Coaching in a Crisis In times of perceived crisis

The lines between coaching and therapy can sometimes feel more blurred than usual.

This is because the kind of issues that clients bring to coaching may touch on more personal dimensions and at a deeper level than would normally be the case.

The Coronavirus and intense drama that surrounds it is a case in point. Clients may find themselves not only, say, dealing with the impacts of lockdown on their business and work, but also anxieties they hold for the health, safety and well-being of their family, friends and colleagues.

So here are some insights from four psychological fields to help coaches enable clients to navigate such times and experiences.

First, Gestalt.

Notice if and when a client is fixated on a specific dimension of what is taking place, as if that’s the only dimension.

A vivid, current example is the mass media’s fixation on the number of people contracting or dying from the Coronavirus – to the exclusion of attention to a far, far greater number of people who haven’t contracted the virus and who haven’t died from it.

It can create the impression that everyone is contracting the virus and that everyone is dying from it. If, therefore, you notice a client becoming overly-preoccupied by one dimension of an issue, acknowledge the underlying feeling (e.g. anxiety) and enable the client, gently, to notice what they are not-noticing.

Second, Existential.

The Corona crisis has evoked deep fears, particularly in wealthier countries where people and communities are not used to facing these levels of perceived vulnerability and threat.

Dramatic soundbites in social media, claiming this is the worst crisis the world has ever faced, add to the sense of fear and alarm – that death and destruction of people, communities, social systems and organisations are imminent.

Whilst such apocalyptic visions ignore previous and arguably far-worse crises (e.g. Bubonic plague; Spanish flu; Two World Wars), the coach can use this opportunity to enable clients to explore their deeply-held beliefs, values and stance in the world.

Third, Psychodynamic.

People, groups, organizations and communities will experience the present through the emotional, psychological and cultural filters of the past.

Clients will very likely have experienced crises of one sort of another before, that from their standpoint and experience ended badly or, conversely, worked out well in the end.

Such experiences will influence what the client perceives, how they feel about it and how they respond to a crisis now.

If you notice a client reacting very strongly, particularly if it appears disproportionate or out of character, acknowledge the feeling and explore what may be reverberating with experiences from that person or group/team’s past.

Fourth, Social Constructs.

People create personal and cultural narratives that give focus and shape to their experiences and, thereby, enable people and groups to make sense of them.

So, for instance, politicians, health professionals, and the media are, currently, presenting very specific versions of events in relation to the Corona crisis.

They are construing facts, stories, and images selectively to convey a particular narrative that will lead to a certain response; whether that be e.g. to engender public confidence, influence public behavior or sell more newspapers.

Listen carefully to the stories your client is creating and using and, where helpful, enabling them to construct a healthier narrative.

Nick Wright is a psychological coach and organisation development (OD) consultant. www.nick-wright.com

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