I know that many of you, if not most of you, are working as OTs in fairly understandable ways and the “barriers” to occupation you deal with maybe  1) physical or environmental, solved or improved with equipment, physical rehabilitation or care support 2) psychological/ cognitive/ sensory, which can be improved with a range of brilliant occupation focused interventions.  However, something which increasingly perplexes me on a personal and professional level are those “barriers” which seem somewhat intangible and lack a straightforward answer or solution – barriers that seem to persist. Even using the word “barrier” is probably wrong as it intrinsically assumes that it can either be overcome, dismantled or removed somehow and the sort of thing I am talking about is rarely that straightforward.

We see this complexity often, perhaps when we have sorted out a solution for bathing, provided information about pain management, supported our client to join an education class and yet they still struggle to engage and participate in desired occupations.  Or we have looked at all the barriers to a client returning to work, compiled a CV, practiced interviews and yet it still isn’t “working”.

Of course, it’s this complexity that has attracted me to working with coaching, because if everything was easily solved and logical, we would not have the problems we have, right?  This also perplexes me on a personal level in that despite all that I have achieved, learnt etc, I still face the same ol’ challenges myself – surely I should have coached myself and sorted myself out completely by now? (laughs internally).

I do believe with conviction that coaching goes a very long way to unpick these intangible, complex, persistent barriers which is why I set up the Coaching Skills for OTs Ecourse, but sometimes it needs to go a bit further. By further I mean beyond making plans, beyond understanding our somewhat unhelpful ways of doing things or our communication difficulties. Yeah, I know, these may not seem like surface things, but they are somehow kinda understandable and we can usually affect purposeful change once we identify what’s going on.  This is the bit that Simon Western would call the “Depth Analysis” frame (in his Analytical Network coaching approach which I highly recommend) where we coach to understand our-self better or the “Relational Frame” where we seek to understand our relating better.  Beyond that is a world that needs to be looked at differently and perhaps with some acceptance that we can’t always change or fix it.

These days, there is a level of complexity and chaos that human beings have never before had to navigate, both on a individual or collective level.   Coaching can help us see how complex our lives have become but must strive to do two things:

1) focus our efforts where they can effect most change/impact alongside a dollop of acceptance of what we can’t change

2) heed Einstein’s famous words that “no problem can be solved from the same energy that created it”.

What Einstein meant is that we have to approach chaos sideways and find often odd/quirky/trans-formational solutions. Linear thinking sometimes helps but sometimes, further down the line, can be seen to have made things worse.  One example of this for me is how we might tackle an increase in demand for services by working harder and trimming down provisions. We all know that that can result in staff burnout and also shoves the problem further into society elsewhere! Or how anti-biotic use has somehow backfired.

A deeper level of coaching should also strive to help us remove the “Virtual Reality” helmet we all seem to wear.  Social media has played a massive role in altering our perception of our world, making us think that everyone else has “it” sorted. We see photos of sparkling blue seas/glasses of Prosecco/hot tubs/smiling children/happy dogs on our Facebook feed, constantly. Why isn’t my world like that? Am I really so rubbish at it all? Nope.  Media beyond our friends FB or Instagram posts shapes our perception too. I too have recently experienced this on a very personal level. Following winning a TV competition, people seem to think my life has transformed overnight. Somehow, we seem to think that TV and media exposure is that powerful. Well take it from me, it is not.

Coaching, fuelled by the somewhat mythical belief that everything is solvable/sortable, needs to take on board the complex emotional and cultural issues that exist in our world. Things like the pressure on men to provide financial security or our caring roles as women or the historical barriers to a career in art for women (which are more than just historical, take it from me!). Somethings are harder to overcome and run deeper than our well-intentioned goals, careful planning and motivated actions. We are all part of various systems and networks which impact on us in many ways. This goes beyond understandable cultural or social influences.

In Western’s Network Analysis, he invites us to investigate the networks we are part of and the nodal points of power that exist between the connections. This analysis also helps us understand the much broader choices available to us, as we seek to create change in our lives. Making a mind map of all the networks we are part of, which cover social, political, economic networks, the natural and technological networks, the emotional networks (one to really consider!!!) and also the knowledge, discourse and power networks we are part of, is hugely enlightening.

As much as helping us navigate our complex world, make emergent plans and understand ourselves better, coaching needs to get good at showing us why things are sometimes really hard, why the world is more messy than perfect and why we need to become more much compassionate to ourselves and others. It needs to help us develop discernment around where best to place our efforts, what’s worth our love and effort, what are we taking far too seriously and what really matters in the world.