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 actions
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 MMC www.CircleofLifeCoach.com 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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