In my last post, I called the need for coaches to have some training in how to recognise and deal with mental illness that can so easily be triggered by corporate burnout. In this post I share a recent experience of referring a client to a therapist,
I recently had an experience in my coaching practice that had me reflecting on my limits as a coach.

For many years “Susan” had had a very successful career as a senior executive in a variety of organiszations, but of late she had been experiencing serious conflict with a number of her up-line managers. Susan was feeling very rattled by this and was concerned about her future career. She had decided to seek some coaching for herself.

Susan presented as a highly intelligent, articulate and very personable woman. We got on well and my initial thoughts were that we would work well together. However, as the conversation progressed, I started to feel very concerned and I had the sense that I was missing something. I found these feelings unnerving as there appeared to be no evidence for my unease and I began to think I was imagining things.

I couldn’t really understand what was the cause of the conflict that Susan seemed to be having with her managers. Apparently, this pattern of behavior had been going on for a couple of years. It had now reached a crescendo and Susan had been threatened with serious consequences if she wasn’t able to contain herself. Eventually I asked Susan: “How long do you think these feelings of conflict have been around?”

Susan sat back and looked at me with amazement. After several minutes of deep reflection she said: “I’ve just realiszed that it’s when I feel anxious that I get so aggressive.” She became teary as she was talking: “You know, I’ve been feeling anxious ever since I can remember. Most of the time I can contain it but over the last couple of years I’ve been feeling so pushed at work that the anxiety seems to have got so much worse. It’s particularly bad when I’m feeling threatened by my managers.” She said I’ve actually never thought about the connection between the conflict and the anxiety until now.

While I felt great compassion for Susan, I also felt a sense of relief for myself! This was the missing link in Susan’s story. I also realised that coaching was definitely not the right approach for her at this point and that she would be much better served by seeing a psychologist who hopefully would be able to help Susan find some way through these feelings of anxiety that had plagued her for so long.

Fortunately, Susan was completely open to this idea. I explained that I had been a psychotherapist in the past and I knew that if she found the right person to work with, she wouldn’t have to be carrying this level of distress around with her. I also suggested that when she completed the therapy sessions she could always come back and resume an executive coaching program with me. Susan said she felt really relieved and was very happy to go and have psychological help.

Susan rang me the other day. She’s now had about nine months of therapy and says that she feels like a different person. Things at work have improved dramatically and she said she feels as if a huge weight has been taken off her shoulders. We are going to start our coaching sessions in the new year.

If you enjoyed this read, please subscribe to this blog, you may also enjoy my previous articles:

Corporate Burnout – A Real Example
Creating the Space – Just to Listen
Coaching Supervision – Making you a Better Coach
Making Sense of Narrative Coaching
Listening to and Learning from Gail Kelly
Coaching Supervision: No Longer a “Nice to Have’