Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Empathy and Transference

In a practice coaching session I listened to tonight it was helpful to me to hear the coach in the session grapple with the powerful understanding that the issue being dealt with was also, quite deeply, the coach's own. The coach struggled with this knowledge and how to let it influence the session... or perhaps how to prevent that influence.
It has occurred to me that this is actually where the richest aspect of the coaching relationship lies. Regardless of how unnerving it may be to experience the sudden realization of a strong parallel between our clients' issues and dilemmas and our own, it is through that deep and sharp perception of equality in struggle that we can do our best work. It is where authentic empathy lies, and where we can truly become partners with our clients. Perhaps we can only remain in authentic partnership with them if we understand that their issues ARE or CAN BE ours as well; always... ...and all ways.

What was great about the practice session as well is that it seemed to me that the coach understood from a very powerful place that the overlap between their issues and the client's issues MUST influence the coaching dialogue... to actively attempt to deny that connection would occlude and obstruct the way in which an authentic dialogue could evolve. Perhaps the coach's main concern was HOW do I let this shared struggle instruct and inform my role as a coach? How do I allow it to inform our work without compromising the fact that I am engaged in this relationship primarily to assist the client and not the other way around? That any benefit I get from the conversation, as a coach, must remain a byproduct and that I must remain aware of my own issues and how they overlap my client's in order to go forward to assist that client.

This was an exciting process to hear take place. As I think about it, it seems to me that the only way genuine empathy occurs is when we accept that we will be moved in these ways by our clients' stories, dilemmas and problems; and that we must be able to move forward in our work with them with that awareness intact and acknowledged in order to do our most effective, true, work. To deny it interrupts the real power source of what we want to establish in the coaching relationship. To deny it means to push it into an area of potential unconscious expression that may actually damage our relationship to our client and/or our work with them.

It is out of those parallels that we are able to, or must, grant full autonomy to our clients in their struggles and work diligently to serve them because we understand we are also serving ourselves; that we can acknowledge the shared struggle as a way to assist our client in moving forward and as a way to help ourselves understand the depth of the dilemma, and as a way to help oursleves formulate healing questions, reflections and acknowledgements for the purpose of serving our client. From that place we know that the humanity in the vulnerability they have entrusted to us is truly an expression of our own vulnerability. We understand, from that place, how fragile and in need of nurturing those human frailties are, because they are ours as well.

This is the basis of why we wish to be of service to others... because from that place we know what we share with them and how we are equal to them.

"Whatever is rejected from the self, appears in the world as an event," said Jung.

"Nothing determines who we will become so much as those things we choose to ignore." --Sandor McNab

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What an interesting experience that must have been. Hopefully it helped you prepare for the same eventuality in your own coaching. Thanks for sharing your insight.