Transformation: A Cross To Bear, Or A Bridge To Cross?


by Steven Reeder, ACC


I've always been struck by the words of my teacher, Caroline Myss, who said, "Therapy is meant to be a boat across the river, but we rarely get off on the other side." In that statement, she was referring to the practice of frequenting a therapist and finding an emotional wound that gives you carte blanche, or what she called "woundology."

Rather than processing the emotions and moving on, Myss observed that many people begin to use the wound as a currency, with which they bargain for sympathy or defense mechanisms. When they need an easy excuse for bad behavior, they can pull out the wound and say, "See what happened to me? You should be nicer to me and give me a wider berth, because I'm the victim here!" "You can't talk to me like that! Don't you know what I've been through?" The intended result is that you apologize to them for ever having questioned their conduct or motives.

When Caroline spoke these words in the late 1980's, the field of professional coaching was in its infancy. Many people facing life obstacles consulted a therapist. Therapists have the capacity to help their patients in countless ways. I loved the time I spent with my therapist, and also realize today that - in my case - a coach could have been just as effective for what I needed at the time.

When I discuss the practice of coaching with non-coaches, it's bound to come up that coaching is equated to other helping modalities. In a corporate setting, the label of "coaching" is flippantly interchanged with mentoring, training, and consulting (none of which are coaching). In the field of transformational coaching, it's often likened to therapy. In fact, cynics often deride coaches as wannabe therapists. However the difference between coaching and therapy is stark and very clear.

A therapist typically helps patients fix problems, heal emotional wounds from the past, and if necessary, manage mental illness. The role of a therapist, having been trained as a medical or psychological professional, makes a diagnosis that something is wrong with the client or patient. With that diagnosis comes a specific, prescribed course of action which, if followed, should begin to remedy the condition.

A coach helps their client navigate the realm of choice. The coaching process essentially starts with three basic questions: What do you want to be, do, or have? How do you intend to achieve that end? What's stopping you from getting there now? As a coach, I never assume a client is coming to me with "a problem." In fact many coaching clients have a great life, and sometimes just want to kick it up a notch. (As a Certified Professional Coach, I am also trained to recognize when a client is not a suitable candidate for coaching, and if a referral to therapy is more appropriate.)

While a therapist is an authority on mental health and can give patient the answers they seek, a coach primarily comes to the table with questions for the client. I partner with a client, and together — with trust and confidentiality — we explore the thoughts, feelings, and actions that are either promoting or preventing the client from reaching their goal. As the client gains new awareness around what is or isn't working for them, new choices can be made and new action taken. Those choices and actions are always made by the client. As a coach, I don't offer advice or tell clients what to do. As the top expert on their own hopes, dreams, and expectations, the client has all the answers.

"Then what's the point of you even being there?" All people, me included, see their lives through their own lenses and filters. Your particular lenses and filters have been created through every experience you've ever had in your life, from birth to the present moment.

It's much like a phoropter — that machine in the eye doctor's office with all of the rotating lenses. If you see a roadblock on your life path that's impeding your true purpose, you're seeing it through a lens which was put there through some past experience. Given every experience you've ever had in your life, it's perfectly natural for you, looking through those lenses, to see what you see. The benefit I have as a coach is that I don't see your life through your phoropter, so I don't have to buy into any limitations you set for yourself. How often do you get to sit across from someone who automatically assumes you can do what you've set out to do?

That's my job: to challenge you to make it there and hold you accountable for what you say you'll do. You make the choices of what new lenses you'd like to try or what path to forge. There is no "right" prescription, other than whatever helps you see life the way you want it to be.

Even the word "coach" comes from stagecoach, which was a vehicle to get you from Point A to Point B. Like looking through a phoropter, you get to choose which option looks better to you: A or B?

It's comical to me that my own brother accused me of brainwashing people for a living. I'd never heard that particular criticism before. (I'd honestly never been criticized for my chosen career path.) After I stopped laughing hysterically, I thought for a moment about what he said. From his perspective, I could see how that's almost a fair interpretation: that's his phoropter at work.

Then I considered the brainwashing we undergo throughout our lives: from parents, from schools and teachers, from religion, from our culture, from advertising and media, from a government or military, from our bosses, from our romantic partners, from strangers we've only met once. Some or all of these had a say-so in who you've become.

Many clients I work with choose to give up some of the limiting beliefs they picked up along the way, such as: I was born flawed; I was born ugly; I'll never amount to anything; only people who look and think like me are good people; I can never break the glass ceiling; I have to stay in this job to survive; I'm nothing without _____; I'm less of a person because of my body shape; I'm less of a person because of my gender or sexuality; everything has to be done perfectly; rejection is personal; everyone's out to get me; I just have to make the best of a bad situation; I have to keep the peace; if I give it enough time, it will go away; if I just stay busy, it won't affect me; it can wait until tomorrow.

Some old beliefs are easier to release than others. Old patterns can feel so difficult to give up when you earnestly believe there are no options. As a coach I've no investment on whether you give up or change any belief you have. I am there to help you measure how that thought, feeling, or action is or is not supporting what you say you want to be, do, and have; and challenge any contradictions that arise.

Caroline Myss spoke of therapy as a boat. I speak of coaching as a bridge. When you feel you have no choices, life can feel like a cross to bear. Coaching offers a bridge to cross. Whether it's a small foot bridge or a chasm-spanning monolith, every bridge is built brick by brick, bolt by bolt, and crossed one step at a time.

Every bridge is designed for the unique span it crosses. What strengths do you need to support your path? How can you measure what old patterns are blocking you from a new life on the other side? The Energy Leadership Index Assessment offers a detailed report with that very answer. Recognized by Forbes as one of the Top 10 assessments for understanding your strengths and challenges, it helps you bridge the gap between the status quo you're tolerating and the life you can actively choose. It helps you assess what lenses are getting in your way of seeing the clear path forward for you.

What do you want to be, do, or have? How do you intend to achieve it? What's stopping you? You are the expert on your hopes, dreams, and expectations. My job is to support you in building the bridge to reach them. Take the first step at www.stevenreeder.com/bridge.