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What is coaching anyway?

I go on about being a coach... All... The... Time. I talk about the clients I coach. I talk about the impact of coaching. I talk about the coaches who have helped me. I even sometimes talk about my coaching training. But what I haven't really done much of... is explain what coaching actually is. I think I may be guilty of sometimes assuming that you know what I know... which of course is a bit daft, since 5 years ago I didn't know very much about coaching at all.

Different coaches have different ways of explaining it, but coaching can be summed up pretty easily really. It works on the belief that we all actually already have the answers to our problems... but we don't always know that we know the answers. We get stuck in the problem and can't find our way forward. Your coach's job is to help you to unlock the solutions and answers that you already know on a subconscious level. Coaches help you achieve your full potential by following a process that helps you uncover realisations about yourself that you might not have known you had.

So that's the explanation... but what does it mean in practice? Essentially it's quite simple. As your coach I take you through a process - usually a series of conversations - that is designed to help you access the knowledge and understanding that you have, deep down. I ask you questions about what you want to achieve and how you want to feel. I help you explore what that means to you and we look at what you've already tried. I help you identify the obstacles that are stopping you from moving forwards, and we decide on strategies to get past them. The questions I ask you are all very deliberate. They're questions that I have chosen especially for you, especially in that moment, to help you keep moving forwards towards your goal.

Sometimes I bring in some techniques beyond simply talking. Sometimes we'll draw pictures or diagrams. Sometimes we'll use picture cards to help trigger different ways of looking at a situation. "Strengths cards", for example, can be used to help us explore the character strengths you have and the ones you'd like to build on. Sometimes I might suggest role-playing another person's perspective or even using play-dough! Not everyone wants to go down the more creative routes, and that's fine. My job as a coach is to push you a little out of your comfort zone but not to make you feel silly or embarrassed or unsafe. Not ever. So I'll always ask first if you're up for trying something a bit different and explain why I think it could be useful. And if you say no, we won't.

One thing that will always happen at every coaching session though, is planning meaningful action. You'll leave every session having planned to do something that will take you closer to your goal, and knowing exactly how and when you're going to do it. And as your coach, one of my jobs is to keep you accountable. I'll check you've done what you said you'd do, and if you haven't I'll help you look at why that is. This is one of the things that differentiates coaching from counselling and other forms of therapy, by the way. Coaching is a solutions-focused approach. It's about looking forwards and taking practical action to get you to where you want to be.

So that's what coaching is. But it's important for you to know that every coach has their own methods and coaching style. Many coaches use a pure coaching style - in other words their entire role is to ask questions and draw out of you what you already know. Pure coaching doesn't strictly allow for the coach to express their opinions or ideas because that's not what the coach is there for. And it's an approach that can work really well and can get great results.

However, it's not entirely the approach I use... because I believe that I can bring my own experience, learnings and perspective to the session and carefully use it to add value to your coaching. I don't ever impose my views or tell you what to do. And I rarely make suggestions, because goals and actions are invariably more powerful when they have come from you. But I also believe that sometimes I might have an idea that just hasn't occurred to you. And whilst the purist coaches would keep that idea to themselves, I'll share it. I won't push it on you, but I'll put it out there for you to either take or reject. Because to me, our coaching sessions are a collaboration. When you and I work together as fully and openly as we can, that's when incredible transformations occur.

Another difference between me and the purists (which I don't say in a derogatory way, by the way, "pure coaching" can be truly excellent), is that some coaches are very fixed on moving forwards and finding solutions without spending time talking through difficult experiences or circumstances that have led to this point. But in my specific area of coaching - body confidence, empowerment, and self-esteem - I find we often need to look backwards before we can move forwards. Sometimes you need to get the difficult stuff out of your system before you're in the right head space to start looking at solutions. I'm not a qualified counsellor but I do have some counselling training, and often it's appropriate for me to take more of a counselling-based approach to help you spend some time talking through your feelings and experiences before you're ready to look at moving forwards. Having said that, I'm also really clear about where my limitations lie, and if I think you would be better served by seeing a counsellor I will discuss that with you. I'm not in the business of doing more harm than good.

Talking of the training I've had... have you ever wondered what qualifications I have to do this job? Probably not. But I have got qualifications... and sadly many coaches don't. Coaching isn't a regulated industry, which means literally anyone can start calling themselves a coach tomorrow and start charging you for their services. Many of these people are great at giving advice and decide this means they're coaches. (They're not. If they're giving advice they're probably mentors or consultants). Some people do a short online course before starting their coaching business. And some - like me - invest a lot of time and money in getting it right. I trained as a coach in the Psychology faculty of the University of East London. I took a two-year Masters-level course and ended up with a Postgraduate Diploma in Coaching (and scored a Distinction - the highest grade you can get). It was important to me to learn about coaching from both a theoretical and practical perspective. I wanted to understand the psychology behind the techniques. I wanted to study different models of coaching and work out whic

h one was best for me. I wanted to be assessed on my coaching ability and taught how to be better. So that's what I did.

And I'm so glad I did, because it gives me a huge toolkit of approaches at my fingertips. I've learned how to use Person-Centred Coaching, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Cognitive Behavioural Coaching, Creative Coaching, Motivation Analysis, Mindfulness and so much more. Those terms may not mean much to you, but what they do mean are that when you come to me for coaching you can feel confident that the

approaches and techniques I choose for our work together are the right ones for you, are grounded in psychological research, and are proven to get results.

If this has left you interested to know what it's like to experience a coaching session with me, you can book a taster session. It's a one-to-one one-hour session, which can take place in person here in Essex or remotely via video calling. We'll use it to define and explore your goals and you'll leave with a clear plan of action. Tempted? You can either send me an email using the contact link at the top of the page or complete this short questionnaire and I'll be in touch.

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