Coaching psychology approaches and models

Humanistic, integrative, and constructivist

Alison Whybrow


The humanistic, integrative, and constructive approaches offer ways of seeing the world and insights into how, as human beings, we might make sense of and engage with the world. This, in turn, communicates our philosophy as coaches and coaching psychologists, which guides how we practise with our clients. Whilst these approaches offer an abundance of techniques and tools, consideration of the principles of the approaches and what this might mean for our practice is perhaps more useful as it offers flexibility beyond each tool and technique. Understanding the underlying principles allows us to maintain integrity in our practice and to integrate across approaches the right intervention at the right point in time for the coachee(s) we are working with. When starting your coaching practice, understanding what to draw from where and for what purpose is an important grounding.

In this chapter, we share:

  • • the basic ideas of these three areas of coaching and coaching psychology practice and signpost you to additional resources to explore each in more depth;
  • • the interconnectedness of these approaches and how theory informs practice, together with some of the coaching psychology models associated with each;
  • • broadly how each is applied including what particular coaching interventions might benefit from one or other of these approaches and in what sort of context; and
  • • specific skills together with challenges and limitations.

Key approaches and models: Introduction to theory and basic concepts of humanistic, integrative, and constructivist approaches

Humanistic approaches

Early pioneers of humanistic approaches Abraham Maslow (1968) and Carl Rogers (1961), together with Fritz Peris (Peris, Hefferline, & Goodman, 1994), Roberto Assaglioli (1973), and Rollo May (1953), among others, have contributed to the prolific and influential field of humanistic psychology. Humanistic approaches form a foundation of coaching psychology and coaching practice because, as John Rowan points out, working with others on an emotional level involves some self-understanding and self-awareness, which is the heartland of humanistic psychology (Rowan, 2005).

Some of the specific approaches that fall under this umbrella include person-centred, gestalt, self-actualisation, existentialism, and transpersonal. Here, we briefly limit our exploration to person-centred and gestalt approaches; for a more detailed and insightful overview, see (Rowan, 2005).

Carl Rogers pioneered person-centred approaches. His work at the time was revolutionary, significantly impacting the shift in psychological practice and enquiry from a pathological, childhood-focused Freudian orientation to a present-day, positive orientation (Whybrow & Wildflower, 2011).

Person-centred coaching psychology is a way of working with people based on the assumption “that people are intrinsically motivated towards becoming more autonomous, socially constructive and optimally functioning” (Joseph & Bryant-Jeffries, 2019, p. 131). As a result of this assumption, the person-centred approach is explicitly and purposefully not directed by the coaches’ agenda but by the coachee. The individual coachee is viewed as the expert in understanding themselves and to finding a way forward. The focus of the coach is to facilitate the self-determination of the coachee (Joseph, 2015) which is achieved by providing the right environmental conditions for self-determination.

There are six conditions considered central to creating an effective therapeutic environment to facilitate change (Rogers, 1957). Rogers described these conditions as necessary and sufficient. Necessary because all six are considered critical and sufficient because no more or less is required. The six conditions focus on the relationship (e.g., presence, authenticity), compassion, and the quality of empathic listening (see Rogers, 1957, p. 96). As such, the coach needs to:

  • • psychologically connect with the coachee so that the two have an awareness of each other and the dynamic relationship between them.
  • • communicate unconditional positive regard for the coachee who should feel genuinely accepted and valued, imposing no conditions of worth on the coachee.
  • • listen attentively to the client and genuinely demonstrate the desire to understand the world as the client experiences it, clarifying understanding and being sensitive to implied meanings as well as explicit ones.
  • • be fully present and available for the coachee, prepared at times to disclose their own thoughts and feelings. This requires the coach to be authentic and have sufficient self-awareness so they can be congruent. In achieving this level of awareness, the coach needs to understand their own intra- and interpersonal landscape.

Under these conditions, according to Rogers, the coachee no longer feels the need to defend themselves and can, as a result, be more congruent in their self-expression and self-determination.

Gestalt approaches involve a process of becoming fully aware and turning that awareness into action (Allan & Whybrow, 2019). One of the best-known figures associated with gestalt approaches is Fritz Peris who—together with his wife, Laura, and others—developed gestalt therapeutic approaches. Gestalt is a German word which has no direct translation, but a close approximation is, “to experience the whole”. As human beings, we tend to see wholes even when presented with fragments; the mind will fill in blank spaces and perceive a pattern, whole form, or story. This idea of repeating patterns and fractals is also a central concept, with the notion that we exist as a fragment of the whole in all our encounters—all that we are is shown in every relationship, no matter how fleeting. Paying attention and noticing, slowing things down to see what is happening, and catching the obvious without interpretation or diagnosis is central to gestalt. Change is described as happening at the point of contact between self and other. Being able to experience events fully and wholly without blocking or prematurely disconnecting is considered healthy. It is the shifts in relationship captured through changes in action, perception, and feeling that are attended to. The relationship between coach and coachee is critical, with the coach available to the coachee and having sufficient awareness and insight of their inner and outer landscape to have a sense of how the coachee is showing up in the relationship.

There are three central aspects to gestalt therapeutic approaches described by Yontef, 1980 and cf Clarkson, 1989 that can be directly applied in coaching practice:

  • • Awareness is the only goal; greater awareness creates change.
  • • We exist in dynamic relationship with others through dialogue.
  • • We are never separate from the field; the coach is part of the experimental field as much as the coachee. Experimentation both within and between sessions is key to self-observation, noticing and growing awareness.

For a deeper introduction to Gestalt, see Allan and Whybrow (2019).

Most practitioners would agree that a humanistic lens is necessary as a fundamental way of approaching coachees in that unconditional, positive regard together with a trusting relationship are core components of successful coaching. For those who fully adopt a humanistic lens, the foundational nature of relationship as the mediator of growth and development is distinctive.

Integrative approaches

In counselling and psychotherapy, single-school approaches (where a single theoretical framework is used to shape a therapy practice)—for example, cognitive behavioural, gestalt, person-centred, existential, or psychoanalytic—have been a predominant way of training, commissioning, and thinking about therapeutic interventions (Cooper & McLeod, 2011) although a more integrative approach may, in reality, be taken by many, if not most practitioners. Coaches and coaching psychologists tend to have a more pragmatic approach in their work with coachees and clients. As a result, an integrative or eclectic approach rather than a single-school approach has been more dominant in this field early on (Whybrow, 2008). This has resulted in a greater likelihood for coaches to use a range of different techniques. This greater level of eclectic or integrated approaches may also result in the very diverse pathways practitioners follow to become coaches, stemming from a wide base including business, sports, training, and development backgrounds on top of psychological and therapeutic ones.

Integrative approaches are described as brought together with an underpinning philosophy; eclectic is considered more random, where the coach may not explicitly consider the underlying philosophy of their practice (O’Hara, 2011). Integrative approaches vary from being pre-designed or self-generated. Figure 4.1 captures this dimension of integrative approaches.

Examples of integrative approaches along this pre-designation dimension are described below. There are many examples across the coaching and coaching psychology literature. Here, we draw our pre-designed and semipredesigned examples from those with explicit psychological underpinnings.

Multimodal approaches have a definite structure and composition of different elements. Two are described here. The first integrative model is based on the work of Lazarus (1997) which integrates seven modalities of potential impact across behavioural, cognitive, and affective responses. The core idea

Level of pre-designation in integrative coaching approaches

Figure 4.1 Level of pre-designation in integrative coaching approaches.

is that unless all seven areas are considered, significant issues could easily be overlooked and, as a result, the coaching intervention may not be successful (Palmer, Cooper, & Thomas, 2003). Initially, a model described for psychotherapeutic work, this has been successfully applied in the field of stress management and coaching practice. Another example would be the SPACE model, described by Edgerton and Palmer (2005). This model offers a slightly different way of inquiring into a situation that the coachee is experiencing and pays attention to physiological responses as well as actions, cognition, and emotions. These two models integrate core cognitive behavioural coaching and rational and emotive behavioural models.

Semi-designed integrative coaching models might include examples from Grant (2019) and Passmore (2007) who offer a framework for a programme of coaching and a way of building a coaching practice. Grant (2019) presents a model integrating goal theory and elements of coaching practice providing a meta-framework for goal-directed coaching that brings together cognition, behaviour, and affect facilitating the probability of genuinely engaged and motivated, congruent coaching approaches that are more associated with coaching success. Passmore (2007) offers an integrative model for executive coaching with a meta-framework for coaching in a leadership or executive context. The model draws together humanistic and cognitive behavioural approaches, working on coaching alliance, the development of organisational culture, psychodynamic influences, and transactional analysis, among others. As Passmore describes, this offers executive and leadership coaches with a starting point and a framework for integrating eclectic approaches.

Pluralistic approaches embrace the possibility that there are many right ways to coach (Utry, Palmer, McLeod, & Cooper, 2019). With pluralistic approaches, the integrative framework is self-generated by the coach or coaching psychologist. In such a situation, an integrative framework might be an individual coach practitioners’ purpose, values, experience, and theory of change that act as the core integrating framework. It is this personal core framework that facilitates the selection and integration of coaching and coaching psychology approaches and techniques. Pluralistic approaches are very much aligned with the concept of self-as- instrument (Cheung-Judge, 2001) and the existential concept that the coach is an integral part of the coaching field and cannot be separated from it (Allan & Whybrow, 2019; Spinelli & Horner, 2019). Who the coach is, then, is vital to their practice and impact, regardless of coach training or school of coaching adopted. Thus, using the coaches' ideas and beliefs as an integrating framework for their practice may allow greater transparency, awareness, and coach authenticity in practice.

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