I have had a growing awareness lately of the differences between my health mentor and my long standing coach. I sought a “new” approach regarding my health and well-being, not because my existing coach wasn’t sufficiently skilled to tackle this, but because I have long respected the position and stance of this particular health mentor and, as with most of my decisions, it just felt the right thing to do!

What I have started to appreciate is the very tangible difference in the way they coach which I feel is of real interest to us as OTs especially as we seek to understand the difference between OT and coaching and also how we deal with our own “stuff” and its relationship to how we coach (or practice as an OT!).

So there are two questions to this Is this coaching or is it mentoring and advising? And Parallel process: do we try and keep our “stuff” out completely or use it skillfully? Please know that this reflection is just that. A curious look at how I am finding this quite different process. I really value the coach/mentoring I am having and it is helping, just not in the way I imagined!

Is this coaching or is it mentoring and advising?

I think it must be quite difficult as a coach, knowing that we are coaching another coach. Just as I look forward to be a “little old lady” sitting on the ward and letting the OT know that I too was one of those when I was young (haha).

I tried to enter my health mentoring relationship with a heart willing to not analyse or evaluate the mentor-coaching I was receiving, but it’s been really hard. These things are the bits which I noticed are very different to the type of coaching I try to do which is non-directive, co-active creative coaching, with a smattering of behavourial coaching thrown in. I have noticed when, let’s call her Sara, reflects back to me in a different language to the one I use – the words don’t have the same meaning for me. I say things like “fatigue” she says “poorly resourced”. Does it matter? Well for me, right now, yes. I can go with all sorts of conceptualizations, but it does do something different to me. I have also noticed that I can hear her listening with ears that have already formed an opinion, ones that are desperate to make a suggestion to solve, sort and order this chaotic me! Do I mind? Well after 6 months of monthly calls, I left the last call wanting to say “stop it…I have come to you with good stuff…please don’t dampen my fire with talk of balance and sustainability…see me!”

A coach, in the purist sense of the word “see’s” their client with clean ears (no not the ear wax kind). A coach listens with curiosity not with the intention of solving/sorting. A coach doesn’t taint the clients process by introducing their language which changes the energy and meaning.

A mentoring relationship is traditionally characterized by the mentor bringing their experience and knowledge to the process. A degree of advising and signposting is expected. That is what is going on in this relationship – that’s fine, it’s not a criticism, just an observation!

Parallel process: do we try and keep our “stuff” out completely or use it skillfully?

Keeping our “stuff” out of way in a purist coaching approach is crucial. It’s also one of the hardest things to do. One of the only ways I have seen this to be possible, is through using Clean approaches www.cleancoaching.co.uk where the questions include “and what’s xxxx like” and “what happens before xxxx” and “is there anything else with this?”. But outside of clean approaches, most coaching questions have to come from somewhere – the coach listens and responds based on what he/she has heard. Even if you think you are not asking leading questions, you often are…I really laugh at hearing myself pretending to be non-directive by asking a gloriously, powerful question which is completely aimed at getting a certain response! Sometimes, if this happens and I am open about it, the humour that occurs really helps to shift the client, but if this is done without the coach being aware of their own stuff, it can direct the coaching unwittingly, away from what the client really needs and towards what the coach wants!

There is another element to this which I have realized is playing out in my current health mentoring. My mentor and I have rather too much in common and she and I are recognizing several parallel processes in our lives, which are affecting our coaching. Things like our personality, background, relationship history, work history, family life etc. Rather a lot actually. I have started to notice perhaps in solving/healing/sorting me, she is trying to solve/sort/heal herself?

Again, please hear that this may not be a bad thing. There is increasingly acknowledgement of how powerful helping someone else, when you have experienced the same, can be. But in my mind, this needs to be made transparent and be clear in the relationship. In my case, I am not sure it is. My mentor and I have chatted briefly about the similarities but I am not sure that this is being kept sufficiently in check? Even as I write that I am wondering whether it matters and perhaps more healing takes place if we let this parallel process occur – perhaps we are both helped?