Psychodynamic Coaching

Yet another interesting coaching model uses the Psychodynamic Approach, the stated purpose of which is to expand the client’s capacity for emotional regulation.

Baseline is that the client already regulates his emotional response when confronted with people and/or situations. Unfortunately, however, he usually has little or no consciousness about what is happening much less why. This should come as no surprise. Haven’t we all ever met someone who seemed to know more about which  ‘buttons’ we have that they could push that did we?

The key to this coaching model is to create a safe space (‘holding environment’) in which the client tells his stories. He’s not so much looking to rewrite his story as he is to get a visceral experience of it.

Consider little Johnnie, our young lad from the prior two posts. He’s the one who is no longer ‘good’ because he can’t ‘study hard’ and as the result has problems at his job. His employer believes that Johnnie provokes fights with his superiors in order to cover up his feelings of inadequacy and unless he stops this, he’ll be out on his ear. Johnnie has been made aware of these concerns through HR and of course, as his coach, so have I.


I invite Johnnie to cast his mind back and consider whether his current situation resonates with something from his past. Not surprisingly, Johnnie starts talking about the technocrat at his university who, for no good reason, decided to cut his funding.  As Johnnie’s coach, I must aim to operate on two levels – both participating in our ‘mutual exploration’ of Johnnie’s story as well purposefully fuelling his emotional reactions by subtly role-playing the part of that callous technocrat.

No surprise when Johnnie (unconsciously) picks up on this and ramps up his rage at me (transference). At the same time (countertransference), I play back to Johnnie that however hard he tries to pick a fight with me, I won’t respond just like that technocrat failed to respond years ago. Somewhere in this (frankly uncomfortable) process, Johnnie finally twigs – i.e. that he picks fights with others out of his feelings of inadequacy and he usually picks fights with those who refuse to fight back. If all goes well, he can now consciously change a previously unconscious behaviour pattern that was about to cost him his job.

The good point about this model is that it opens the client’s mind to the possibility that there is more going on in any situation than he might have appreciated. The downside is that this feels more like counselling than coaching at least in the sense that as a coach, I am digging around in my client’s unconscious and with a stated purpose or goal. The reality is that in every coaching session there is an element transference and countertransference (and plumbing of the unconscious) so as a good coach, I had best get prepared for it.

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