Out of mind

Coach-mentors know what makes clients ‘tick’ – and they don’t need psychology qualifications to prove it. An opinion piece
Eric Parsloe
Let’s be clear from the start. I believe psychology is an important subject that can contribute significantly to our understanding of coaching and mentoring. I believe that many psychologists make excellent coaches and mentors.I also understand that psychologists should be proud and enthusiastic about their profession and that academic psychologists and psychotherapists have a need to promote and publish their ideas.

My real concern, however, is that the huge volume of psychological input into the coaching and mentoring written media, conference presentations and seminar offerings has almost drowned out other contributions.

New entrants to our fledgling profession may have gained the impression that a psychological or psychotherapeutic qualification is essential. Equally worrying, new corporate buyers of external services and managers of internal programmes may believe that their policies must follow a strict psychological approach and language.

But perhaps more worrying still is the fact that corporate policy-makers might believe unscrupulous sales pitches that say it is “really dangerous” to use unqualified psychologists or psychotherapists.

While coaching and mentoring can have a major impact on people’s lives and thus require an understanding of people’s behaviour and learning habits, they are, in essence, simple and practical activities.

They are very similar conversational processes that aim to help and support individuals to take control and responsibility for managing their own learning and development. In that sense they are age-old concepts with a new meaning, application and relevance.

Each coach-mentoring relationship is unique. When we think of individual differences we typically refer to personality traits, values, beliefs, interests, intelligence, ability, personal motivation, learning styles, self-confidence, race, religion and sex, to name a few.

The best coach-mentoring interventions should be designed to identify and accommodate these differences and needs. As such, it is important that coach-mentors understand more clearly how and why people behave as they do.

This brings us into the realms of sociology, philosophy, genetics, neurology, biology and management theory, as well as psychology and psychotherapy.

In my view it is not necessary to be a fully qualified psychologist or psychotherapist to be an effective coach-mentor but it is important to have a reasonable appreciation of the more widely agreed aspects of these other disciplines.

Coaching and mentoring is truly multidisciplinary and international, a view supported by the Dublin Declaration issued recently by coaches and organisations from many different countries, which I urge people to read (see News analysis).

Another important read is US coach Vikki G Brock’s PhD dissertation, “Grounded theory of the roots and foundation of coaching” (www.repository.thefoundationofcoaching.org/research).

Anyone with an open mind on the subject might also reflect on coaching in South America, which is based almost entirely on ontology – the study of being and an enquiry into the nature of human existence. It encompasses major existential issues of meaning, fulfilment, happiness and worthiness in our lives.

A final point for reflection: surely the philosophical and ethical issues of confidentiality, integrity, authenticity, equality and honesty are fundamental to all coaching and mentoring sessions, whereas psychological issues arise only occasionally, which puts the psychologist’s claim of territorial and theoretical supremacy into a more balanced perspective?

Eric Parsloe is chair of the OCM Group.

Volume 4, Issue 1

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