Julia Vaughan Smith: Writer, Action researcher, Thinker, Public speaker
Having run workshops and masterclasses and spoken at conferences I have become aware of 5 different ways in which people engage with trauma from a practitioner perspective.
The first is Trauma Awareness. This is relevant for all in the population, not only coaching practitioners. It is about getting a broad understanding of what trauma means and how prevalent it is in society. Enhancing trauma awareness enables coaches to feel less overwhelmed by the concept. It is unlikely to change behaviour but might change attitude. For some, that is enough.
The second level is referred to as 'mental health first aid'. Some come to my workshops having associated trauma with mental ill health and are looking for practical 'what to do if' they are presented with someone who appears to be mentally unstable, who has a diagnosis of post traumatic stress (or how to recognize that), or who may become retraumatised. This is a common anxiety among coaches and it is important that practitioners feel confident in handling such situations, rare though they are within most coaching. If someone is working in a mental health field, then of course the context is different. There seems to be a belief held by some that mental ill health and coaching don't mix. I don't agree. I think there can be many situations where someone has a mental health diagnosis and can do useful work with a coach. However, we do have a duty of care to our clients so these 'what to do if's' are important considerations.
The third 'level' is the application of trauma understanding to coaching practice, without becoming a faux therapist. This involves raising our own self-awareness through reflective practice, including our supervision, so that we can track our own survival strategies and inquire into their function, and how the 'there and then' is coming into the 'here and now'. Coaching through survival self doesn't help the client. Nor does coaching the survival self in the client. Trauma understanding can enable us to select and use the appropriate interventions to identify and inquire into survival behaviour, to focus on the health self resources, to use psyche-education, and to use the autobiography as a link with the 'there and then'. Coaching has the skills needed to do this, as long as they are used in the most appropriate way.
The fourth 'level' is that of wanting to become an integrative practitioner, that is using psycho-therapeutic skills and interventions alongside those of coaching. There is no easy way of doing this. I did a 6 year training to qualify as a psychotherapist. It is more straightforward for a therapist to be trained in coaching, although some practices are challenged in that process. Some who talk to me about this have a desire to work with people with mental ill health or who are affected by domestic or sexual abuse others, want to deepen the work they currently do. My response is similar to both. That is do work on your own trauma first and beware of the rescuer survival strategy at work.
The final 'level' isn't really a level but is about doing your own therapeutic inquiry work. This can be stimulated by raising our trauma awareness and making links with our own experience. We need to take our own trauma seriously to help ensure we are not passing it on to those around us, including our clients. By only talking about Professor Ruppert's theory as it applies to coaching, the rich experience of being exposed to the process he has developed to go with the theory is left out. The process can be used in coaching but only by a coach who has undergone her own trauma work and a training in facilitating the process. For a coach, this is the same as doing a training in psychotherapy in terms of the time requirement. However, you can experience it by going on workshops provided by Vivian Broughton (www.vivianbroughton.com) or Alexandra Smith (www.alexandraasmith.co.uk) or other named on Vivian's website. I run such workshops too when there is a demand. There are other ways of getting a fuller experiential understanding of trauma through sensorimotor psychotherapy, somatic experiencing or somatic movement therapy.
Which level is the one for you? My book 'Coaching and Trauma' is due out in August of this year. Some of the 'What if's' are addressed in that, as is trauma awareness and the application to coaching practice. Jenny Rogers and I also cover that territory in our Masterclass. The next one is May 16th, the September 26th and November 21st - see www.coachingandtrauma.com for information and booking.
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