Coaching Psychology

A new Science in search for its Identity

Arnon Levy PhD

"Coaching psychology – A new Science in search for its Identity
The coaching profession has enjoyed during its20 years of existence, a phenomenal success, but at the same time reluctance andlack of confidence from large parts of the public and especially the academic community.
Despite its short life, it could be said that life coaching has an undeniable footprint at the 21st century's culture; In a survey quotedin "Psychology Today" (1) it was found that coaching had been the second rapidly growing after the high tec. professions.
Despite the extraordinary evelopment of the coaching profession we encounterremarkable confusion among professionals when they try to define their practice and delineate its boundaries. A survey conducted by ICF among leading coaches (2) revealed that no consensual definition of coaching could be formulated by scholars and practicing coaches. Moreover, there hadalmost been a consensus among practitioners that a universal definition would do no justice with this new expanding field. There were suggested definitions of particular coaching types: Health Coaching, Business Coaching, Couple coaching, etc. It seemed, that it was easier for the practitioners to do well what they have been trained to do rather than to define it, and sometimes to deeply understand the processoccurring during coaching.
There is of course the good, formal definition of ICF according to which coaching is: "a partnership between the coach and the coachee stimulating thinking and creative processes to maximize personal and professional potentials".
Other definitions of prominent scholars (3) suggested that coaching is a methodology that:” Unlocks the person’s potentials to maximize his own performance, to facilitate or improve his strengths” or that : “Coaching is helping the coachees to learn rather than teaching them”.
We could be on solid ground when we say that most of the definitions accentuate: Facilitating relationships (coach/coachee) of partnership that germinatein the coachee maximizationof potentials.
Beyond all these definitions there is the famous premise Adopted by ICF and most coaching schools that "the agenda and the solutions are within the hands of the coachee". The coach only provides the facilitating relationships of partnership to encourage self-learning of the coachee.
With your permission let me defy these premises to suggest that they originate in misinterpretations of certain psychological concepts:
The concept of Facilitating relationships is wrong in this context because unlike in facilitating relationships the coach tries to generate agenuine process of change. According to Winnicott(4) the "environment, when good-enough, facilitates the maturational process" . The Winnicottian notion of "facilitating environment"
derives from an assumption that the infant has the inborn capacities to develop in the right way if he is not disturbed to do so. This assumption is invalid in coach/coachee relationships. The coach generates change in the coachee's life by proactive change – producing- procedures as applied in solution focused coaching, in Cognitive-Behavioral Coaching, and other active techniques. The clinical use of facilitating, good-enough, holding environments are often productive in the treatments of disorders of the injured self rather than in Life coaching. At the same time the notion of partnership implies mutuality but not equality as many coaches interpret. The coach is not a full equal partner but a disguised mentor. The coach does not have the answers but he has the questions whether a Socratic form of dialogue, a Buberian concept of genuine relationships, or power questions. Owing the questions makes him a
disguised mentor who maintains the agenda.
The idea of "the coachee has the solutions and the agenda" and "coaching is performed at eye level" is also a wrong interpretation ofBugental'shumanistic psychology approach (5). The revolution of humanistic psychology in the 20th century has been expressed in the neglect of the medical model which considered the therapist as the "Savant" the one who has the secret knowledge that could heal.
Bugental'sapproach was a bold innovation contrasted with the medical model in which the patient was considered deficient, dependent, neurotic or mentally ill. His approach was grounded by a deep respect to the client as a human being and he encouraged together with Carl Rogers an attitude of partnership and mutuality with their clientsbut not of equality.
We know today that there is no secret knowledge. Not in the hands of the therapist or the coach but certainly not within the hands of the coachee. Certainly, there is no secret wisdom, but the coach possess the knowledge of "what to do".The coachee provides the contents which are his latent vision, motivations and repressed desires but thecoach maintains the agenda for the structure of the process.New learning emerge in the interaction between the coach and the coachee, new conduits, new insights and new paradigms but these originate in the process led by the coach.
Doesn't the coach make the coaching contract ?dosen't the coach formulate the ground rules for the coaching alliance ? and doesn't he take the payment at the end of the day ? Are these actions devoid of agenda ? So with your permission I wish to pose here a power question:
Shouldn't we suspect that transferring the agenda of the coaching process to the coachee does not originate in an apprehension from the mighty task of dealing with the most sacred part in the human mind: his self-actualization, his realization of his life vision and beyond ?
After this short visit to the domains of life coaching let us have a look at the field ofCoaching psychology. While we spoke of the difficulties to delineate and define the coaching process I see the difficulty to define coaching psychologyeven greater. Basically, coaching psychology has to distinguish itself from psychotherapy and from life coaching. From psychotherapy it is much easier. Usually coaching psychology deals with non-clinical populations and it does not aim at reparation of clinical states or disorders as it happens in psychotherapy. The distinction from life coaching is less obvious. It seems that the most qualified definition for coaching psychology has been suggested by the main authors in the field Grant and Palmer(3) as follows: “Coaching psychology is for enhancing well- being and performance in personal life and work domains, underpined by models of coaching grounded in established adult learning or
psychological approaches” (adapted from Grant and Palmer, 2002).
Although this definition certainly describes what we are doing in coaching psychology, when we compare it to ICF definition of coaching we could paraphrase the 2 definitions and say:" We do in coaching psychology what you do incoaching but better, in more professional tools (psychotherapy) and wider and more profound knowledge and understanding (certainly- we are psychologists and not some commercial courses graduates). J. Passmore in his new book (6) says it loud and clear:" “Coaching psychology is the scientific study of behavior… to deepen our understanding and enhance our practice within coaching.”
Putting coaching psychology as the scientific academic form of coaching is one way of seeing it. Before we observe thisoption let us see what are some other possible forms to define and delineate coaching psychology.:
• Coaching psychology is often suggested as a sub-discipline of psychology • Coaching psychology is often seen as applied positive +–Let us explore the possibilities: Passmore's suggestion makes sense. Psychology is an academic discipline, with a long history of methodological research. The alliance between coaching and coaching psychology could help to constitute coaching as a scientific discipline.
However, I believe that this option is not practical: Life coaching evolved from the roots of psychology but grew in foreign gardens of business, organizationson one hand and new age practices on the other hand.
The international community of coachswould not give uptheir control over this rewarding profession to put themselves as the simple practitioners while the coaching psychologists take the lead.
International Coach Federation would not yield its overpowering control over the field of coaching to put above them the International Society for Coaching psychology.
In addition to that let us be honest with ourselves: many coaches are apt professionals that come from academic fields and seriously try to develop valid methodology and ethical code.
The next two questions considering coaching psychology as applied positive psychology or a sub-discipline of psychology are intertwined.
There is no doubt that coaching is deeply rooted in psychology. The whole idea of realizing personal potential and self-fulfillment are the pinnacle of the third force – humanistic psychology that ruledduring the 60's of the 20th century. In addition, most of the techniques used by coaches are user-friendly adaptations of psychotherapy techniques and psychological models.
This fact gives a good sense to bring coaching back to become a psychology sub-discipline.
Still there is a catch here. Although coaching is based mainly on psychology and sports coaching,we suggest that it should not become psychology sub-discipline neither in practice nor in essence.
We mentioned that the vast majority of Coaching developers and practitioners are not psychologists. Of course we may claim that Coaching psychology is a different discipline and it can be defined as a psychology specialty. In fact, even if we decide to separate coaching psychology from coaching and define it as a psychological practice we will be separating coaching psychology from its natural developmental context. Let us not forget thatafamiliar psychologists' claim about coaching –is that Coaching is a profession which is not aware and does not refer to its broad background and origins in psychology. If this is our claim we do not want to pay back with the same coin and separate coaching psychology from coaching.
It also seems that neither psychology nor coaching psychology gain from considering Coaching psychologya psychological specialty. As a specialty, coaching psychology does not bring any new annunciation to psychological science. Coaching psychologysuggests a conceptualization that overlaps the fields of psychological counseling, sports psychology, clinical psychology, organizational psychology and health psychology. Coaching psychology alsooverlaps psychotherapy approaches such as: Solution Focused Therapy, short-term therapy, CBT, etc. So what would be Coaching psychology's contribution for these therapeutic modelsand practices? Not much. Coaching psychology would be diminished and absorbed into the existing knowledge in Psychology.
So what about coaching psychology as applied Positive Psychology ?
There is no doubt about the fact that the main objects of inquiry in life coaching such as: search for meaning in one's life, study of personal and universal values systems, of the authentic identity, of personal strengths, are not to be found in the mainstream of psychology excluding positive psychology.
So why not consider life coaching as a form of appied positive psychology as many suggest ?
Doubtlessly, the emergence of positive psychology is a meaningful development in psychology. Positive psychology continues the gradual separation of psychology from the medical model. Its subjects of inquiry such as: the search for happiness, resilience, personal strengths, validity of value systems etc. are almost a daily concern of practicing therapists who encounter these subjects much more than the oedipal conflict.
Positive psychology took the challenge of treating these issues with scientifically based methodology. By so doing, positive psychology substantially contributes to respond to the large public's demands and to the zeitgeist of the beginning of the 21st century.
So could coaching psychology be considered applied positive psychology ?
Coaching psychology seems to possess quite broader vision and boundaries than Positive Psychology. As Grant (7)has put it, certainly positive psychology can cooperate with coaching psychology in the research of certain aspects such as happiness, resilience, personal strengthsetc.
Yet, is seems that positive psychology cannot provide the overarching, higher order competencies required by this new science.
Coaching psychology uses a variety of change-producing psychotherapy techniques such as pacing and leading, mirroring, anchoring, re-framing, etc.which usually are not related to positive psychology's practices. Unlike positive psychology coaching psychology also uses psychotherapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral coaching, NLP, solution focused coaching, system appoaches, and psychosocial dynamics. In addition, coaching psychology places as first priority the coaching alliance, rapport creation, and coaching relationships. Coaching psychology often usespsychological knowledge to distinguish between coaching and psychotherapy and to understand the coaching and therapeutic needs of the coachee. None of these practices account among Positive Psychology's practices or research.
The gap between the 2 fields goes far beyond the difference between theory and practice. Coaching psychology aims at enhancing self-actualization which is a much more complex concept than the concept of enhancing what is positive in life in contrast to negative. Coaching psychology, having its roots in humanistic and existential psychologies may consider also human suffering as apossible lever to self-actualization and not only the goodies. So where are we now? I did not come here for the slaughterof sacred cows but to offer a possible constructive perspective.
As good coaches we should look at the strengths and vision of coaching and coaching psychology to suggest what might be an optimal journey for each. We suggested that coaching should not be overwhelmed by the concept of mentoring. Life Coaching as we suggested is not devoid of disguised mentoring.
Let us begin with the strengths of life coaching: The strengths of the coach is to act in the organizational world to enhance leadership, performances etc. The coach is the engineerfor the building of the coachee's realization of purpose.
The coach calculates the proportion of the materials and the strengths of the structure while the coachee provides the building materials: the motivations, hidden desires, strengths etc. There is no architect to the common endeavor of the two and the spontaneous emergence of the building Is a miracle of creation.
What are the strengths and vision of the coaching psychologist?
The main strength of coaching psychology is the scientific and appliedpsychotherapy experience of 100 years of psychological knowledge, integrated with the new invigorating spirit oflife coaching inspired by contemporary needs, values and vision of the 21 st. centuryperson.Life Coaching as NLP havetaken salient practical and successful features of psychology and psychotherapy without leaving their visiting card. Now as psychologists we can take it back withthe new spirit that they have put inside and we can create from it the integrated knowledge for anew behavioralscience of subjectivity.
We are at the point where we can create a new coaching discipline which is multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary with a psychological spinal cord. This new discipline may be the next generation of psychological intervention methodology and it has the practical and theoretical tools to enhance within a short term strategy the humanistic psychology ambition for self-actualization.
Coaching psychology can also promote Kohut's(8) vision of the cohesive healthy self, characterized by three axis: 1. grandiosity- creating a stable sense of self-esteem, healthy ambitions, and sense of self-value, assertiveness, self expression, and we may add:attainment of freedom, authenticity, and the
capacity to commit oneself to the realization of his value system.
2. Idealization – the ability to create and maintain goal-setting ideals, personal vision, ideal value system, and we may add: the generation of meaningful life.
3. Healthy relationship with the selfobjectand environment – the ability for intimacy and communication of feelings to significant others, and we may add: the inherent need of the self to transcend beyond its personal being.
The golden era of psychology and psychoanalysis have been by the time of Freud's disciples when psychoanalysis had been integrated with other disciplines such as Anthropology, Sociology, Biology, Literature etc. If we look at coaching psychology as the science which studies authenticity, meaningfulness, value system and self – actualization we can describe it as the harbinger of a new behavioral science of subjectivity. In this science we can earn the knowledge accumulated by the practice of coaching together with knowledge from research in psychology and psychotherapy and contemporary relevant disciplines. Relevant disciplines could be for ex. Ethology to study animal behavior comparable to human value systems (eg.altruism research in nature versus in human cultures) comparative culture studies (eg. research of meaning creation and value systems in different cultures),Developmental psychology (eg. To study the development of the cognitive/emotional attitudes), neuro-science and evolutionary theory to study the reciprocal inter-relations between the functioning of the self, the human brain, and coaching practice. Let me illustrate this point: Every therapist or coach noticesthat certain experiences during coaching produce a response which is not always predictable but which has the power to produce reorganization ofparadigms in the coachee. This phenomenon probably occurs since the self, as well as the human brain function as a complex adaptive system. As such the self as the brain tends to possess self-regulation and self-organization that create the new reorganization during the coaching process (9).The study of these functions and others in the brain and the self, enhance our understanding about the coaching process.
Let me summarize here in saying that for the last 100 years psychology and psychotherapy have been construed upon the medical model, and subjects ofresearch in psychology has been selected to adapt to models borrowed from natural and social sciences.
These models still prevail to a large extent in psychology and we are today at a point where our psychological science and psychotherapy practice `seem to be in crisis and onthe defensive and are frequently threatened by alternative New Age and coaching practices. In Thomas Kuhn's terms it seems that psychological science is gradually developing into a paradigm shift.
Coaching psychology provides us with the opportunity to start to create a new behavioral science of subjectivity that would respond to the ethos, needs, values and vision of the 21st century person.
The contemporary individual does not aspire to expose the truth hidden within his unconscious but to generate transformative experiences which are authentic, meaningful, and unique(10). He expects these experiences to take place within a focused and time limited process. There is no other approach in psychology that canbetter respond to these needs than the happy marriage between coaching, psychology and contemporary relevant methodologies and disciplines.
Coaching psychology has the potential to create an integrative revolutionary approachin psychology combining methodologies, ideas and scientific concepts from multiple disciplines. The rapid rise of this fascinating field may indicate that the need of the modern person, of the psychologist and the coach coincide here to create a new behavioral science of subjectivity that should inspire us to continue to explore.


*This paper is an invited lecture for the 3rd international Congress of Coaching Psychology held in Rome, Italy, Frentany Congress center, May 16-17th 2013. The lecture is the basis for a book being written: "Coaching Psychology – a new behavioral science of Subjectivity".
**Arnon Levy Ph.D, clinical psychologist, psycho-anthropologist, and coaching psychologist, former chair of the Israel Association for Psychotherapy, and founder of the coaching studying program in Tel Aviv University. Levy is the founder and chair of: IACP – Israel Association for Coaching psychology&the founder and CEO of CPA – Coaching psychology Academy for the studies of advanced academic degrees in coaching psychology (in collaboration with Professional Development Foundation and Middlesex University).© All rights reserved. References: 1. Pychology today 17.2.10 2. The Future of Coaching as a profession The Next 5 Years 2005-2010. ICF research report 2004. Diane Brennan, David Matthew Prior. .3. Palmer S. & Whybrow A.: Handbook of Coaching psychology. 2007. Routledge; East Sussex, New York. 4. D.W. Winnicott: Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development. Karnac pub. 1996 5. Bugental J. The Search for Authenticity: An Existential-Analytic Approach to Psychotherapy. 1965 Irvington Pub. 6. J. Passmore, D. Peterson, T. Freire Ed. The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Coaching and Mentoring Wiley-Blackwell ed. 2012.
7. Grant A. M. & Cavanagh M. J. : Evidence based Coaching: Flourishing or Languishing ? Australian Psychologist, December 2007; 42(4): 239-254.. 8. E. Banai, M. Mikulincer, P. Shaver, Selfobject needs in Kohut'sself Psychology. Psychoanalytic Psychology. 2005, Vol. 22, No. 2, 224–260 9.. Levy A. Beyond the Empty Glass (in Hebrew) 1998, Cherickover Pub. Tel Aviv 10. S. A. Mithchell, M. A. Black Freud and beyond. 1995 Mitchell& Black.