A guest blog by Dr Simon Western:
Are your clients coming expecting to be healed or repaired, or for you to stroke their egos and tell them they can achieve their dreams? Or is there a third way? Coaching finds itself wedged between two contemporary social and psychological dimensions – the wounded-self and the celebrated-self. In my recent book Coaching and Mentoring: a critical text (2012) I introduce coaching as a developmental activity that has emerged to bridge these two positions:
The ‘Wounded Self’ refers to a self that is damaged, fragmented or emotionally hurt and is the home territory of psychotherapists and psychologists. Psychotherapists look for the ‘Wounded Self’ – this is their expertise, their business. They offer therapeutic intervention (the talking cure) and reparation. The contemporary self is a much more feeling and reflective self and in this complex world we are constantly in need of therapeutic intervention to address our ‘issues’ and todays belief has turned the 1950’s notion of having pride in ‘a stiff upper lip’ upside down; now, emoting and crying are praised, and we all agree ‘it’s good to talk’. Today a vast array of professionals and helpers are there to listen to the Wounded Self seek healing: therapists, counselors, psychologists, life-coaches, telephone help-lines, family and friends, or through the burgeoning self-help market.
The Celebrated Self offers a hopeful optimization of the self, the potential to grow and to improve our happiness and well-being. Emanating from the human potential movement, it has boomed under the influence of American individualism, positive psychology, and in recent times new spirituality that re-interpret eastern and ancient traditions. The Celebrated Self, once marginalized to the hippy few, has become championed by stars such as Oprah, and has moved from the margins to become mainstream, even entering the workplace.
Counselling and therapy found it difficult to enter the workplace because of its wounded-self stance. Successful executives didn’t want to see themselves or acknowledge being ‘wounded’, it wasn’t good for their egos or for their careers! The new developments that focused on the celebrated-self, opened the door for coaching. From repairing damaged executives who needed coaching to improve, coaching rebranded itself and became the sought after thing for the most successful leaders. However, much of coaching practice and theory still borrows from counselling and psychotherapy traditions, and therefore many coaches intuitively look for the wounded-self in their work. If the Wounded-self approach dominates the coaching work it pathologises the client, and keeps them in the position of needy-person, and the coach in the stronger position as the ‘healer’. This is not helpful to clients who become dependent on the coach, and internalize the feeling of being wounded.
Other coaches are trained to think only about the celebrated-self, NLP and other well-known approaches work on the premise that clients have all the resources within them they need, and can achieve anything they want to if they believe enough. Coaching solely from this stance is also problematic as it avoids what it considers ‘the negative’ and doesn’t give the client the opportunity to discuss worries or problems. More dangerously it produces a narcissistic and omnipotent self, as it focuses solely on the individual without taking account of other factors or relationships. Put simply there are limits, and you can’t achieve anything you desire! Leaders who begin to believe in their celebrated-self can easily become grandiose and make very bad decisions based on false omnipotence.
Great coaches are those who can bridge the wounded and celebrated self, not to become entrapped in either. These coaches are able to discuss difficult emotions and challenges, and also able to motivate and to see the potential and strengths of the individual, and help them to engage more fully in life and work.
For more go read Coaching and Mentoring: a Critical Text, (Sage 2012) by Dr Simon Western
and if you are interested in leadership try:
New book release: Leadership a critical text 2nd edition (2013)
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