The (Mis)perception of coaching (The Final Part)

Part 1 on the (mis)perception of coaching outlined the nature of the survey and the demographics of the participants.  This post seeks to answer one of the questions explored in the survey, and is the final post of 5 in the series.

Do participants believe that it is important that there is a scientific (ie psychological) approach to coaching?

A number of academic researchers talk about the importance of performance-related psychological principles within a coaching context.  Whitmore, who could be considered the grandfather of coaching is one of these academics.

The participants were asked a series of questions concerning the role of psychological models and theories and the competence of a coach in using these within a coaching session.

There was a strong positive correlation between a coach’s competency in using psychology models and having a solid understanding of these models  There was also a strong positive correlation between a coach’s competency in using psychology models and the credibility of a coach.

The research supports these statements, that coaches needed to have competency in using psychological models based on a solid theoretical understanding.  And when this occurs, the coach has credibility.

Two other academics, Grant and Cavanagh discuss the  fact that coaches are becoming increasingly aware of the need to have a solid theoretical background, and perhaps this is reflected in the results of this research.  Whilst a significant number of respondents were coaches, it could be suggested that this awareness is now also prevalent amongst non-coaching participants.

The participants who were self-declared coaches were not asked to comment on whether they used psychological models in their practice.  However, in the free commentary at the end of the research a number of participants felt strong enough to comment that they felt an understanding and competency of psychological theories and models did not prevent a coach from being successful.

This subject is obviously an emotive topic for some participants. It would be interesting to undertake further qualitative research with these participants to further understand their perception into this subject matter.

And I think that this highlights where the real issue lies:  Grant  wrote in 2004 that “such diversity is both a strength and a liability…..there is a lack of clarity as to what professional coaching really is and what makes for an effective and reputable coach”

Newnham-Kanas attempted in 2009 to write a bibliography of heath coaching research.  The authors sought to identify the operational definition of coaching used in each piece of research they audited, only to find that repeatedly no model or definition was given.    The authors themselves determine that “This prominent limitation made it difficult to understand what was intended by the term “coaching”.

The Bibliography also highlighted that frequently the coaching consisted of interventions such as providing information, telephone monitoring, 15 minute one-to-one sessions, personal tailored messages on a website and offering problem solving techniques.  There is also a question of the (lack of) ability or experience of many of the coaches involved in the research.

In light of the above, it is unsurprising that Bachkirova and Cox in 2004  drew the conclusion that “the conceptual ground that coaching is built upon could be viewed as, at best, multi-disciplinary, and at worst as atheoretical or even anti-theoretical”.

It is sobering to note that in 2004, Kilburg wrotes “for all the work that has been done to illuminate the subject of coaching in the past 15 or 20 years, what actually happens in coaching engagements remains quite mysterious”

It is evident from my survey that whilst there may not be mystery in what happens in a coaching session, there is no common understanding about what coaching is, what it entails or what to expect.  This I think is a more serious issue for the coaching industry today.


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