Humanistic Coaching Perspective - A Leadership Book Dialogue

Humanistic Coaching Perspective: Chapter 1

D. Stober

In D. Stober & A. Grant, Evidence Based Coaching:Putting Best Practices to Work for Your Clients, 2006

Wiley, Hoboken, NJ, USA

Translation is necessary in applying therapeutic theories and practices to a humanistic coaching perspective because much of therapy is focused on resolving deficits and weaknesses.

N[Distinction between coaching and therapy]

D[Coaching - a process focused on working with a person's needs, wants, goals, or vision for where they want to go, and then designing steps for getting there.]

Q[Studies have all but unanimously shown that the therapist-patient relationship is an essential ingredient to positive growth. p. 21]

From the humanistic coaching perspective, humanistic theory of self-actualization is a foundational assumption for coaching with its focus on enhancing growth rather than ameliorating dysfunction. Key distinctions between humanistic therapeutic approaches and the humanistic coaching perspective: goal of the process, therapy aimed at helping clients gain a more functional life while coaching seeks to help clients move a functional life to a more full life; therapy more tilted toward working with the client's feelings (less processed compared to thinking functions), humanistic coaching focuses more specifically on actions. In both, it is assumed that awareness will produce changes in behavior.

Other defining characteristics in humanistic therapy that can be extended to the humanistic coaching perspective: (l) a relational emphasis as the fundamental source of change, (2) a holistic view of the person as unique, and (3) a belief in freedom of choice with accompanying responsibility (Cain, 2002).


While these concepts were originally developed for use in psychotherapy, they are easily extrapolated for relationships such as coaching from the humanistic perspective.

L[Maddi, Personality Theories - fulfillment theory of personality]

Growth Oriented View Of The Person

A foundational belief is that individuals have the capacity to use their experiences and resources to move forward and grow. Rogers (1951) proposed that human development is directional (forward) and that within the individual framework of the person, people have a basic striving to reach their full capacity. For humanistic coaching practitioners, developing a contextual climate that supports and nurtures self-actualization is the linchpin for helping clients grow. Practitioners are there to facilitate the client's own natural potential for growth. Self-actualization and its implications guides a major distinction between humanistic coaching and related activities such as consulting or mentoring.

N[key point]

Q[Coaches need to be experts at the process of coaching but recognize their clients are the experts on the content of their own experience. P 20]

Practitioner-Client relationship

It is through the relationship and the environment set by the practitioner that clients are able to explore their own experience and choose directions for the future. Collaboration is a natural implication that arises from working with the client, rather than working on the client. Facilitating is about the client's own awareness of how they experience themselves, their situation, what it means, and where they want to go with it.

N[What feedback sessions should be about in leadership development]

Q[The relationship [coaching]becomes one of approaching the client as someone to work with in tapping into the client's own sense of unfolding growth and potential. p. 21]

Directing content is generally not consistent with a coaching from the humanistic perspective approach. It is a matter of engaging the client through the process of the interaction. Clients flesh out their vision and enact steps toward that ideal. But it is not up to the humanistic coach to direct the content of that ideal; rather, the coach is there to help the client fully describe it and design steps to take them toward it. In executive, organizational, or performance coaching, the balance of directiveness may be somewhat different, depending on the structure of the coaching contract. When coaching for skills, the line between content and process directiveness may become a bit fuzzy.

N[Coaching for development vs. coaching for performance distinction]

Outcome research shows that the therapist-patient relationship is an essential ingredient to positive growth. It is by trying to accurately understand and communicate the client's full reality without adding, subtracting, or changing information that the practitioner demonstrates understanding at both a cognitive and an affective level. This requires a stance of hypothesis, checking with clients to ascertain whether they have accurately understood the essence of the client's experience. By demonstrating empathy: allows clients to become more fully aware of their own construction of reality; demonstrates positive regard for the self of the client; builds trust in the relationship. Unfortunately, accurate empathy has often been taught as a simple reflection of the client's feelings when in fact it is a demanding process of trying to enter the private world of the client and accurately capture meaning and experience (Watson, 2002). It is an acceptance and valuing of the client for who they are. The person and experience of the practitioner in the moment is also important.

L[ArbingerSelf Deception - more of an attitude than behaviors]

Genuineness, or congruence means that the therapist, or practitioner, is able to accurately note his or her experience regarding the client in the present and thus "be himself or herself" therapeutically with the client. This does not mean, that the practitioner should be brutally honest in a misguided attempt to be genuine with the client.

N[Key Point requires real-time, self-awareness]

Q[Without the client feeling understood and accepted, the chances for coach and client to work together for change are pretty slim. p. 24]

Holistic View of the Person

There is an emphasis on the individual as a dynamic whole. The humanistic coaching perspective attempts to understand the client's experience of self (e.g., values, personality, goals, health, etc.); of self-in-relation (e.g., important relationships, interpersonal style, sense of community, networks, etc.); and of the environment (e.g., work/ career environment, financial situation, physical surroundings, etc.); and each in relation to the other.

Using the humanistic coaching perspective, coaches draw conclusions or construct a view of the client, but need to check out their understanding with the client. This approach underscores the importance of collaboration and the resulting individuality of each therapeutic relationship. Indeed, this is the spirit of an evidence-based approach: the use of the best available knowledge integrated with the practitioner's expertise in the service of the client's experience and context (Sackett et. al., 1996).

Choice and Responsibility

Designing action plans and so on must be jointly constructed, for the best chance of success. It comes with a responsibility to recognize that in any moment a choice is being made, whether we are aware of it or not.

Q[In asking our clients make clear and conscious choices, we ask them to become active architects of their growth. p. 27]

Research Evidence on the humanistic coaching Perspective

R[Elliott's (2002)most recent meta-analysis of 86 humanistic therapy studies]

Change - large amounts of change over time; stable gains after therapy substantially more change than comparable controls in randomized clinical trials; with researcher allegiance controlled for, humanistic therapy generally exhibit similar amounts of change as clients in non humanistic therapies. Outcomes - positive influence on empathic understanding; unconditional positive regard, acceptance, affirmation; therapist engagement and a collaborative stance. In constructing a positive working relationship; process directiveness is effective.

Theories and assumptions from therapy are related to positive change, but research evidence is lacking on their application specifically to coaching.

N[Suggests research based on motivational interviewing will be fruitful]

Humanistic Coaching Perspective - Guide

O[The humanistic coaching perspective guiding principles (l) nature of coaching relationship is essential; (2) client is the source and director of change; (3) client is whole and unique (4)coach facilitates of the client's growth.]

Guiding principle 1: in the humanistic coaching perspective, the nature of the coaching relationship is essential

The coach must approach and engage the client with empathy, acceptance, and authenticity; the coach provides the platform for safety, trust, and collaborative interaction.

  1. Listen for understanding.
  2. Cultivate acceptance and look for positive points of connection.
  3. Give honest feedback in the moment. being able to communicate these when helpful in an honest, caring way
  4. Establish collaboration as the process of the coaching relationship.

Guiding principle 2: the client is the source and director of change in the humanistic coaching perspective

Q[The coach's input should be in the service of the client's goals. p. 32]

  1. Facilitate the client setting the agenda, goals, and direction.
  2. Use the self-subject matter expertise of the client as the point of connection.
  3. Maintain an attitude of hypothesis regarding their understanding of the client.

Guiding principle 3: the humanistic coaching perspective holds client as whole and unique

  1. Assess thoroughly and check for accuracy.
  2. Look for interconnections.
  3. Facilitate integrating/aligning.

Guiding principle 4: the humanistic coaching perspective makes the coach the facilitator of the client's growth

  1. Client explores and plans their own direction.
  2. Coach can hold client accountable for the actions chosen.
  3. Coach provides honest assessment of the client's growth.

Teaching Tasks:

  1. Direct the process, not the content: coach is an active participant, even a leader or catalyst, in using techniques such as active listening, asking open-ended questions, and role-playing or imagining outcomes to help clients expand their experience and potential choices of action.
    N[good list of coaching activities]
  2. Maintain an attitude of exploration.
  3. Expand the client's awareness of strengths, resources, challenges.
    L[CCL ACS model]
  4. Point out choices and help the client make conscious choices.

Exploring choices can use the idea of an experiments by cultivating a sense of trying something out, observing the outcomes (both internally and externally and then evaluating the new choice for satisfaction or positive change can help make the choice less absolute and more of a trial run.

L[Learning to Learn literature]

Facilitate goal-setting and accountability. The coach can be very active in inviting clients to declare what they want for themselves and to plan how to get there. The coach also reinforces that the client has access to potential directions and the steps needed rather than increasing the client's dependence on the coach for the answer.

N[key to facilitation]


In directing the process of coaching for change, the coach can ensure that the client integrates being (and awareness of that) with doing such that the client comes away with real results.

L[Motivational Interviewing]

Awareness includes what has occurred in the past who one has been, and preparation of making choices which means some attention to what the client envisions in the future.

L[The Time Paradox]

The choice of a course of action is with the client while the coach is directing the process of intentional choice. The coach and client can collaborate on detailing the steps involved


N[doesn't discuss what execution means]

Recycling in the humanistic coaching perspective is viewed as helping the the client feed the results of the action back into their awareness.

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