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Life coaching and mindfulness: further information for health and social care professionals

Life coaching

Life coaching is a well-recognised intervention for helping people to develop self-awareness; build confidence; and identify and work towards goals. Coaching can be directed towards whatever the client feels are the most important issues in their life – be that gaining more confidence, making a big life decision, or developing a sense of direction and goals. It's not the same as counselling/psychotherapy, which tends to assume that there are emotional wounds to be 'healed'. The focus in coaching is on how you can move forward towards solutions, rather than away from problems.

The life coach helps the client explore how to get from where they are now to where they want to be – however big or small that step might be. The coach does this by focusing totally on the client and their whole life situation. They listen carefully, reflect back, and ask questions to find out more. This helps the client to understand themselves more clearly; reflect on what changes they could make to meet their goals and objectives; and access their innate ability to overcome obstacles and take action. Throughout the coaching process, the client can agree with the coach some actions that they are going to do in between sessions to move towards their desired goals. It's entirely up to the client what they do – the coach's role is purely to help the client work out what they really want, and take steps that move them towards this.


The potential benefits of coaching for clients include: deeper self-insight, clearer sense of direction and motivation, more positive self-view, better self-discipline, better relationships with other people, and a greater ability to plan and carry out steps towards goals.

Mindfulness

'Mindfulness' is a skill – developed through meditation and other daily activities – of paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment. Its roots are in Buddhist meditative traditions, but it's now increasingly being used in the secular world – training people to become more skilled at working with their minds and mental states. In practice, it is about developing the skill of being with one's experience more fully – including one's thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. This enhanced ability to be with experiences allows more 'distance' from them, enabling people to make better-informed, wiser decisions in their daily lives.

The mindfulness training component of this project is a six-session group course for up to 12 participants. It is an adapted version of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a well-researched and tested intervention developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The course is predominantly experiential – through guided meditations, other mindful exercises, and group discussions. There is a minimal amount of theoretical input. Participants are given 'home practice' in between each session – mainly led meditation recordings for them to use on a daily basis, as well as some short written exercises and reflections.

Recent research has shown that mindfulness training can completely alter the way the brain works – making it more effective, robust and flexible. More specifically, the proven benefits include:

These benefits have been demonstrated by a significant body of research over the last twenty years. For example, studies at Harvard and elsewhere concluded that just eight weeks of mindfulness training resulted in a significant increase in brain grey matter concentration in areas associated with sustained attention, emotional regulation and the ability to take a wider perspective. Other studies have revealed increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex – a predictor of happiness and well-being. Mindfulness has also been shown to have physiological benefits – helping to boost the immune response, and to alleviate problems like hypertension, heart disease and chronic pain. For more on research into the benefits of mindfulness see: http://mindfulnet.org/page4.htm.

Integrated coaching and mindfulness

The key innovation of this pilot project is to integrate explicitly these two interventions – coaching and mindfulness. This means that all the participants on the group mindfulness course will be coached one-to-one weekly by a life coach. Coaching and mindfulness are natural 'allies' in that they both help people develop more self-awareness, and access deeper inner resources to navigate their minds and lives. They also share in common a 'person-centred' approach to human development – i.e. the view that the clients are creative, resourceful and whole – and are the expert on themselves. So the role of the mindfulness course leader/life coach is to help create the right conditions for clients to make skilful choices, rather than imparting particular knowledge or theory about how to live their lives. The subject areas of the coaching will be whatever issues the client wishes to bring - i.e. it will not be determined by material in the mindfulness course. Of course, the topics for coaching will also partly be determined by the nature of their engagement with QSA.

There are several advantages of integrating the mindfulness training and life coaching:

•    Mindfulness helps people develop greater self-awareness and emotional positivity, which can be harnessed in one-to-one coaching – leading to much more effective and sustainable progress for each individual.

•    The individual coach-client relationship can help embed progress made in the mindfulness training, with each participant having time and space to explore with the coach their issues and goals in greater depth.

•    Existing 'groups' (such as a mutual support group) can complete the integrated programme together, leading to greater group cohesion, morale and mutual understanding.

=> More about life coaching and mindfulness
=> How previous This Way Up courses helped people take control of their lives
=> Further information for professionals 
=> About the people running This Way Up

 
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