Framing Change Work
When you think of coaching or doing change work with someone, do you expect your new client to launch into a process with the capacity to follow all your instructions? Have you ever thought about your own impressions and expectations of your ability as a coach? Have you noticed how much quicker and simpler it is working with advanced students who can respond to requests given in shorthand and know what you are on about? As a client, have you ever wanted more framing and clearer instruction from your coach so you can follow their guidance?
As a student of NLP in the 1980s, I was introduced to Dr Milton H Erickson’s work and heard stories of his incredible results from people who had met him. I read selections from his “Collected Papers”, and several books on his cases. The impression I got both from reading and from the senior members of the NLP community was that one aspired to do the quality of client work at a level where any client’s experience of change could, with the appropriate identification protection, become the subject of a â€œclient storyâ€.
As time passed, other people wrote books of client stories, all of which were fascinating and led to vastly increased health, wealth, happiness and generative change for the clients in the stories. I continued to imagine that most client stories related to a single session, other than a few of Erickson’s long term interventions, such as ‘Harold’ in “Uncommon Therapy” by Jay Haley, who was seen by Erickson intermittently for five years. Harold was definitely an exception. During those five years he went from being a homeless, unskilled farm labourer to a skilled dancer, shorthand typist and university graduate who could form and sustain relationships with other people and hold down a responsible job.
Living inside largely unconscious presuppositions about the required quality of work and what is possible in a single session with clients was generally sustainable and certainly produced coaching skills to be proud of. But what if other options can produce interesting results? When I read David Calof’s introduction to his book of client stories, “The Couple who became Each Other“, pennies dropped. He stated that he had picked the most memorable and striking client stories from his collection and that not all clients made such spectacular shifts. Furthermore, he said that although each story may read like a single session, most of them are condensed from anything between five or six sessions up to 18 months worth of work. This put a whole new frame on what is possible when coaching.
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I went back to Milton Erickson and discovered a similar pattern. Just because a story reads like a single session, does not mean it has not been condensed from a longer interaction. More exploration followed and I found I had ignored or deleted some really good information. When Erickson worked with patients, he made sure they were trained in accessing useful trance and other altered states before he embarked on the serious stuff. There were people he directed to his students and associates, ostensibly to help them research a topic. These patients were really being taught to direct their attention and alter their state with facility so that Erickson could do change work with them in a timely fashion. Others, he trained by example, either his own or via an associate he invited into the office.
Despite a cultural bias towards single sessions with amazing results, I discovered that despite written and told stories that may suggest otherwise, the most famous and able coaches and trainers find ways to do what has always been normal to me in an NLP training context, but was not normal in coaching. They take clients as they find them, pace and lead them to have new experiences that support their development immediately and can be used in combination thereafter to facilitate generative change. Then they lead the trained client through advanced processes knowing the client has the prerequisite skills to keep up and stay with the process through to the end with all its emergent benefits.
Changing the Frame
This change of frame on coaching and one to one change work created a radically different context for my thinking about coaching. Now I approach it far more like training. There is time to offer more framing, training and instruction to interested clients. It helps develop rapport and credibility as there is time and space to pace their initial presuppositions about what is possible and get a better quality of attention to work with. Even if it takes a bit longer, creating room to explore skills and learn essential elements through live experience changes the whole process. When a client has time to become familiar with the building blocks of thinking, taking different perspectives on a context on demand and discovering by experience that our states are not arbitrary dumps on us out of the blue or from other people, even this can be life changing. Minimally, these skills enable that client to participate in major generative change processes which otherwise they might not countenance at all.
I still work by the session if people want that, but I am definitely considering other options as well. Some of my latest developments and favourite pieces of change work do require some basic skill training to work at their most effective and it would be fun to share them with a wider client base.
Calof, D. L., Simon, R. (1997). The Couple Who became each Other; Stories of healing and transformation from a leading hypnotherapist. New York: Bantam.
Erickson, M.H., Rossi, E.L. (1989)., The Collected papers of Milton H Erickson Vol 1; The nature of hypnosis and suggestion. New York: Irvington Publishers Inc.
Haley, J. (1993). Uncommon Therapy; The psychiatric techniques of Milton H. Erickson MD. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.
30th October 2014
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