We learned about listening this week in the Coach Approach class at The Institute for Life Coach Training . I first started learning about listening in 1972 when I participated in a peer counseling program. We learned that listening and sincerely hearing what someone is saying is a great gift to them. That being heard is a deep human need.
I’m really good at this. To some extent, I believe it’s an inherited trait. My youngest sister is very skilled at listening too. Or it may be a survival skill we picked up in our family-of-origin.
I see deeply within people seemingly without effort. In fact, the effort I had to put forth involved recognizing boundaries and shutting my mouth. Not comment on the things I saw when in surface conversations. Mind my own business. Only comment on feelings and issues when asked or invited to do so. Now that skill took a few years to learn!
One important factor I learned in peer counseling is that you have to have the ability to attend to what others say. You have free yourself from self-distractions to listen to other people talk about themselves. This means that people need to let go of their own stuff in order to give their attention to the other person. It also means to me that I need to listen to others without bias and an opinion or judgment about what they are saying.
I had a mentor who could hear me talk and feed back to me what I hadn’t realized I’d said. That was an amazing skill. It was healing and encouraging. Somehow, she’d normalize whatever I was experiencing and weave it into a positive frame. I’d come away from those conversations willing to live whatever I needed to in order to come out the other side. Nearer to my goals. She taught me that skill over the years. I didn’t understand it until I began to study the listening skills involved in life coaching.
This week I went through the documents I used to use for psychotherapy patients and changed them for coaching clients. It was a dramatic change with massive edits. I’d been sensing the vast difference between coaching and therapy, but this activity had a WOW factor to it for me.
The first things I deleted were the series of questions about health and medical status. The next were the questions about eating, drinking and drugging habits. As a therapist dealing with mental health, I had to be mindful that a person’s health, personal habits, and/or medications can cause psychiatric symptoms. I needed to be prepared to send people back to their physician, to a psychiatrist, or even to treatment for addiction.
Eventually, I got to the place in my form where I deleted questions about your history, specifically family, suicide attempts, and child abuse.
As a life coach, my focus is different. I’m not working with symptoms, history or people who have mental health conditions. If I do agree to coach someone with a diagnosis, like for example, PTSD, my work is not related to that diagnosis. Instead, my focus is on living as fully as possible in your life according to YOUR definition of living fully. I won’t be treating people; I’m having partnerships with them.
Some therapists do therapy with people and then manage to do coaching. I cannot imagine myself working that way. When I went to work as a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Counselor [later retitled Marriage and Family Therapist], I became a therapist. I internalized my work, developed skills, and enlarged my talents. Performing psychotherapy became instinctive and intuitive.
Now I’m working to grow myself into a life coach. To become. It’s not a surface change for me. I don’t learn like that. I have to take what I’m learning deep inside me and allow the learning itself to change me. I am working to become a life coach, not simply the mechanics of life coaching.
As a coach, I will be having conversations with people. The ideal is to partner with someone in order to help them to reach their goals in life. The goals they set for themselves. In order to do that, I have to adjust the listening skills I already have into what I believe is a much more positive stance.
I’ll continue to listen to what people say, listen for what people need me to hear, and listen with my whole self. I’ve always seen the potential within people. Their larger life. The light within them. Even their relationship to their spiritual life path.
However, my focus was on what blocked and stopped them from living fully. I’d work with them on what had been injured in them to prevent them from becoming.
Now, my focus is not on what I see, but on what they see, want, and believe. It’s not on injury but on hope. It’s not on what I can to to help them. Instead, my focus is on what I can do to encourage them to do what they really want. Pursue the goals they have for their lives.
This is an exciting change. I’ve spent a lifetime studying and applying positive thinking to my personal life. I’ve recited and chanted affirmations till the cows came home and went back out again. I’ve studied positive thinkers. I’ve collected stories of people I’ve labeled heroes. To me, heroes are those people who survived and thrived despite overwhelming odds against them. People who allowed their inner light to shine on the world. And who made a positive difference in the lives of others.
And so it begins. I have my newly re-minted Life Coaching Information Form and seriously adapted Coaching Agreement Form. I have a list of people from vastly different backgrounds willing to allow me to practice coaching on them. I even a waiting list of those who would be willing to allow this student coach to coach them.
Life is good.
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