“Who doesn’t need a coach?” is the question I am left pondering after attending this weekend’s sold-out conference presented by Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital, its largest psychiatric affiliate (September 26-27, 2008). The conference, “Coaching: A New Horizon – Theory, Emerging Evidence, & Practice,” attracted nearly 500 professional researchers, medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, teachers, and yes, coaches, from around the world.
The two-day event brought together seminal theorists and practitioners to explore the intellectual and evidenced-based foundation for the emerging field of coaching psychology. The initiative is designed to bridge from the ivory-towered field of academic positive psychology to the profession of coaching, which occupies an increasingly prominent space in businesses, schools, and homes on Main Street.
Constructive Toolbox“The need for evidenced-based coaching psychology is here,” says Dr. Carol Kauffman, Co-Founder of the Coaching & Positive Psychology Initiative, “We’re on the wave of something big and positive psychology is a great partner.”Coaching psychology is the science of optimized individual and organizational health, well-being, and performance through growth-promoting relationships. According to co-founder of the Coaching & Positive Psychology Initiative and founder of Well-Coaches, Inc., Margaret Moore, coaches use a “constructive toolbox” to help their clients become their best selves. Many of these tools come from the labs of positive psychologists.
The conference introduced evidence-based tools for coaches. For example, Kauffman led participants through an exercise based on the GROW framework, which offers a model for the coaching conversation:
G – Goal (the vision, doing or being)
R – Reality (where the client is presently)
O – Options (multiple ways to bridge the gap between reality and desired reality)
W – Way Forward (next baby steps to get there)
Also speaking on leadership was professor and author Tal Ben-Shahar who suggested that we pay a high price for what we fail to focus on—what is already good and how to build on it.
Ben-Shahar used the story of progressive educator Marva Collins to illustrate what is possible when people exude high efficacy, grounded positivity, enabled strengths, and responsibility over blame. He charged the room to “cultivate the seeds of greatness already in our clients, partners, children, and ourselves” by reframing questions and increasing perspectives, tasks we can help each other do.
Coaches Help You Find Your “A”
Another moving session was led by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, co-authors of The Art of Possibility. They lit the room with an energy of abundance. Ben Zander, Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and teacher at the New England Conservatory, brought along a string quartet to demonstrate the type of coaching he does with a process called, “Finding Your A.”
At the beginning of each semester, Zander asks his students to write a letter as if it were the end of the semester, explaining why they “got the A”. He tells them to “to let go of the restrictive voice in the head saying ‘you’re not good enough,’ to fall in love with the person in the letter, and to create who it is you will be as if success is already yours.”Numerous times we jumped to our feet in ovation, as we witnessed his live coaching elicit great passion, intense emotion, and beautiful music from the musicians. “Anyone who thinks they can manage without a coach is a fool,” he said. “To be a coach, you need to open up possibility for people they don’t even know about.”
Rosamund Zander reminded him and us that “Possibility is always only one sentence away.”
Possibilities for Coaching & Psychology
And what is possible for coaching as an evidenced-based practice is quite exciting. While questions still exist about the fuzziness between coaching and psychotherapy, researchers like Dr. Anthony Grant of the University of Sydney are working to collect rigorous empirical evidence to show the benefits of coaching as a vehicle for applied positive psychology (Grant, 2003; Spence & Grant, 2007; Spence, Cavanagh, & Grant, in press).
Dr. Susan David explored the growing body of research into emotional intelligence and discussed ways to apply it with clients. Dr. Dianne Stober explored evidence-based coaching in action, illustrating her points with her experiences in hard hat and steel-toed boots.
Dr. Mary Wayne Bush, Director of the Research Division of The Foundation of Coaching, announced that the foundation is planning to fund numerous research projects to explore the efficacy of coaching. She invited research proposals.
Conference attendee, recent MAPP graduate, and experienced coach, Eleanor Chin shares the excitement of the time. She says, “It is really a time akin to the ‘age of Aquarius’. With the convergence of coaching, positive psychology, and the health professions, we really do stand to influence great and sustainable change for our clients who are interested in holistic psychological, physical, and emotional well-being.”
For Further Reading
Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. McGraw-Hill Professional.
Collins, M. (1990). Marva Collins’ Way. 2nd edition. Tarcher.
Grant, A. M. (2003). The impact of life coaching on goal attainment, metacognition and mental health. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(3), 142-149.
Palmer, S. & Whybrow, A. (2008). The Handbook of Coaching Psychology. Routledge.
Spence, G.B. & Grant, A.M. (2007). Professional and peer life coaching and the enhancement of goal striving and well-being. An explanatory study. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(3) 185-194.
Spence, G. B., Cavanagh, M. J., & Grant, A. M. (in press). The integration of mindfulness trainging and health coaching: An exploratory study. Coaching: An International Journal of Research, Theory, and Practice.
Stober, D. & Grant, A. (2006) Evidence Based Coaching Handbook: Putting Best Practices to Work for Your Clients. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Zander, R. & Zander, B. (2000). The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. New York: Penguin.
Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and PracticeInternational Journal of Evidence-Based Coaching and Mentoring