This Is Why We Coach

As you probably know, one of the things that bugs me with the traditional  Co-Active coaching model used by the ICF, is that it’s absolutely brilliant right up until the point it isn’t.

If I were to recommend one coaching model and one alone, it would be the Co-Active approach, but in my opinion it’s just not very successful with certain types of issues and people we encounter as professional Life Coaches.

Some of the time on the Coach The Life Coach course is dedicated to using some highly successful intervention techniques, mainly NLP.

A lot of hardcore coaching purists look down their noses at this approach because it’s not in their manual.

Real World Coaching Skills

However, we get to write our own manual and when it comes to helping clients the results (within reason) are all that matters and I want to give coaches real world skills that can allow them to help real world clients.

A week or so ago I was approached by a client asking if I could help his sister-in-law with her intense fear of flying.

She along with her husband and young daughter were due to take just a 90 minute flight to stay with family over the holidays and she was getting very anxious. In fact last year rather than fly they decided to drive 17 hours in awful weather conditions.

Fears like this normally take me two sessions to get to grips with and we were in a time crunch as she was due to fly yesterday. A bit of juggling allowed us to set things up and I took her through the process I teach other coaches.

Did It Work?

Last night I got the following e-mail:

“Hi Tim,

I just wanted to let you know that my flight today was a huge success! Thank you so, so much for your help.

I had kind of a nervous stomach off & on in the hours before takeoff, but never got to a fearful and panicked place. my husband said it was an incredible improvement. I walked down the jetway and into the plane without a weighty sense of dread.

There was some turbulence on takeoff that was a little rough, I had to dig deep for a second to get some calm back, but I did.

Used lots of visualization, posture adjustment, and the submodalities. I wasn’t able to really nail down the anchoring, but I have 12 days to work on it.

Above all, thank you for giving me the power to not only have a positive flight, but also to show my daughter an example of conquering anxieties! She had a great time and never saw her mom scared or nervous.

Thank you, thank you!!”

Am I A Genius?

I’m not sharing this with you to tell you how awesome I am and you should now be lying in supplication at my feet, but to help you understand that these are the kind of results we can achieve when not restricted by some predetermined criteria.

Co-Active coaching wouldn’t have helped this lady one iota, and whereas traditional therapy may have helped, not in the time span we’re talking of.

This is why we do the work we do, to help others make amazing change.

In instances like this the money is  byproduct because I got a better buzz from reading that e-mail than I did from seeing the money drop into my PayPal account.

Coaching is broadening, possibilities are expanding, scientific breakthroughs are giving us more and more tools as we start to get a greater understanding of how the human mind and brain work.

You can stick with a method or methods that were in some cases developed half a century or more ago, or you can embrace change and see it an exciting opportunity to be an even more awesome coach than you already are.


  1. NLP, TA and many other techniques are available to co-active coaches, e.g. for building rapport, undoing assumptions, understand a client’s life script etc.

    However the ICF’s (and co-active coaching) stand that the client is “creative, whole, resourceful” means that the issue you describe would not fall within the remit of a co-active coaching intervention as you mention.

    So co-active coaching and NLP coaching have different types of clients and issues at heart.

    While NLP solves issues co-active coaching does not deal with, on the other hand it is possible that NLP techniques take away their own personal power from clients. Which is more desirable?

    • timbrownson

      What you mean is stuff that got dragged under the umbrella of NLP is used, stuff (like reframing, language patterns etc) that already existed, albeit under different names, way before NLP came along.

      Removing a completely debilitating phobia or fear quickly is not removing peoples personal power.

      What is however, is intimating that they need years of counseling or months of coaching to achieve the same results.

      I didn’t achieve any of the above, I was merely a facilitator. The client did all the work in her own mind.

      I like, even love co-active coaching, but it also has its head up its ass and thinks their way is the way.

  2. First, Tim, it is so wonderful and refreshing to hear stories like this! Good for her!

    To extend on the comment by Mr. Auerbach, I believe the premises of this blog is to understand the importance of adopting multiple modalities (or techniques as you refer to them) to move the client forward (or past fears, for example). Truly, who determines when and if I client is being “creative, whole, and resourceful?” I bet if you asked this client, she might say, “Who cares, I just flew on a damn plane!”
    To say that one technique robs an individual’s ability to think for herself and be creative is quite bold. I disagree! A technique is a technique—look at psychologists, they may use CBT for one client and EMDR for another, but you won’t find the APA making harsh judgments of what is right and wrong—there are techniques!. I’m not contending that the ICF is bogus, but what I think is necessary is to recognize that each client IS different, each will respond differently to various techniques (just like patients in psychotherapy, etc). It is therefore, like Tim mentions, necessary to recognize that there is no ONE way to facilitating client success, one isn’t better than the other but rather, situational and unique to each client.

    • Thanks for the comment and you can call me Francois. Did you misunderstand my comment?

      I am all for NLP; it’s fantastic for quick results. It is only one of the ways to achieve results; co-active coaching has different aims.

      Consider the client who is afraid of flying.

      If they opt for NLP, they can get on a plane by next week. Problem solved. Have they learnt much about the anxiety they had and have they gained confidence in overcoming problems in the future? No. Does it matter? Not always.

      If they opt for another intervention (therapy? coaching?) it might take them longer to understand why and how they are anxious about flying. However, in the process they will have learnt to look at the problem by themselves, broken it down to its smaller pieces and gained the resources to solve that problem themselves, which means that they have grown in a meaningful way.

      The point is that in one case the client is given the solution (and that’s great) and in the other case the client slowly builds up his/her own resources and re-examines their life script and their map of the world (aren’t these NLP terms?).

      Both are valuable so why oppose NLP to co-active coaching? They don’t have the same aims.

      ICF coaches believe that the client is able to choose which solution is appropriate to himself or herself. Some ICF coaches are also NLP coaches but they know and explain the differences, and they wouldn’t (shouldn’t) pass off one for the other.

      Finally, these are my views, not those of the ICF.

      • timbrownson

        I certainly never opposed the two methods, in fact I did the exact opposite.

        Most deep seated fears come from childhood. A silly throw away remark by a parent or teacher that wasn’t necessarily even meant to be serious can cause issues decades later.

        I have had clients know what it was that caused them issues, but that knowledge was useless because it was sat at the conscious level and fears like this sit much deeper.

        And you are also making the huge assumption that months, years and even in some cases decades of therapy will actually work. Except with CBT, success rates are not much better than 50-50.

        And imho there really is no need to explain which coaching model we are using at any one time. 99.9% of the population have no clue as to what co-active coaching is anyway, they just want results.

  3. Hi Tim and Francois,

    I’m really enjoying the discussion so far, mostly because it’s a very fine edge we walk as coaches as we try to use our skills in service to our clients without ‘taking over’ and denying the client’s use of their own creativity, resourcefulness, and wholeness, as Francois (and ICF) says. As a newish coach, that edge is really interesting and relevant to my learning right now.

    I fully agree with the idea that it’s the clients work to understand what’s going on for them and to apply what they learn in their coaching session into their day to day living.

    When I read this from the client’s email:

    “I had to dig deep for a second to get some calm back, but I did.

    Used lots of visualization, posture adjustment, and the submodalities. I wasn’t able to really nail down the anchoring, but I have 12 days to work on it.”

    and then read this from Francois’ comments:

    “If they opt for NLP, they can get on a plane by next week. Problem solved. Have they learnt much about the anxiety they had and have they gained confidence in overcoming problems in the future? No.”

    I have trouble with the idea that the client hasn’t learned about their anxiety and what is driving it. She is obviously, in her own words, ‘digging deep’ and taking responsibility for her response to the anxiety. She even assesses how she went and determines to work on it further.

    Like I said, it’s a fine line we walk and it’s important that we, as coaches, bring our own creativity, wholeness and resourcefulness to the situation as well.

    I just want to very clear here and say that I have done some training with Tim and hesitated to comment on this at first, because I didn’t want to be seen as piling on Francois on Tim’s behalf. That’s really not the case, mostly because I’m not a piler-on-er, but also, if I disagreed with Tim here I would feel very free to say so.

    The central idea that Francois is supporting is really important– the client is ultimately responsible for understanding their own issues and working on them, and they need to be drawing on their own resources and feel in charge for themselves.

    And in this case, the person with the most compelling argument that this is happening seems to be neither Tim or Francois, but the client herself.

    • timbrownson

      “And in this case, the person with the most compelling argument that this is happening seems to be neither Tim or Francois, but the client herself.


  4. The example in this post is facetious; of course, to get on a plane, NLP tricks work.

    Life and business coaching is also about more complex issues, such as “if I choose to leave my job and become self-employed, it will affect me and my children, so how can I reconcile both my aspirations and responsibilities.”

    Thus dissing the co-active model by using an example which isn’t particularly a life or business coaching issue is facetious.

    I repeat that I agree that there is a place for all sorts of coaching but fabricating an argument in this way is particularly annoying. ICF does not look down on NLP or any other coaching… but their values and ethics suggest a different approach.

  5. Good grief, is that all you’ve got, after 5 days?

    You can’t even read without bias as I have said many times before and even in this post that co-active is my first preference, but you’re too wrapped up in defending something that doesn’t really need you to defend it to even notice the facts.

    There is NO thing called Life Coaching, there is no regulatory body, no agreed definition, no structure other than that some people have decided on (based largely on one book) and who have also decided to look down their nose at people who do things differently.

    I’m only interested in my clients and your opinions when they are so stuck in ‘this is how it is’ thinking, mean nothing to me.

    Happy Christmas, now go spend it with your loved ones and don’t waste it trying to convert me to your way of thinking. We are poles apart and that’s ok.