The Humanist School of Psychology as the Predecessor of Coaching by Nicholas Wai

Back in June I wrote about how creating the right environment is very important for fostering creativity. This is equally important in the world of coaching, where “active listening”, “empathetic relationship”, and “client-focused” are all considered accepted norms. These may seem common sense to us now if we are to effectively coach our clients in resolving their issues or making changes, but back in the time of Carl Rogers, who first suggested and empirically tested these concepts, therapists or psychiatrists thought they had to set the agenda and know all the answers, as well as treating their clients as a subject rather than a person. How times have changed.

Carl Rogers belongs to the humanist school of psychology, which emerged at a time when some psychologists were frustrated with the psychoanalytic school, which focused mostly on the past, and the behavourial school, which was mechanical in its assumption about human behaviours. The humanists see the best in people, with potential to grow and self-actualise. To bring about this the humanists believed (and had proven) that the therapists/coaches need to build a strong authentic relationship and active partnership with their clients, by being present and fully engaged in the coaching process, enabling their clients to trust themselves enough to draw on their own resources to resolve their issues. This way of thinking was novel at the time, but makes great sense for highly functioning and mentally healthy people, which was not the target of most psychologist at the time, although they certainly represented the larger population. It is not surprising that coaching was developed to cater to this larger population at the present age when more people work with their mental rather than physical abilities and Rogers and the humanist school provided the perfect basis for it to work.

And how does being present help the coach in a coaching relationship? It helps the coach be empathic, able to focus fully on the client without interference of his/her own judgement or evaluation, listen to what’s being said and not said, be more aware of the body language and emotions displayed,  and ask the right non-directive questions to enable discovery by the client. Being present also helps the client in focusing on the now, enabling creativity and possibilities to flow without hinderence from the past or future, which the coach can help the client achieve by showing how being present can be done.

Reference: Peltier, Bruce The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory & Application, Routledge, NY, 2009.

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