Archive for June, 2012

social work meets coaching

June 22nd, 2012

(reprinted from my article in the Society of Clinical Social Work journal)

The Tools of Coaching: Seeing Our Clients Through a Fresh Lens

It was June of 1991.  Another picturesque Spring day in the quad across from the UCLA School of Social Welfare—the commencement of a transformative process spurred on by two very full years of social work training, and now it was time to share these tools with the world.  As a result of social work school, two primary concepts continue to stand out for me above all the rest: self-determination and person-in-situation.

Self-determination: a general theory of human motivation concerned with the choices people make with their own free will and full sense of choice, without any external influence and interference. Person-in-situation: A threefold configuration consisting of the person, the situation and the interaction between them.

Through the years I’ve worked in medical settings, hospice, outpatient mental health and private practice.  In each of these capacities, I’ve drawn in one way or another from these foundational principles of our profession of which I’m always proud to say I’m a social worker.  And these core values have seamlessly followed me into the world of coaching.

Fast forward to 2001. Burnout was on the horizon if I didn’t do something about it as I had been precariously balancing agency work with private practice for many years and burning the candle at both ends.  I knew in my heart of hearts that it was time to create something new but wasn’t sure how to make this happen.

Jeff Auerbach, a psychologist and founder of the College of Executive Coaching, was offering a CEU class here in Santa Monica—walking distance from my home.  The idea of strolling to class was very appealing, but little did I know that this short walk would change the navigation of my career.

As I listened attentively, the coaching language sounded very familiar, but the application and frame was quite different.  It intrigued me so much that I enrolled in another class entitled Peak Performance with Dr. Sandra Foster, and to my great surprise I was not only deeply inspired but I also asked her to be my personal coach.

A fire had been lit that day, and I felt more energized and hopeful than I had in many years.  As part of my coach training, I worked with Dr. Foster for five months, and as a result of this experience, I developed an exit strategy from the agency where I had worked for six years and a clear vision for my next steps into full-time private practice as both a therapist and a coach.  This proved to be a momentous professional shift.

After two years of coach training, I chose to focus my coaching primarily on transitions ( development as well as clients in recovery from addictions).  From my experience both as a coaching client and a coach, it became evident that self-determination and person-in-situation were once again infused into my work but this time superimposed into a new frame with a new population.

Coaching borrows from multiple theoretical orientations including Cognitive-Behavioral, Adlerian theory and Positive Psychology, and the following chart outlines the distinctions between coaching and psychotherapy based on my particular background:

Coaching Psychodynamic Psychotherapy
Focus on the present toward the future Focus on the past toward the present
Strengths-based, wellness model Deficits model focuses on healing
Highly-structured with assignments Process and feelings-oriented
Phone-based or face-to-face Face-to-face
30-45 minute appointments 50 minute sessions
Short-term Short-term or Long-term
Unlimited email contact between meetings Minimal contact between sessions

The vignette below illustrates the power of coaching those in the first-year of addiction recovery:

When Michelle’s friends and family checked her into treatment for the third time in seven years, she had to admit there was a problem. On the outside she appeared to have it all – a loving family, financial freedom, and limitless opportunities – but behind closed doors things were different. The pretense ended one afternoon when she was found unconscious after another drinking binge. In the past, she’d attended 12-step meetings and therapy after discharge, but this time her counselors added something new to her aftercare plan – a breakthrough method called Recovery Coaching.

Coaching adds a bold new approach to long-established therapies that have only been partially successful. Instead of seeing clients as sick, bad, or powerless, it leverages their strengths and talents. In conjunction with traditional therapy and the well-worn twelve steps, this unconventional process fosters hope and personal accountability. As a result of the future-focused, action-oriented nature of Recovery Coaching, Michelle has now been sober for the longest time since she began drinking at age sixteen. In fact, her recovery has been so life-changing that she’s now studying to be a chemical dependency counselor.

Before working with a coach, Michelle had never asked herself the questions that pointed toward her true passions.  She had been a dutiful wife and mother but never considered what gave her life meaning.  As a result of a values clarification exercise and lots of soul-searching in the early phase of coaching, she identified her heart’s desire to help others who had gone through similar challenges with addictions.  Her coach helped Michelle develop relevant, purposeful goals and map out specific action steps to support her intentions.  Because she also struggled with procrastination and low self-esteem at times, an accountability system was developed to check in daily by email with the coach.  Michelle also thrived with the structure of a tracking log as it became a method for her to see her progress in chart form.  And most of all, she entered the coaching process motivated and open-hearted for change.

Social workers and coaches are both change agents, but coaches are not trained as mental health professionals.  Coaches help clients find direction when they’re feeling stuck.  In the case of Michelle, she had been very self-absorbed in her active addiction, and being of service to others as a counselor turned out to be one of the keys to finding traction and purpose in her life and recovery.

The history of the coaching movement dates back to the 70’s and 80’s when it emerged in the corporate sector. It had become clear that many executives and corporate leaders could benefit from refining their “people skills,” and coaches were brought in as leadership trainers and team-building experts.  Life coaching hit the ground running in the late 80’s as elements of executive coaching were adapted to working with individuals wanting to move forward with life goals such as career transition. Today coaching is not only seen in North America, but it’s become an international phenomena and is seen throughout the world especially in Europe and Asia.

It’s interesting to note that the Positive Psychology community reinforces and validates coaching strategies through its research of topics such as gratitude, forgiveness and resiliency. Martin Seligman, PhD, former president of the APA and founder of the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania coined the term Positive Psychology in 1998 and describes it as the science of What Makes Life Worth Living. “What gives your life meaning?” can be a daunting question, but the coaching process encourages clients to examine these larger existential questions which gives shape to the course of the coaching process.

In 1995 the International Coach Federation (ICF) was formed by professional coaches worldwide as a non-profit organization, and it now has over 17,000 members in 95 countries.  It established the standards and ethical guidelines for professional coaching and has also developed a credentialing system.   Because coaching expanded so quickly in the last twenty years, certification and credentialing has been lagging behind until recently.  If you or your clients are interested in finding out the credibility of a coach, there are two questions to ask.  1 – Did you complete your training from an ICF- accredited coach training program? 2 – Are you credentialed through the ICF?  For more details, visit the ICF website at

The ICF defines professional coaching as follows:  Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.  Coaching is an ongoing relationship which focuses on clients taking action toward the realization of their vision, goals or desires.  Coaching uses a process of inquiry and personal discovery to build the client’s level of awareness and responsibility and provides the client with structure, support and feedback.  The coaching process helps clients both define and achieve professional and personal goals with more ease than would be possible otherwise.

According to a recent ICF survey, the average coach is 46-55 years old with 5-10 years coaching experience, and 53% of coaches have a graduate degree.  Coaching clients tend to be 56% female and 44% male with an average age between 38-45 years old.

Just as every social worker is different, every coach is different.  For instance, I coach clients going through transitions, and I also offer training and consultation to addiction and mental health professionals.  At this time screening tools are being fine-tuned to help potential clients determine if they’re good candidates to benefit from coaching.  The ICF suggests that to be successfully coached, clients must be able to partner with a coach and to develop specific goals.

As a certified coach and licensed clinical social worker, I’m often asked how clients can determine what will be most effective for them. I offer a 30-minute phone consultation at no charge—a common coaching practice– to all prospective clients because I want to ensure that they find the right type of support.  For instance, if a client seeks coaching but instead focuses exclusively on a recent crisis or emotional pain, they’re probably more appropriate for therapy.

Due to legal and ethical boundaries, I never work with a client as both a coach and psychotherapist.  For example, if I’m working with a coaching client and discover they would benefit from therapy, we discuss psychotherapy referrals.  The same rule applies if I’m working with a psychotherapy client who may benefit from coaching.  In Los Angeles we have an abundance of talented professionals, and I believe that a solid team approach works in everyone’s favor.

There are several instances when it’s necessary for a coach to refer to a mental health professional and here are a few examples:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Inability to concentrate/focus
  • Sleep and/or appetite problems
  • Angry outbursts/irritability
  • Risk-taking or impulsive behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation

On the other hand, therapists may consider referring to a coach if the client would like to:

  • Clarify a vision.
  • Create purposeful goals.
  • Define specific action steps.
  • Build accountability.
  • Take sustainable action.
  • Work through fears, obstacles and self-doubt.
  • Develop a more balanced life.

Because coaching is a strengths-based method, the attention is given to client’s resourcefulness and resiliency.  These qualities may also be explored in therapy, but this is the primary emphasis for coaches.  The client is asked to identify core values, highest priorities and true passions, and the coach holds these intentions with the client as a compass for the work together.

Visioning is one of the most significant ingredients of the future-focused orientation of the coaching experience.  Many clients will be able to envision their lives one year, three years, five years out.  Others like Michelle may need to start with 90 days or less depending on what feels palatable.  Regardless of the timeframe, it’s an opportunity to imagine what’s possible—not that anything has to happen but simply what could happen.  Walt Disney brought together a creative team he called imagineers, and this was an early example of a visionary who knew that it truly takes a village to realize a vision.  Whether it’s the Disney empire or a transition in your own life, visioning is a cornerstone of coaching.

As a result of visioning, the aperture opens and limitless possibilities grow.  When clients engage in the coaching process, it can be a navigational change, and in my experience it changed the landscape of my career path opening up avenues I hadn’t even imagined.

Social work and coaching resemble and complement one another. Coaching isn’t meant to replace the tremendous value of clinical social work but simply to add another dimension of support and fresh-new tools to the empowering work already being provided. Coaching has been embraced by millions worldwide and has become a valuable community resource seeing clients through a distinctive lens.

the bridge to recovery intensives

June 8th, 2012

I’m very proud to announce the launch of the weekend intensives offered by the Bridge to Recovery in Santa Barbara.  As many of you know, I attended the 2-week residential workshop in October of last year, and now I’ve been invited to co-facilitate the intensive workshops with Rawland Glass, LCSW, clinical director of their original Bowling Green, Kentucky location.   Below is a portion of the flyer describing the workshop series:

Sometimes you hit a wall. Even with a great therapist, you can get bogged down in your issues and stories. It’s tempting to put the brakes on. But when you’re climbing a hill and you lose momentum, often all you need is a little extra help and you can summit.

Launch yourself out of that stuck, confused place with our series of 48-Hour Intensives. Return to therapy between workshops – and integrate what you’ve learned. Our trained professionals support your individual work (therapy and 12-step programs) by helping you:

  • Delve deeper into hurtful memories and childhood trauma than is possible in 12-step work – and take action to heal them.
  • Find and embrace your legitimate power and the peace that comes with it.
  • Grow from simply existing to being a leader in your life.

Workshop 1: External Dependency. July 13-15, 2012

“I function well so why am I miserable?” Create awareness of what’s going on. Go beyond symptoms to uncover the underlying problem – and tools that work.

Workshop 2: Family Impact.  September 14-16, 2012

“I grew up in a decent family.”  “I don’t understand why I feel so lonely, worried, insecure.” We’ll shine a light on the spoken and unspoken roles and rules that led to communication problems and empty or tumultuous relationships. Learn how these rules subconsciously direct your life – and how you can turn them around and experience genuine transformation.

Workshop 3: Personal Boundaries. November 16-18, 2012

“Did I miss something?” Personal boundaries create safety and protection … but what are they? They’re more than simply saying “No!” How DO they develop?  Learn to create healthy boundaries as an adult. Develop specific skills so you’re comfortable saying what you mean and what you need to say.

Workshop 4: Feelings, Emotions and Thoughts. January 18-20, 2013

These are the windows to the deeply held core beliefs that determine how we live, react and function. “But they drive me crazy!” Learn to make friends with them so you can REALLY live! Reconnect with your self. Be who you are, rather than what everyone else wants you to be.

Workshop 5: Spirituality and Relationships. March 15-17, 2013.

The crowning gift of personal growth and recovery: consciously connecting with yourself, your higher power, and others. Learn to develop rich, enjoyable relationships based on a spiritual connection and your new-found, healthy communication skills.

Location: The Bridge to Recovery secluded mountaintop retreat above Santa Barbara.

Time: Friday 3:00 p.m. to Sunday 3:00 p.m.

Fee: $900 per workshop, including food and accommodation.

Enroll in Workshops 1-4 together, and get Workshop 5 (same series) for 50% off.

What are you waiting for? Take action today and infuse your therapy and your life with fresh perspectives, deep insights and a renewed sense of engagement.

Call The Bridge to Recovery at (877) 866 8661 for answers to your questions – or to enroll.