integrative physician to narrative health coach had roots in my training in both mind-body medicine and integral theory.  Integral Coaching Canada’s (ICC) methodology offered a tool far more powerful than traditional mind-body approaches, grounded as it is in the broad perspective-taking of Ken Wilber, with the refined and skillful vision of Laura Divine and Joanne Hunt. It was also that chance meeting with nine other coaches at my first ICC mastery workshop in Ottawa, Canada that provided the conditions for collective inquiry as the necessary incubator for the emergence of Narrative Healing and Narrative Health Coaching.

Our group of coaches has met monthly for four years. We were not fundamentally health providers – rather, most were and are executive coaches who share a passion and desire to deepen our understanding of how healing emerges in the coaching encounter. Several members struggle with chronic illness. Our dear colleague and friend Jill Lang-Ward shared her stories of miraculous recoveries with multiple myeloma over ten years.  Jill passed away this May 26, 2016.  Her courage and wisdom continues on in our work.

dog-healingOur inquiry engaged each of us on a journey to better understand our respective healing potentials.  Toward this end, we found that narrative – the use of our story, offered a profound tool for self-discovery with the added benefit of being able to share with others the insights that emerge.

Our Coaching and Healing study group diligently considered the basic question: “How is coaching impacted by health challenges that may potentially emerge in any coaching process?”  We learned to broadly define the context for healing as a response to illness, injury, trauma, loss or grief, and that healing is not exclusively physical, emotional, mental or spiritual.  It can occur on any and all of these levels.

Two other essential ‘ingredients’ that helped shape our shared narrative were, first, our mastery of Integral Coaching®, which fundamentally honors our current way of responding.  In other words, rather than seeing our response to stress or challenging life circumstances as something that needs to be improved, fixed or solved, Integral Coaching® believes that our response, no matter how limiting or painful, is our best attempt at righting ourselves.  Thus we honor the Current Way of Being, as it is named in the ICC methodology.

This particular way of honoring our experience and behaviors set off a powerful anamnesis in me, which brought the second ‘ingredient’ into view.  In my teaching and research into narrative approaches to healing, I had become obsessed with the work of Anton Antonovsky, an American-born Israeli sociologist, who taught the principle of salutogenesis.  Simply put, rather than attending to how and why we get sick, Antonovsky spent his time studying how we heal.  His approach is salutogenic—beginning, and concerned, with the way in which we heal.

It was easy for our team to embrace the inherent connections.  As coaches, our work is grounded in positive psychology and helping our clients build healing resources.  Through our work together plus an awareness of bias as taught by socio-psychologist Daniel Kahneman, we have come to believe that modern and post-modern people of the Western world are barely, if at all, aware of the collective, internal bias towards a pathogenic approach to health.  This bias is so unconscious that not only have we lost the skills necessary to think about health and illness salutogenically, we also limit our potential for healing and our choices of interventions, and we take for granted the basic bio-medical model that offers cures by manipulating our bodies and minds with quasi-scientifically supported causal interventions, dominated by drugs and surgery. The bio-medical model is not wrong; it is partial.

Rather than thinking of myself as living in an alternative universe, however – one in which I accept my symptoms of dis-ease as information that I can utilize, as signposts for growth, as challenges that make me stronger and even as gifts that lead to a richer, more integrated life, I found myself with a group of soul mates, exploring our own journeys and intersections that guide us in helping others through this enchanted, though at times painful, healing landscape.

To this end, I invite you into the world of Coaching and Healing: Transcending the Illness Narrative.  I’m proud to share the work of my colleagues.  We feel there is wisdom in these pages.  My own narrative is more subtly found in the book, having to do with my personal and professional journey as a healer.  Through this work, my colleagues Reggie Marra and Lois MacNaughton have been developing Narrative Healing, a teachable approach to working with healing, one that coaches and healers alike will find meaningful and usable.

book-widgetNarrative Healing forms the cornerstone of Narrative Health Coaching – an emerging healing technique and useable framework that is easily integrated into most medical approaches to healing. Essentially, Narrative Health Coaching offers the means to engage a salutogenic healing process within which one can still prescribe any other medical modality, even if it’s pathogenic, while still salutogenically engaging the patient or client.  Narrative Health Coaching is integrative.  It is one of the few therapies that integrates pathogenic and salutogenic approaches.

For me, it reflects my own growth as a healer and a teacher. I can allow a client’s tendency to want to fix the problem to complement the growth model found in our salutogenic approach.  I continue to see success at relieving suffering in others while also facilitating growth and deepening consciousness.  As well, at Teleosis, we are able to share this work with health professionals and coaches alike. These professionals are able to integrate this work into their own healing and coaching practices.  I invite you to find out more through our classes at the Teleosis Institute.

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