Critical evaluation of different approaches to coaching

Seminar Paper 2007 14 Pages

Pedagogy - Science, Theory, Anthropology



In this assignment, I would like to reflect on and develop an understanding of different approaches to coaching.and subsequently try to compare these approaches among themselves for the purpose of evaluation. While thinking of a problem or a project for instance Above all there is always the question “what works?”. Which approach helps the best to reach a specific goal? Money and time being a constraint in almost all situations, it is reasonable to look for evidence concerning best practices. Human mind is known to get influenced quite easily by what it is subjected to. For instance, if we look at a description of one approach, we easily get the impression that this is the best and the most effective one. All the same, if we read about another approach, we might believe that the other one is an even better option. Debates like these are an ongoing process in various fields. In the field of teaching for example there has been a long lasting debate about which method is the best. Is it the instructional approach or the group work style or else the open space approach? In therapy, similar questions are asked between different schools. Each one claims to be the best and every one can prove it with case studies or sometimes with empirical pieces of research. For nearly everything one wants to prove, one can find evidence. Ironically, all Meta-Analysis come to the same amusing conclusion: “further research is needed”. Why that?

Our conception of man influences the development of a theory. Theories are made of observations and observations are always grounded in our not always conscious conception of man. Our perception depends on what we believe. Beside validity and reliability, objectivity used to be one of the three principles in science. This understanding is still part of the past-Enlightenment for already 200 years. For, a long time we believed that reality is everything that can be measured. The measurable aspects can be controlled and therefore proved. That is true for the natural science but not for arts and religion. The world can never be explained sufficiently through science. Since constructivism has shown that the world in itself is not perceptible in an objective way and that it is a mere construction of our thinking, there exist contrasting truths.

If we now look at different approaches of coaching, we have to keep in mind that it is useless to find a solution to everything. Each approach has its special right and none of them can be the doctrine of salvation. We rather have to be clear about the task we want to deliver and then decide which instrument we are going to use. From an individual point of view everybody uses the perception that fits in best in his or her conception of man. I see what I want to see and I believe what I want to believe and it works when I want it to work… The self-fulfilling prophecy in action: I am always the founder of my reality.

In this paper, I have first looked at different approaches to coaching and then have characterized different models and perspectives. Using two exemplary approaches, I have tried to illustrate how different the underpinning anthropology is and what effect it has on the intervention process. To conclude, I have re-addressed the issue that I ask in my first few lines, “What works?” and have deliberated on it.

Overview of different approaches to coaching

Coaching has become a popular way to assist and develop talent, and there is a growing amount of literature on different approaches. Most coaching approaches do not establish a direct relationship between psychological roots, the theories behind, and the coaching practice. In this huge variety of different approaches it can be helpful to have a look at the underpinning conception of man that leads to different theories and convictions.

As from a psychological point of view we can roughly determine two different perspectives to deal with theories of coaching. We can try to understand what happens in a coaching relationship or we can focus on explaining it. If we use the way of understanding, then we go the way of introspection. Psychoanalysis is the prototype of this approach. If we try to explain what happens and focus on the observable aspects, then can be seen from the outside we are focusing on a behavioural track. Often it is reffered to as natural science or the black box approach. It’s called Black box for the reason that there is a measurable input (stimulus) and an objective output (response). What happens within the box (e.g. feelings) are of no interest because it is a matter of speculation.

The third major power in psychotherapy (beside Psychoanalysis and Behaviourism) is the Person-centered Approach of the Humanistic Psychology. It is the coachee that stands in the centre and it is he or she who develops and leads. If we look at the relationship between Coach and Coachee it is a symmetric one and not a complementary relationship like in a doctor-patient model. The client is the expert and the Coach an active and empathic listener who trusts the process and believes in the wisdom of the Coachee.“ This understanding of coaching “… is as much about the way these things are done as about what is done. Coaching delivers results in large measure because of the supportive relationship between the coach and the coachee and the means and style of communication used.” (Whitmore, 2002)

a) Psychodynamic approach

Psychoanalysis as a form of therapy is based on the assumption that the way to deal with problems is to allow patients to gain access to their repressed ideas and conflicts, and encourage them to face up to whatever comes from the unconscious. Freud used the term insight to refer to these processes, and so the actual goal of psychoanalytic intervention is to provide the client with insight. However, this is difficult to achieve because the emergence of painful ideas and memories into consciousness produces a very high level of anxiety.

Psychoanalytic theory has some impressive successes to its credit. For example, the notion that childhood experiences play a part in determining adult behaviour is commonplace now, but was revolutionary when Freud first suggested it. Another example is the view that much important activity within the mind occurs below the conscious level, in the unconscious. There is now very strong evidence that a considerable amount of information processing is pre-conscious On the negative side, the unscientific approach adopted by Freud makes it difficult to test his theoretical views. Freud argued that the information obtained from patients in the course of therapy demonstrated that psychoanalysis works because it is based on his theoretical ideas. However, this evidence is suspect, because there are grave dangers of contamination in the data obtained from patients: what the patient says may be influenced by what the therapist has said to him or her previously; and the therapist may use his or her theoretical preconceptions to interpret what the patient says in ways that distort it.

Several other forms of psychotherapy (therapy based on changing cognitive processes and structures) were developed subsequently. These include the neo-Freudian approach of Adler, Fromm, and others, all of whom argued that problems are caused more by social factors than by the biological actors emphasised by Freud.

Peltier finds the psychodynamic extremely useful in coaching…”when an executive wants to develop political or interpersonal skills (to understand the behaviour of board members, to sell work, to develop effective relationships, to deal with people above in the power structure), when an executive desires enhanced self-understanding, when an executive behaves in ways that are self-defeating an when an executive needs to deal with difficult colleagues or employees.” (Peltier, 2001, p.23-24)



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University of Sheffield – Faculty of Organisation and Management



Title: Critical evaluation of different approaches to coaching