Coaches use a variety of techniques to help their clients deal with painful emotions, emotional blocks, and limiting beliefs. Some techniques focus on embracing, understanding, and respecting a person’s emotions or beliefs. Others focus on shifting a person’s emotions or beliefs from painful, non-productive ones to pleasurable, productive ones.
Working with emotions and beliefs is a somewhat controversial area of coaching, with many underlying questions, such as:
- Is it possible to change how you think and feel on demand?
- If it’s possible, is it wise?
- How can you know if the way you think you’re supposed to think and feel is the right way and your current way is the wrong way?
- Do emotions have wisdom that’s to be embraced?
- Are emotions sometimes dysfunctional? If so, is it wise to try to change them?
- Is it a coach’s place to enter into these territories?
The way you and your coach answer these questions can have a big effect on how you and your coach deal with emotions and beliefs.
Do techniques to accept or change your thoughts and feelings work?
Whichever way you want to go — accepting your thoughts and feelings or changing them — there are many techniques coaches can use to help you. Though all of these techniques have their fans, the effectiveness of many of them is debated. All that matters is whether a particular technique works for you. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, next!
Techniques to help you discover, understand, and/or accept your beliefs
Deep questioning is the process of examining your beliefs thoroughly to have a greater understanding of them. Almost everyone finds out surprising things about his beliefs in the process. A coach may ask questions from new perspectives or questions that keep going deeper and deeper.
Some coaches use specific techniques, like the “why?” technique. The coach asks the client what he wants. When the client answers, the coach asks him why he wants that. The coach keeps asking the client “why?” until they reach an answer that has nothing underneath it.
The Work by Byron Katie
The Work by Byron Katie is a simple process of judging someone else, asking four questions about the judgment, and then reversing it and seeing if the reverse is also true. The Work is simple, but deep.
Testing and research
The client states his assumptions about how the world works, what he can and can’t do, or what is necessary to accomplish his goals. The coach asks him to do some research to verify if his assumptions are correct. A surprisingly high percentage of our assumptions don’t end up being true.
Shifting your focus to the positive aspects
The coach isn’t trying to change your mind. She’s just getting you to focus on the positive aspects of your situation. It’s easy to focus on the challenges you’re facing, the resources you need, and what you think is wrong with you. The coach helps you remember your triumphs, all the resources you have, and what’s wonderful about you.
Suggesting other ways to view the same situation
Sometimes, a coach can suggest an entirely different way of looking at a situation that, when you hear it, naturally shifts your view of it.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and other energy healing modalities
EFT and other energy healing modalities help a person clear energy blockages or correct energy imbalances in his body caused by painful emotions and false beliefs. The techniques are gentle, and involve a client’s holding or tapping different energy points on his body. The techniques usually involve embracing and accepting who you are, how you feel, and what happened to you.
Techniques that help you accept and/or learn from your emotions
Techniques that are used to help you discover, understand, and/or accept your beliefs often also help you accept and learn from your emotions. There are also some techniques whose main focus is emotions.
The coach guides the client in this basic skill that we’ve mostly lost in the West: just feeling our feelings, without trying to change them, suppress them, paint a pretty picture over them, understand them, or even talk about them.
One approach coaches use is guiding clients through feeling the physical feelings that come up with strong emotions. The client sits quietly and feels the physical feeling that he’s having, say, a knot in the gut, tension in the throat, or a slight uneasiness in the chest.
The feeling generally dissolves after he sits with it for a few moments. Another feeling may pop up. The coach often will stay with him as he feels each feeling until he reaches a place of peace.
Focusing and related techniques
These techniques involve paying attention to your body’s reactions and asking questions to draw out the wisdom and insights stored in your body about a situation.
Changing your situation so you’re not triggered into having negative emotions
This is classic coaching. If you’re upset about, say, an awful job or relationship, you don’t focus on changing your emotions. You work on changing the situation that’s triggering them.
Techniques to help you change your beliefs and and/or emotions
Affirmations are positive messages that you write or say or listen to repeatedly. The theory is that over time, you start absorbing these messages.
With hypnosis, the coach, who should have training and experience as a hypnotist, works with the client’s subconscious to heal painful memories, make positive suggestions, and otherwise help the client think and feel the way he wants.
In this process, the coach has the client describe his ideal future. The idea is to include realistic details and imagery that evokes the senses so that the desired future feels like it’s already happening. The theory is that when your desired future feels real to you, your energy, psychology, thinking, and emotions shift, maybe in subtle ways, to help turn your vision into reality.
EFT and other energy modalities
Some people understand energy psychology as healing and changing a person’s emotions and beliefs.
Coaches use various forms of breathwork, like deep breathing or square breathing (breathing in for a count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four) to help their clients feel calm during coaching sessions and during their lives.
Unproductive approaches (in my opinion)
Coaches sometimes use techniques that generally aren’t effective and can be unpleasant and disrespectful of clients. Generally, negativity may cause a person to make short-term, forced changes, but it doesn’t inspire true, deep, long-term change. I’ll give you a quick overview of them so you’ll have an easier time spotting them.
Telling you to feel differently than you do
You tell your coach you feel a particular way, and the coach tells you to feel a different way. If only things were that easy.
We don’t consciously choose our emotions; they’re often deeply ingrained. We generally can’t change them at will — or, worse, because someone else tells us to change them.
Arguing with you about your beliefs
Some coaches will tell you how to think, what to believe about yourself or how the world works. The coach doesn’t necessarily know the truth about life any more than you do. And trying to argue someone out of his deeply held beliefs, opinions, and worldview generally isn’t effective.
Giving you negative labels and criticizing you
Some coaches attack you and try to make you feel bad so you’ll change the way you think and/or feel. “You’re a glass half-empty kind of person, aren’t you? You know who succeeds?
People who see the glass as half-full.” You may feel bad about yourself when you hear these negative things, but they don’t give you a mechanism to change deeply ingrained aspects of yourself, even if you wanted to.
Threats and negative predictions about your future
Some coaches resort to the old “if you stay the way you are, you’ll never succeed” ploy. It’s gloom and doom for you if you don’t think positively, have confidence, overcome your fears, or otherwise think and feel the way the coach believes you should. The coach doesn’t know the future. Her predictions may be wrong. Even if she were correct, threats and negative predictions, like insults and criticism, don’t tend to inspire long-term shifts in your thinking, feeling, or behavior.
Rubber band technique (and other forms of negative reinforcement)
You use the rubber band technique to extinguish a behavior, thought, or feeling using negative reinforcement.
Let’s say you’re trying to get rid of the thought, “People don’t like me.” You wear a rubber band around you wrist every day, and every time you find yourself thinking that thought, you snap the rubber band.
Theoretically, you start associating that thought with pain, and you think it less and less until it goes away. In reality, your wrist stings, and your thoughts don’t permanently shift.
It’s all about what works for you
As with everything else in coaching, what’s important is what you want and what works for you. You don’t have to work on emotions and beliefs with your coach at all, if you don’t want to go there. If you do, you can make sure your coach uses techniques that are comfortable, enjoyable, and effective for you.