Existential Coaching

Another coaching model of interest is Existential Coaching – which, like all coaching paradigms, seeks to facilitate positive change. If (1) the popular sports-based models (T-GROW) focus on increased performance and (2)  narrative coaching focuses on crafting a new client story, then (3) Existential Coaching beats a unique path in between.

According to Ernesto Spinelli, the purpose of Existential Coaching is to help people to live more effectively. This is achieved by gaining clarity and renewed purpose. Obviously this may well lead to increased performance too – a bonus, if you will. Likewise, to be successful, it will necessitate crafting a new story, one in line with (newly discovered) highly personal values and beliefs.

images.pngNow, I’m not going to argue that these three coaching models do not overlap. But I will argue that their focus and approach are very different. Their philosophical underpinnings are different as well. For example, T-GROW works on the assumption that we are all wholly rational creatures who, with effort, can control the disparate parts of ourselves.

By contrast, Existential Coaching works on the assumption that there are so many varied (unconscious) ‘things’ going on inside us that complete conscious control is never possible. As there result, T-GROW focuses on problem-solving while Existential Coaching has no choice but to embrace  problems. For T-GROW, anxiety is a hindrance to performance and must be reduced/eliminated. But for existentialists, anxiety is something to be savoured = i.e. a manifestation of the existential truth that life is not perfect and neither are (nor ever will be) you.

Do you recall little Johnnie in my post about Narrative Coaching? The young man who was no longer good because he couldn’t study hard? How might these three coaching models work in his situation?

  1. T-GROW – might help little Johnnie to put in place a plan to study hard again – taking as a given this is requires enhancement for no other reason than because he says so. If successful, T-GROW gets him back up and running on par with a cultural norm.
  2. Narrative Coaching – might help Little Johnnie to reframe his story so that, for example, he might still be good even if unable to study hard. Quite what he does with this, remains up to him. Just as with any good novel, several different endings are possible and now Johnnie needs to pick one.
  3. Existential Coaching – might help little Johnnie to understand that good = studying hard is a culturally imposed standard and this is how others will judge him, full-stop. However, this does not mean that he has to define himself this way. Indeed, he ought not to do that if it does not align with his personal values and beliefs. He should also keep in mind that although he might once have bought 100% into good = studying hard, he no longer has to do. Everything in life changes and this includes his values and beliefs.

Clearly T-GROW will get the fastest results and they will measureable too; especially good if Johnnie’s (new or old) employer is paying the bill.  But although the result is culturally acceptable, it may not be personally appropriate and, in the long run, may not improve Johnnie’s life. Narrative coaching opens up possibilities for Johnnie in the sense that at least he now understands why he believes good = studying hard. But unless his new story is the result of some serious soul-searching, it will likely remain culturally determined without him even realising this is the case. In my view, Existential Coaching provides the best all-around solution but, to be honest, it might take a long time and let face it, the amount of ‘navel-gazing’ required may not be for everyone.

The moral of this seems to be, as I mentioned in my earlier post, that when it comes to coaching models, one size does not fit all.


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