Analysis of a Coaching Exchange

This is only a brief clip and is far from complete, so I am unable to comment on the outcome, but I thought it might be interesting to analyse the exchange a little.

Coach:So Bex, given that we only have about 5 minutes to do this, is there some area that you feel you’d like to look at in terms of what you are feeling and what you are wanting?

Client:Umm….yeah, right now…umm…what is popping into my head is umm, my relationship with my mum at the moment.”

Client gives an example of the problem, specifically, this is about the relationship with her mother. Within the realms of MoM we can expect the metaphor to take several possible forms. Classically, it may manifest as “The Hurts”, or if the relationship is about responsibilities, it may manifest as “The Burdens” and so on. At this stage it is difficult to predict accurately. Being family related, there may well be “Containers” too. We simply don’t know yet.

The classic response to this statement might be, “What is this relationship with your mum like?” and to begin pushing for metaphor by shutting down The 4 Left Brain Responses of:

1. “How I feel about the relationship with my mum.”
2. “The consequences this relationship with my mum has upon my life.”
3. “Examples of this relationship.”
4. “My diagnosis of this relationship and the reason why it is the way that it is.”

Coach:Perfect, trust that, trust that, so given your relationship with your mother, what are you feeling right now?

This is an interesting response from the coach. He says to her that the information she has given him is “perfect” and that she should “trust that” information. This is interesting primarily because of what comes a few sentences later.

In MoM we rarely ask for a feeling, unless we are seeking to ask for that feeling to be subsequently expressed in metaphor.

Client:I feel that umm..she…umm….kind of works, work to hard, and she’s become negative and, you know, she is finding life really difficult at the moment, sort of working herself into an early grave.”

To use a bunch of words I don’t much like, the client is expressing a kinaesthetic that is meta-report of the events. To put this simply, when it comes to bad stuff happening in our lives, there are several ways of feeling. To wit…

1. How we feel about the events that are happening (meta-position).
2. How the events happening make us feel (cause and effect).
3. How we feel at the time of the events (experiential).
4. How we remember feeling at the time of the events (recalled kinaesthetic).

Of course, there are more.

But my observation with therapists is that the vast majority never give this any consideration when working with clients, or even appear to have any awareness of these differences. For too many therapists, a feeling is a feeling is a feeling.

The question,”What are you feeling right now?” is quite ambiguous and has a huge assumption behind it. It reminds me of the question taught by some NLP schools when eliciting states. The client is asked, “Can you remember feeling a time when you felt this feeling?” Before instructing the client to step into that time, feeling what they felt, seeing what they saw and so on. when in reality for some instances, “Can you remember a time when you felt this feeling?” the client may well answer yes, but have no kinaesthetic recall attached to it whatsoever.

“What are you feeling right now?” – feeling about what, specifically?

Coach:Great, great, great, great, now notice when I asked you what is it that you are feeling you responded with what you are thinking, you shared thoughts, my mum is a worrier, etc, etc, etc. That is a very common thing that we do, we do not share what is really going on, we share what we are thinking, we stay in our heads. So just give yourself a moment to drop down, and what is beneath the thoughts, in other words, what are you feeling when you have these thoughts running through your mind?”

Again, the coaches responses are interesting. Now obviously he doesn’t think it is great, great, great, great that the client thinks her mum is going to an early death, he is congratulating her on giving him the responses that he wants. Worryingly, he is inadvertently coaching her on what responses to give him. The problem here is that previously he congratulated her on her “perfect” response, but now he is telling her that her responses and reported experiences were not actually valid. The indirect message here is that her trust was misplaced.

Now, there may be some validity here. After all it is the daughter of the mum that is sat in front of the coach, not the mum herself. So the client can report as much of the behaviour of her mum as she likes, but the coach simply can’t do anything about that, so listing ever more of the mother’s behaviour would be pointless with regards to any change work.

But the client is asked to close her eyes and drop down to beneath the thoughts. So we are now in analytical territory, the archeological dig of the Freudians who dig down deep into the subconscious to find what mysteries lurk deep within in order to bring them to the surface. A deeply faulted model of therapy that inevitably led to the excess of Recovered Memory Therapy, the Survivor Movement and devastated lives and families worldwide. (As an aside, I note that in the past couple of years, there seems to have been a resurgence of this recovered memory nonsense, and the outcomes from this do not look at all good).

So the feeling that the coach is seeking is quite specific. “…what are you feeling when you have these thoughts running through your mind?”

What he is asking for is number five to above list:

5. How we notice ourselves feeling when we think about the events (a meta-meta kinaesthetic).

We can expect people to be able to report the most extreme states quite comfortably from this position. you’ve probably met phobics who can do this, by talking about their phobic reaction in quite glorious funny terms and they boast how extreme they feel, and how people have to hold them down and so on. They can do this without showing the slightest hint of phobic response or fear.

Client:I feel a lot of anxiety and worry.”

MoM trainees should be able to notice the use of “a lot” and now be aware of the emotional exchanges between her and her mother (hint: “The Fulfilments”)

Coach:Great, great great, now perfect, now when we connect to anxiety and worry, or when you just did, do you feel that is really the meat of the feeling is that…it? Or does it feel a bit flat?”

The connection metaphor is a common one with coaches and therapists, there is a sizeably amount of dissociation required to live this metaphor and I have found it to be especially common in psychiatry. In simple terms it looks like this.

A person exists as an independent entity.
A diagnosis or a bad feeling exists as an independent entity.
The person connects with this latter entity and now they “have it.”

The easiest example is that of “anorexia.” A person refuses food and does all that stuff that anorexics do. That person now “has” anorexia. The behavioural process is stripped out of the whole thing and the presenting problem now has the metaphoric structure of a non-contagious infectious disease (sic).

Many coaches and therapists of all disciplines learn to “distance themselves” from negative feelings as a coping strategy. From experience and observation, the long term personal cost is high as short term gain is given higher priority at the cost of long term well-being.

Additionally he is also putting her into a simple bind between two alternatives. This should be immediately obvious to anyone familiar with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP modelling thereof. Is it “flat”, or is it “meaty”?

The problem is that neither of the alternatives are particular good or useful for the client. The client isn’t being asked about the quality of their experience, instead they are simply expected to shoehorn their experience into one of the two structures decided by the coach. But for what purpose? Let’s see…

Client:It feels a bit flat.

Coach:Yeah, yeah, and the reason why is because often when we connect the first thing that we feel is usually a cover emotion, things like boredom, impatience, confusion, doubt, worry, so if anxiety and worry really isn’t it. Close your eyes for a moment and drop, allow yourself to tune in and feel beneath the anxiety and worry, what’s actually there? Just give yourself a moment and see if you can feel…

What we have here is simply inexcusable, and this is dangerous logic. to give an example that immediately springs to mind, back in the 80s and 90’s, lots of people were getting abducted by aliens all over the United States. What most of them had in common is that they had no idea that they had been abducted by aliens until they saw hypnotists or recovered memory therapists, and there were several high profile hypnotists with best selling books on alien abductions who of course were attractive to potential abductees.

Initially “missing time” was an essential part of the abduction narrative. The hypnosis would then attempt to fill in the blanks and hey presto, previously suppressed memories of aliens would emerge.

But not everyone reported missing time, so a new addition was required for the narrative.

“Screen memories” were added alongside “missing time” – the aliens would block the abduction memory by inserting innocuous memories of routine things or bunny rabbits in order to hide the abduction experience. Clever chaps, these aliens.

Along with the excesses that went with the recovered memory movement (alien abduction, satanic ritual abuse complete with the essential brood mares) more and more details were added to the narrative. “Screen emotions” became another, so did “multiple personality disorder” (MPD/DID) complete with “massive repression”, the spontaneous repression of traumatic memories and feelings. The trauma was so bad, the brain blocks it. Aliens were thus rendered unnecessary to the process, obscure and bogus psychological mechanisms took their place. Aliens were no longer sticking things up the bottoms of the abducted, satanists were doing it instead. These days is those pesky Illuminati chaps that are doing it in the name of the New World Order.

So what’s happening in this session so far. Having been told that her responses were perfect and that she was to trust in that, coupled with a somewhat hypnotic sequence, she is now being told that her trust in her own feelings is misplaced. Her feelings are not her real feelings. The real feelings are yet to be discovered.

Remember, the presenting problem here is the concern the client has about the relationship with her mother (“mum”) who is basically working too hard and sounds like she might be a bit tired and irritable.

Client: crying “I feel a lot of guilt, and a lot of fear…

Now the client is emotional and feeling bad. In fact, she clearly is feeling a lot worse than she did right at the beginning. So, here is my question to the reader: without any intervention whatsoever, if the session ended right there and the coach simply got up and left, how long do you think this feeling would last for? A minute or two? I doubt it would be for much longer.

How would she feel after these tears? A bit of relief, even if only temporary? I suspect so.

Coach: gesturing to self “I can feel that, yeah, that’s really powerful…now that feels a lot more meaty, right, you can feel that, i can see it.”

There’s empathy and there is rapport and then there is this. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide exactly what this is.

Again, he has made her initial experience invalid and reinforced his own “screen emotion” metaphor.

Client: “Yeah.”

Coach:So you have identified it perfectly. Step one, complete. What is it that you want now in order to feel better?

Any observations to add on this, or on my analysis? Please use the comments section below.

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6 Responses to Analysis of a Coaching Exchange

  1. Great analysis Andy, but would like to pick on one point and reiterate something that I think I’ve mentioned before in such discussions – I really wouldn’t lump together the “alien abduction” nonsense and therapy that specifically aims to recover memories – which is indeed dangerous and not considered ethical by most professional psychotherapy organisation – with the fact that severe and chronic trauma can result in dissociation and sometimes in levels of amnesia.

    The extremes of the “recovered memory” movement are indeed very worrying to me, but so is the outright denial that dissociation exists – there is plenty of research on this subject, including neuroscience studies, there are many valid clinical tools that are designed to measure levels of dissociation, and some highly respected, sensible and very far from deluded experts on the subject including such authorities on trauma and PTSD such as van der Kolk, van der Hart, Levine, Ogden, etc. I am currently doing MSc in Psychological Trauma and looking at a wide range of psychological and other models for trauma and PTSD and many of them account for aspects of dissociation and amnesia, in completely non-sensationalist, scientific and clinically useful ways.

    In my clinical practice I see people every week with various levels of dissociation (probably more than average, partly because our Health Psychology department has a contract with a neurology department which sends us their patients with dissociative seizures – which are almost undistinguishable from real epilepsy unless you wire people up to EEG during the actual seizure), and apart from the seizures they tend to present with a range of other dissociative symptoms.

    I would never attempt to “break through” amnesia to uncover a dissociated memory on purpose, but you must have experienced through your work with trauma in IEMT etc, that sometimes forgotten memories (not necessarily traumatic ones) do come up spontaneously during trauma processing. And of course, it is impossible to know whether the memory is “real” or constructed, so we have to be really careful how to respond if the client says “did this really happen to me?”

    Would be interested to know others’ opinions on the subject.

    • admin admin says:

      Hi Masha,

      MPD/DID does not exist “in the wild” independently of therapy and exposure to therapeutic ideals, and “massive repression” is total nonsense. The dissociation (division of awareness) that neurologist talk of is not the same as the “dissociation” (division of identities) that therapists talk of.

      Forgetting, or more appropriately, difficulty in detailed recall, is not the same as “massive repression.”

      • I do not use terms such as “massive repression” myself as I don’t think it is helpful or accurate, and whilst I am not an expert on DID I have met a couple of people in person (not clients but other professionals) who had all the symptoms satisfying DSM diagnostic criteria – they had not had any prior therapy where the idea of such a diagnosis could have been proposed directly or indirectly, and neither they nor their families were aware of DID/MPD as an entity until a long time after the symptoms began occurring. These were perfectly sensible, non-sensationalist, professional people and I have no reason to disbelieve accuracy of their experience and description.
        I am sure that there are a lot of inaccurate diagnoses about, but that does not exclude the reality of severe levels of dissociation experienced by some people that may manifest itself in a variety of ways. No matter how rare this might be, from what I know of dissociation, condition such as DID seems quite a logical far end of the continuum. Will look up some research papers – I am sure some holes can be poked in those, but the volume of studies I’ve seen so far seem fairly convincing to me.

        • admin admin says:

          These were perfectly sensible, non-sensationalist, professional people and I have no reason to disbelieve accuracy of their experience and description.” – They were idiots, really. They just didn’t know it themselves. MPD/DID does not exist, it is entirely an iatrogenic disorder. Wow, I just love these paradoxes.

          Anyway, so many words are used interchangeably that is confuses the issue. In neurology, “trauma” invariably means some kind of bang to the brain, in therapy it invariably refers to “a really bad experience”. In neurology “dissociation” refers to something entirely different to it’s use in the aetiology of “MPD/DID”.

          • OK, lets say DID didn’t exist (I am not a big fan of diagnostic criteria anyway), there is still a vast continuum of dissociation and different types of it – “detachment” dissociation is different from “compartmentalisation” dissociation, it is important to understand these when working with people with chronic multiple trauma (not just one “bad experience”), such as survivors of holocaust, kidnap victims, people repeatedly abused in childhood. For those who are interested in the topic, here is a couple of papers, including a neuroimaging study, and an epidemiological community study in Turkey where people who took part presumably hadn’t had a chance to be brainwashed by therapists beforehand:
            Holmes, E. A., Brown, R. J., Mansell, W., Fearon, R. P., Hunter, E. C. M., Frasquilho, F., & Oakley, D. A. (2005). Are there two qualitatively distinct forms of dissociation? A review and some clinical implications. Clinical Psychology Review, 25, 1–23.
            Sar, V., Unal, S.N., Ozturk, E. (2007). Frontal and occipital perfusion changes in dissociative identity disorder. Psychiatry Res., 156(3): 217-223.
            Sar, V. (2011). Epidemiology of dissociative disorders: An overview. Epidemiology Research International, 2011, 1-8.

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