Can Coaches Care Too Much?

Martha Pasternack

Can coaches care too much? Really? How can coaches care TOO much?

Well, I know nurses can. As a new nurse back in the 70’s, we called it
“compassion fatigue” and it was the harbinger of burnout, i.e.,
physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. Our job,
our vocation if you will, was to ease pain and suffering by creating an environment
that was conducive to healing. We were not taught about self care; our work
was all about “them.”

It came as a shock to me to learn that not everybody wants to relieve pain
and suffering. Likewise, not all our clients are truly committed to personal
growth, self- awareness and self -determination. (No way, really? Then why did
they hire a life coach?)

It is our role as coaches to clarify our client’s intentions as well
as our own. What do they desire? What do they care about? What do we care about?
What do we desire? I like to think about it as if my client and I are walking
along the same path. We are connected by our commitment to the process of coaching
rather than the outcome per se. Therein lies the mystery.

So, the short answer to the original question “Can coaches care too much?”
is: Yes and no. It depends on what you care about and the source of your care.

Let’s explore this further. Chances are that you went into coaching because
you wanted to:

  • Serve your dream of a better world
  • Be able to create financial stability
  • Express your creative talents
  • Honor your yearning for independence, autonomy, and authentic self-expression
  • Care about other people in a helpful way
  • Believe in others’ innate ability to know what is right for them
  • Contribute to a healthy future
  • Ease human suffering

If you are inclined to measure your effectiveness and success as a coach by:

  • How long the client stays with you
  • How quickly they “get it”
  • How your client’s breakthroughs compare to any one else’s
  • How quickly YOU can stamp out the fires ignited by coaching interventions
  • How agile YOU are making the interventions you decide are needed
  • How comforted YOU are by your client’s dependency on you
  • How readily your client trusts that YOU know better than they do about what
    is right for them
  • How much your client relies on your approval of their insights

Then yes, you can care too much and will be teetering on the edge of compassion
fatigue and professional burnout before you know it.

If you are inclined to measure your effectiveness success as a coach by:

  • How eager your clients are to move forward with autonomous action
  • How readily your clients accept personal responsibility for decisions and
  • How clearly your clients recognize their personal potential
  • How easily your clients feel like you “get them” (they are understood
    and validated)
  • How developing motivation is focused on intention, rather than approval
  • How they energize their understanding of their goals, dreams and desires
  • How they embrace their humanity with compassion
  • How excited they are to move forward with their lives

Then no, you cannot care too much and you will experience immense personal
growth along side your clients. Your care will mingle with the mystery of life.

Many professionals in service to others speak about care as being akin to empathy.
Empathy has been written about in professional journals and taught in professional
schools for as long as I’ve been in the field. I can only speak from the
perspective I have as a retired health care professional and now as a certified
life coach. We learned that the ability to be empathetic was important for the
healing environment to be established. Yet, we were not taught how to distinguish
between caring, sympathy, compassion and empathy. That required on-the-job-training.
I would like to offer my phenomenological definition of empathy as “being
able to create space for another person to have their own experience of a feeling,
situation and motive.

The moments in my career that I was able to be most empathic, as defined above,
were the times I was able to be present enough with my client or my patient
to allow them the space to have their own experience. It was independent of
mine. What we shared in common was the fact that we have had unique and personal
experiences in life.

Creating space within our coaching sessions for our clients to have their own
experience is integral to each IAC Mastery and is worthy of our sincere and
focused attention as we develop our coaching skills.

Martha Pasternack
Martha Pasternack MMC
My passion for witnessing the beauty and mystery of life, healthy
healing and the promotion of Peace on Earth are integral to my daily
life. I have been life coaching since 2004 after working 30 years
as a health care professional.

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