Coaching interventions are conducted with individuals to enhance their professional self-realization by stimulating them to identify instruments of growth and change that can enable them to develop their emotional and relational competence and a keener awareness of their role within their organization.
Systemic-psychodynamic coaching involves a two-way relationship between client (coachee) and coach. The coach acts as the guide on a journey, during which the coachee’s competences, values and beliefs, identity, behaviour, relationship management, and workplace interactions are explored and analysed as a function of their individual needs.
One of the most widely recognized theoretical frameworks for coaching is the six domains model proposed by Halina Brunning (2009), which considers:
a) the client’s personality
b) their life story
c) their competences, skills, abilities, and talents
d) their aspirations, current career status, and future prospects
e) their current work environment
f) their current role in the organization
The model presents these areas as interlocking wheels, whose mutual influence may be harmonious or disharmonious.
Coaching work requires a certain degree of knowledge and understanding of the “PRO”, namely, the coachee as a Person, their Role within the organization, the Organization itself and the relationship between these three aspects.
The coachee’s role, according to Brunning (2009), is partly given by the organization, and partly taken on by the person as function of their abilities, beliefs, ideals, and understanding of what is being asked of them. What a person makes of their role is influenced by the system, and not only by tangible factors (job description, hierarchical position, access to resources) but also by the expectations of others and by organizational culture (Krantz and Malts, 1997).
A key concept is that of organization-in-the-mind:
“Organisation-in-the-mind’ is what the individual perceives in his or her head of how activities and relations are organised, structured and connected internally. It is a model internal to oneself, part of one’s inner world, relying upon the inner experiences of my interactions, relations and the activities I engage in, which give rise to images, emotions, values and responses in me, which may consequently be influencing my own management and leadership, positively or adversely. […] ‘Organisation-in-the-mind’ helps me to look beyond the normative assessments of organisational issues and activity, to become alert to my inner experiences and give richer meaning to what is happening to me and around me.” (Hutton, Bazalgette e Reed, 1997; Armstrong 2005).
It is of key importance that the coach should help the coachee to understand their internal model of organization-in-the-mind, and to clarify what they think of the processes and organizational rules in their workplace context and what processes and rules they believe should be in place.
According to Beck (2012), the purpose of psychodynamic coaching is that the beneficiary (the client), via recognition and understanding of their history, personal models, inner structure, current workplace context, and workplace dynamics, can choose realistic and possible courses of action that are in keeping with their past, present, and expectations for the future.
Integrating psychodynamic and systemic approaches
In the systemic-psychodynamic model, as its title suggests, the coach explores the above aspects from an observational and interpretive perspective that integrates two approaches: psychodynamic and systemic.
The psychodynamic approach facilitates observation of the unconscious dimensions (an important concept in psychoanalysis) of the coachee’s mind and their relationship with others in the organization. Unconscious dimensions are also at work in other members of the organization, in the relations among colleagues, and in work groups. While such unconscious aspects cannot be fully known, the emotional and relational signals conveyed by the coachee when describing their work context can be attended to and reflected upon
Other key theoretical frameworks informing the psychodynamic approach to investigating the emotional functioning of groups include: Organizational Psychology as proposed by the Tavistock Clinic in London, Bion’s group dynamics (“basic assumptions, work group”), the work of Hinshelwood (“unconscious dramatization”), and that of Yalom. Another seminal author on the emotional functioning of groups is K. Lewin.
From the systemic perspective on coaching, on the other hand, the coach must bear in mind the general concept that the coachee is part of a work context/work group whose dynamics may be compared to those of cybernetic systems:
the group as a whole presents an “individual identity” that is different to that of its members and the “sum” of their thoughts; the work group tends towards homeostasis, that is to say to equilibrium rather than change; frequently, dysfunctional and painful phenomena in organizations (e.g., burnout, mobbing) are the unconscious outcome of this tendency to avoid change.
The key authors informing systemic perspectives on coaching include von Bertalanffy, Morin, Maturana, Varela, Bateson, Von Foerster, Watzlavick, and Weakland.
System, relationship, process
Systemic-psychodynamic coaching therefore is rooted in the encounter between the systemic-psychodynamic Tavistock perspective (an interdisciplinary approach that seeks to integrate insights from: group relations theory, psychoanalysis, systems theory) and recent models of organizational analysis and process consulting (Schein).
In addition, it aims to develop relational competence, which is key to problem solving, while maintaining a focus on the emotional sphere.
The systemic-psychodynamic approach is focused on the emotional, irrational, and unconscious components of human and organizational processes, which are fuelled by the interaction between people, their roles, and the organization (Brunning, 2009).
The coaching programme may include the use of tests, questionnaires, or assessments of competence, mainly drawn from cognitive behavioural coaching, in keeping with the coachees’ needs and the agreed objectives. For example, Kolb’s Learning Style Questionnaire, work motivation questionnaire, etc.
Objectives of the coaching relationship
Skill development plans typical of cognitive behavioural coaching are integrated with interventions of a “deeper” psychological kind (depth coaching) with the aim of fostering:
- Self-awareness (emotions, abilities, and limits)
- The ability to relate to others
- Effectiveness in fulfilling organizational role
- Professional growth
not only via theoretical training, but above all through learning from experience to develop the emotional and relational skills required for problem solving and other crucial workplace functions.
Thus, the coach’s work consists of psychoanalytically- and systemically-informed exploration, combined with the possibility of identifying concrete work goals and assessing their achievement with the coachee.
It is useful for the coach to be familiar with the different organizational models that can constitute a coachee’s work context, and to be capable of analysing and reading work situations from a sociological perspective.
The questions approach...
The coach’s job is to ask the right questions, so that the coachee can find the answers inside themselves. The questions that elicit an opening up and that challenge the individual as a whole are a medium that can enable the coachee to release their true nature, to access their truly genuine desires for the future, and then to find the energy to change and act and, hence, to accomplish their objectives (Beck, 2012).
It is crucial to implement a “Socratic” method of interaction with the coachee, that is to say, to foster a series of questions and answers that stimulate the client to search within themselves for solutions, which they should define as independently as possible: thus, the coach acts as a “midwife” by assisting the coachee to “give birth” to their personal truth.
Rather than questions like “Why do you do such and such a thing?”, which is over-judgmental, formulae such as “How would doing this make you feel…?” are to be preferred.
The coach should not offer psychological or psychoanalytical interpretations, but rather work to ensure that the client identifies “their own” solutions. The role of the coach is to generate a relational climate grounded in empathy and the working alliance, which however can also accommodate moments in which the coachee is challenged and invited to engage with reality.
The Coach’s training
The Coach must possess psychological skills, acquired in the course of their basic training and coaching career.
Possible education and training backgrounds include:
- a psychology, education, or social science degree; a degree in medicine with specialization in psychiatry, clinical neuropsychology, or clinical psychology
- having attended at least one Group Relations Conference
- having completed a training course in coaching
- having personally undergone a course of psychotherapy
- possessing at least a theoretical knowledge of the psychodynamic and systemic approaches.
Coaching and psychotherapy
According to Perini (2017), the coaching intervention bears some similarities to psychotherapy; however, unlike psychodynamic psychotherapies, coaching is focused on the present and the future, rather than on the past; it emphasizes outcomes, and attaining results in one’s field of work, as much as insight and self-awareness, while psychotherapy deals with relieving pain, dysfunctionality, and conflict in an individual or in the relationship between two or more individuals. According to Brunning (2009), coaching is psychologically oriented and requires the practitioner to have expertise in the psychological domain, but it is not intended to treat emotional disorders.
Coaching and the organization
A well-conducted coaching intervention wields positive effects on an organization, becoming, in practice, an organizational intervention (Brunning 2009).
See the Coaching section in the Bibliography.