Helena Clayton | When the past is present


When the past is present

07 Nov 2016, Posted by Helena Clayton in Monthly Blog

Twice this week, I have seen someone write that coaching and therapy are different.  And that coaches must take great care not to drift into therapy.  True, they are different.  But in many ways, it’s a false distinction and there are many ways in which coaching is and should be therapeutic.

One way is relation to the past.  It’s usually said that therapy is about the past and coaching is about the future.  But the past is always present and if we don’t do business with that, then we’re missing out on some really key data to help people make changes in their lives.

Here are a few ways that I work with the past.

•  I often design and run leadership development programme that run over a whole year, where the relationships that people form are where much of not most of the power of the programme comes from.  The programme will often start with a Lifelines activity, where each person tells their life story to a small group of their peers.  They will highlight the key events from their life, and their highs and lows from both their work and their personal life. Some focus more of the recent past and others more on their childhood and events from their early years.  Either way, they spot patterns and trends.  They develop an understanding of the forces that shape them.  And they begin to see what has shaped them to become the leader and person they are today.

•  I do the same in coaching.  Sometimes, I start with a whole session of Lifelines and then we explore what the client has heard herself say that it relevant to our coaching goals.  And sometimes we recontract around the goals because she now has a slightly different perspective on the original goals.  This exploration of the past provides a vital context and history for us to move into the future.

•  When working with a team or group struggling with an issue of performance, say, I have the group tell each other the story of how this issue cam about, maybe using a constellations activity and representing key figures or events from the past.

•  In coaching, before working on a strategy to create a change, I might first explore ‘when did you first experience something like this?’, ‘did either of your parents or caregivers have any of these qualities?’, ‘what did you learn as a child about this?’ or ‘tell me a story from your early years about how this showed up in your life’.

With a coaching client who is having very strong emotional reactions to someone, I might introduce them to the idea of  ‘transference’ and explore who that person represents from their past.

So, not therapy,  And yet certainly therapeutic.  In order to change something, we first have to understand it.  And we can’t do that without going right back to source, to where something might have originated.

For how  can we plan for the future if we don’t understand the past?  How can we change something if we don’t understand the nature and character of it including our history with it.   Won’t we do a better job of developing new habits if we understand how and why we have  developed our current habits?

In what ways do you bring the past into the present?  And how does it serve your clients?








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