Trauma-Informed Coaching: It all Started with What's Okay
by Leslie Brown
Originally published in Coaching for Transformation
One of the things that scared me the most when starting my coaching journey was bringing up too much emotion in my youth clients (it wasn’t the same with my adult clients). I found this to be a very interesting twist because prior to coaching, a large part of my work had been with foster youth who frequently had huge emotional outbursts that I was responsible for supporting. My initial response was to act as a protector and keep it nice and light by staying in the play space. I felt that I was more in control as a coach and could ensure that the youth would be safe and avoid emotional rollercoasters. However, I noticed that many of my youth clients were unable to maintain momentum because I was avoiding their deeper emotions and transformational agendas.
My safe and careful approach to youth coaching was acting as a barrier. Once I realized my impact as coach, my biggest challenge became increasing my risk and vulnerability to assist my clients to go deeper and gain access to their fullest expression of themselves. I vowed from that point forward to incorporate more vulnerability and take more risk.
When I met Makai, I knew that she would be my opportunity to live my coaching stance and I began coaching from an edgy and vulnerable space. I can clearly remember swallowing my fear and fully digging into my stance that would not allow me to keep it light. My first question to her was “How is life going for you right now?” Her quick response, with a huge smile and giggle was, “It’s okay” and then she listed all of the amazing things happening. My intuition quickly told me that buried under all of the fluff and giggles, Makai wanted more in life. My next question was “What does okay mean to you?” I suddenly noticed a huge shift in her energy as the smile and giggles faded. She took a deep breath and quietly responded “I have no idea what okay means.” She went on to say that it was just something she learned to keep conversations going, during her time in foster care.
As we continued to explore the “It’s Okay” concept she suddenly became very emotional and started crying hard. Initially I wanted to change the subject, but I remained quiet, holding the space for her. While she continued to weep I went a little deeper in my vulnerability and acknowledged that I could feel her pain and longing to move away from the automatic responses. This acknowledgment supported Makai to move into a more authentic space and she suddenly stopped crying and got really angry. She began sharing many of the things in life that she described as okay, but were not okay.
In the new awareness of her own truth, Makai’s energy shifted once more and she was suddenly standing fully in her power. From the place of power she vowed that she would begin questioning everything in life that was “okay” with a critical eye. She planned to address some of the areas of life that were not okay that she had been avoiding. I was completely blown away with what I witnessed unfold through Makai’s emotional journey. I learned that my openness to welcome emotions, truth and vulnerability, supported my youth clients in doing the same.
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