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The Healing Topic – Part 1

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January 6, 2016

By Joel Kreisberg, DC, ACC

Many students and coaches are surprised by a focus on creating a coaching topic, which we also refer to as a healing topic, in our method of coaching at Teleosis Institute. A key goal of the initial visit is the establishment of this healing topic, which is essentially an agreed upon focus or goal for the overall coaching program. The big value of creating a healing topic is first,handshake
to clearly set a positive outcome we wish to work toward, and second, to allow both the client and the coach to better explore necessary skills required to achieve this outcome. This blog discusses how the coaching topic is regarded by the ICF Core Competencies, and how two other coaching methods identify the coaching topic without actually naming it.  Finally, I will consider how our coaching method focuses on learning, which necessitates creating a clear healing topic as the initial step for creating a healthy learning cycle, an essential component for supporting mastery and increasingly more successful outcomes.

As a teacher, mentor and coach, I return to the ICF Core Competencies regularly. Today I notice the progression, which may occur in cycles, from beginning to end of the coaching process. Take a look yourself:

  1. Setting the Foundation
  2. Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards
    2. Establishing the Coaching Agreement
  3. Co-creating the Relationship
  4. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client
    4. Coaching Presence
  5. Communicating Effectively 
  6. Active Listening
    6. Powerful Questioning
    7. Direct Communication 
  7. Facilitating Learning and Results
  8. Creating Awareness
    9. Designing Actions
    10. Planning and Goal Setting
    11. Managing Progress and Accountability 

The core competencies begin with ethical standards and establishing the coaching agreement, which in this case refers to the coach and client entering a professional, contractual relationship to work together. This begins to establish, and continues to deepen, trust as the coaching unfolds.   In Section D, Number 10, we find Planning and Goal Setting defined as the “ability to develop and maintain an effective coaching plan with the client.”  Planning and Goal setting competencies include:

  1. Consolidates collected information and establishes a coaching plan and development goals with the client that address concerns and major areas for learning and development.
  2. Creates a plan with results that are attainable, measurable, specific, and have target dates. 

This ICF Core Competency language is describing a coaching topic.  Or, rather, let’s rephrase and note that one approach to developing a coaching plan and developing goals is to have a clear coaching topic which by definition is the goal of the coaching program.  I’m not sure why some health coaches, teachers and proponents of various coaching methods feel that having a topic is not part of ‘coaching,’ but I’m clear that a creating a coaching or healing topic in terms of its role as a planning and goal setting tool is consistent with the ICF Core Competencies in the planning and goal setting rubric.

What, then, are some other perspectives on the coaching topic?  The method I come in contact with most frequently is the Co-Active Approach taught at Coach Training Institute. In the book Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives, the authors discuss planning and goal setting in the section called “Designing the Future.”  “Clients bring a desire to change to coaching.  The results they have in mind may be vaguely defined or crystal clear… part of the initial process will be devoted to clarifying outcomes and, in many cases, refining broadly stated desires into specific goals. What will happen? In what time frame? And how will clients know they have achieved the results they want? Coach and client work together to clarify the goals as well as develop strategies for achieving them” (p 25).  This is consistent with what has been discussed in the core competencies. Though this doesn’t explicitly ask for a coaching topic, it does not exclude one either.

A more nuanced approach to planning and goal setting can be found in David Drake’s new book Narrative Coaching: Bringing New Stories to Life.  Drake notes that goals are “almost exclusively discussed in terms of the external manifestations of desired states or outcomes” (p 191).  Drake argues that goals “assume that people a) actually know where they are now, (2) are certain that “there” is where they want to be and (3) can know the linear path they need to get there” (ibid).

This perspective deepens our understanding of what I mean by a coaching topic.  Rather than being something one wants to achieve and taking appropriate action, the process of clarifying a coaching topic in our method involves fully understanding how the client is currently showing up with this desire, how the client wishes to become, and what this new becoming might look like given the current resources available.   This exploration helps set the overall coaching program, and allows the coach to help the client see what new skills might be required to achieve the new way of being.  Drake prefers the term “intentions” rather than “goals.”  “Intentions involve setting a clear direction and the resolve to take an action or achieve an outcome—without the necessity of an ultimate goal or defined path” (p 194).

In an effort to work directly with positive health outcomes, Integrative Health
Coaching as taught and modeled at Teleosis Institute involves a process of coming to terms with one’s current health limitations, and one’s capacities and skills to stimulate positive health changes, as well as what the embodied future might look like if these health goals are attained.  In order to do this, we assess a client’s current skills and capacities across a broad spectrum of domains including cognitive, emotional, somatic, interpersonal, social, motivational and behavioral.  Thus, the process of arriving at a coaching topic is one of exploring the client’s desires, wishes, skills and capacities, co-actively working with him or her to deeply understand both current limitations and a realistic goal that can worked towards within the structure of a coaching program.

In Part 2 of this article, we will explore this process of arriving at a healing topic in more detail: “How do we arrive at a healing topic? Through dialogue and discussion….”


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