Why coaching? Here is a perfect, but tragic, example where couples coaching is needed. A few weeks ago a fellow called asking about counselling. His wife had asked him numerous times to go to counselling. His macho (his words) response was: “I don’t need counselling, you go and get your s— together”. The day before he called, his wife said she wanted a divorce. Now it was his turn to check out counselling but it turned out to be too late.
From her side, the relationship was over. The connotation for him of counselling was that there was something wrong with him. I would agree, counselling and therapy have the negative implication that there is something wrong with a person. Where does that come from?
Psychology in Couples Coaching
Philosophically, I think it goes back to the beginning of what we now know as the discipline of psychology. Before training with Harville Hendrix, I received my Master’s in Counselling Psychology from Chicago’s Alfred Adler School of Professional Psychology. Adler was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud but broke with Freud early on. This was because he disagreed on many issues. Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, is the grandfather of modern psychology. He has influenced psychology and therapy immensely over the past 150 years.
In a movie, you sometimes see a typical Freudian therapist’s office where the patient is lying on a couch while the therapist takes notes. The message is very clear. You are the patient and I am the doctor. There is something wrong with you. I’ll help you fix it.
Children & Family of Origin
On the other hand, Adler concluded that children have figured out how to fit into their little family of origin by the time they are 4 or 5. Those of you with youngsters might agree; young children are pretty good at getting their own way or getting attention when they want it. Adler called this their life style. The way we all have figured out, at a very young age, to get our own way or what we want. He likened the life style to a very accurate map, of the family of origin. Let’s call it Windsor.
What brings people into my office at 30, or 40 or 50 is this. Metaphorically they are in Toronto, but are still using their Windsor map. What worked for them as a kid is no longer working. Adler’s has a different take on it though. He doesn’t believe there was something wrong with the person, but what they had learned at a young age, wasn’t working, or not working as well as they would have liked. They learned those behaviours at 4 or 5, surely at 40 or 50 they can learn new and more effective behaviours.
To me, it is just way more optimistic. We can’t change anything that has happened to us in the past, but we can make different choices going forward. (Adler didn’t use the word coaching but I think it fits his thinking.) Adler saw it as: “It is not what you possess, but how you use it.”
Terry Fox Example
I always use the example of Terry Fox, a young man, who lost a leg to cancer and decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research (That was over 40 years ago now. His legacy, the Marathon of Hope has raised more than 850 million dollars since his death).
Another young man could lose a leg to cancer and sit there and complain that life is not fair. They both possess the same thing but use it quite differently. Fox couldn’t do anything about the cancer or the loss of the leg, but what he did was pretty impressive. Same with us, we can’t change anything that has happened to date, but what we do next, we have more choices over.
All sports, including professional sports, use coaches. Most of us can understand that someone from the outside looking in probably has a better take on the situation than the person in the midst of the game. If in the example I used at the start, the fellow had been asked to try coaching, would it have changed anything? Probably not, but I am sure he was well aware that things weren’t going as well as he would have liked at home. His tendency was to blame his partner (which is pretty common) but hopefully in the future (the next 150 years) we can see counselling/therapy/coaching in a more positive light.
Counselling, or couples coaching at its best, is not a sign of weakness or failure but rather a positive step towards growth and learning new tools to navigate difficulties and help understand each other at a deeper level. Perhaps the term coaching may put whatever happens in the office in a more positive light.