Psychoteraphy, coaching, changework

How to Become a Better Coach, Therapist, or Changeworker


Unlike my ‘How to Become a Better Trainer’ article, in which I suggested just one key thing that would benefit most self-development and changework trainers, the challenge of ‘How to Become a Better Changeworker’ is a bit more complex. There are quite a few things that should be kept in mind. So, without further ado:

1. Work with real-life clients.

No matter how much experience you might have and how revered you are, if you only work with people during workshops or with people who came to your workshop and booked a separate session on the side, your skills will suffer and become more and more removed from actual client work.

I was horrified, while talking with some of the most famous changeworkers I’ve met, when, in private exchanges, they mentioned they hadn’t seen real clients in more than a decade. (I’ll avoid names as I don’t want to attack anyone, but let’s just say these were people with a pretty much legendary status in the self-development community.) And it really did show during demos they did in the training. If the demo participant was your typical guru-lover, basking in the glory of even being able to work with ‘THAT TRAINER’, then the demos obviously went brilliantly, but as for others – it was so-so at best. Obviously, since this was an open training, most of the people in the room were guru-lovers – and it had been the same in every training these gurus had done for the previous 10+ years.

No wonder they tended to tell me that working with clients “from the street” was horrible by comparison. If that were the case, then they needed to work with such clients! They needed to challenge their skills. To develop actual, working solutions, you need to deal with clients who don’t react as they’re expected to. Clients who are willing to come out and say ‘listen, I don’t think that’s going to work for me’. And yes, many of them will be irritating, needlessly hard or time consuming, or simply tedious. That’s part of the price for becoming great at what you’re doing. Deal with it.

2. Be willing to be challenged by situations and by people.

Vanity may by Al Pacino’s favourite sin, but it’s even more popular among the self-development crowd. And I can understand why, I mean I often partake in this particular vice myself. However, there is a simple, clear limit to vanity – you can think of yourself as amazing, brilliant, the best, etc., all you like. You might even get a lot of outside confirmation of that. Wonderful client results, glowing reviews, great contracts, etc. And none of that will be a problem for your skills (it might be a problem for you personally, but that’s not something we’re dealing with here). The point of no return is crossed, however, when you start ignoring information about anything going wrong, being ineffective, etc. That’s when you’re basically setting yourself up for your own fall, somewhere down the line. It won’t be immediate, but – unless you change your attitude – it’s pretty much certain.

I’ve encountered trainers who – when their audience had problems with the quality of the material offered – tended to blame the audience as incompetent or arrogant. I’ve heard of well-known trainers who were fired in the middle of a workshop by the company hiring them, because, despite being told numerous times their material wasn’t helping participants, they stubbornly tried to teach the same old stuff. I’ve seen skilled and competent trainers go to war with training participants, because they couldn’t live through the slightest doubt or disagreement. This attitude is often combined with classic high status behaviors, such as trying to dominate critics or present them as inconsequential, without responding to the point of their criticism.

Make no mistake – if you do that, you will fail, BADLY.

So be as vain as you like – but always, always pay heed to criticism. It always provides you with information. Often unwanted, sometimes not very important, but there is always some value to be had there.

3. Experiment.

Search for new methods, new solutions – experiment and improve. Never do so to the detriment of your client, but always have some additional options available, some possible new solutions to use, should the opportunity arise. Always get consent from the client first, obviously.

4. Hone your skills and develop your knowledge.

There is A LOT of knowledge available out there. In fact, if you live in an English-speaking country, you probably have no idea how lucky you are and how many resources you have available.

The number of books on psychology, neurology, behavioural economics, neurocognitivism, sociology, anthropology, etc., available on the UK or US market is simply staggering. It’s quite incomparable to anything I can get over here in Poland (which is why a good 90% of my reading on these topics is in English nowadays). All of the important research published is in English. There are countless numbers of free education sources, like my favourite Coursera (www.coursera.org), where you can learn a lot of cutting-edge material without paying a dime! Even the stuff you can get in libraries is amazing.

So there is no reason not to. No excuse not to. And if you care about being any good in working with clients, as a coach, a changeworker or a psychotherapist, then do your damnedest to learn more and develop more. It takes time and dedication, but psychology and changework are still incredibly young fields. They’re still waiting for many, many game-changing breakthroughs. In psychology alone, there are at least three large, new subfields – one of which was recently awarded with the Nobel Prize in economics – that are still in their infancy and that will be worth millions for those who get there early enough.

So learn. Develop. Create. Consult with your colleagues, and let the information flow.

That’s the only way it can develop.

So, those are my four main points. Work with real clients. Don’t be so vain as to ignore negative feedback. Experiment. Study.

And, of course, there’s one more point which will make you better at anything. Care enough, to be willing to put in the time and effort to do things well.

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