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From Therapist to Coach

by SIMON MATTHEWS, DipIBLM FASLM M Hlth Sc Newcastle MAPS, Cert IV Fitness Reflections on the Journey from one discipline to another…

So before you read any further, I think it’s only fair to tell you that this process of moving from Therapist to Coach is in train for me – I don’t want you to read all the way through looking for a happy ending and finding yourself frustrated at the absence of one, though it is a happy story so far…

I’d been practicing as a Psychologist in Australia for over 20 years when the opportunity arose for me to undertake Coach training. I’d initially trained in Systemic Family Therapy, then Solution Focussed Brief Therapy (SFBT), Motivational Interviewing (MI) and along the way I’d dipped my toe in other approaches that held some interest for me such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and even the clinical use of metaphor in therapy.

Over the years, as I’d become more ensconced in the ‘bread and butter” of psychological treatment – depression and anxiety, I began reading more about the benefits of activity and exercise for mood and mental health. Long story short, I became a Fitness Trainer and began incorporating this into my psychological treatment. Roll forward a little further and I became convinced about the importance of nutrition also, studied that formally and also incorporated nutritional guidance into my psychological treatment.

Then one day I woke up and realized I’d toppled into Lifestyle Medicine. Over time I incorporated work with pre-and post-surgery bariatric patients, adding this to my portfolio of clients with depression, anxiety, life crises and marital breakdowns, all the while using my secret blend of SFBT, MI, Fitness and Nutrition.

But to be honest, I’d started to become a little jaded…I didn’t look forward to client sessions like I used to, I’d started to entertain ideas that an increasing number of my clients were unmotivated for change, and I’d started to see myself as less efficacious as a treatment provider than previously had. If I’m really honest, I’d say that some of the humanity that I used to bring had started to fade and I was approaching my work more instrumentally and less humanly than I was comfortable with. The opportunity to undertake coach training arose and, encouraged by some peers I respected, I decided to enroll with Wellcoaches.

I travelled halfway around the world (yes, literally) to complete my training and here’s my takeaway: It was the most transformative personal and professional experience I’ve had in 25 years.

Let me explain a little more…

I expected to come away with an increased range of professional skills and, based on the pre-reading I’d done, some nuanced capacity to apply skills I’d been using for two decades. What I didn’t expect was to come away with a clarity of vision for my own professional life, a re-vitalised well of energy for supporting others during processes of change and transition, a re-connection with my own joy, passion and purpose and a strongly enhanced sense of my own self-efficacy and self-esteem. Of course my Coach Trainer played a significant role in this, as did many of my fellow coaching students.

Since completing my initial training I’ve had limited time to practice skills due to more travel and conferences but when I returned to Australia I made a decision to apply the health and wellness coaching protocol in all my sessions with bariatric clients both to consolidate the skills for me and also to give me a discrete set of clients for whom I could assess the impact. Here’s what I can say so far:

– Every one of my clients had tears in their eyes when they stated aloud their health and wellness vision – not a word of a lie – every one! I haven’t seen passion and feeling in my clients in this way for years. There is something bold, brave, expansive and almost magical about the capacity to articulate such a vision

– Every one of my clients has walked out of those sessions saying something along the lines of “Wow – that wasn’t what I expected” or “Wow – I got so much more out of that than I thought I would”

– I get to the end of a session feeling energized and enthused, not drained and desperate for a Double Espresso

– I feel like I am doing the right amount of work in relation to my client – rather than feeling like I’m working so hard to help them make a tiny bit of progress.

– Most important of all for me – I feel like I am present again – able to simply “be with” another human being and not feel compelled to “do for” them.

In 30 years of human services work and 20 years as a Psychologist, nothing has challenged me as much; nothing has energized me as much and nothing has reconnected me with my own enthusiasm and passion for work like coaching training has.

Your mileage may vary…but if you’re a Psychologist or Therapist who’s considering the transition then follow the advice of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.” And I would add “Now”.

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