Ana Paula Nacif explains how an evidence-based group coaching model can support coachees in achieving higher levels of wellbeing
Wellbeing has become high priority for individuals, organisations and communities.
The seismic shift in our day-to-day lives, brought about by the pandemic, has put a spotlight on how we navigate a world in constant flux, while looking after ourselves and those around us.
Research has shown links between wellbeing and physical health (Boehm & Kubzansky, 2012), mental health (Ryff, 2014), and productivity (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon & Schkade, 2005), as well as a positive impact on communities (Isen & Levin, 1972). Coaching can support clients’ wellbeing, and group coaching especially, may offer an option that is scalable, cost-effective and can reach larger numbers, while strengthening the fabric of communities, organisations and society.
As there is limited research available in both group coaching and coaching for wellbeing, a multi-methods study was designed to explore and assess wellbeing theories and empirical data with a view to develop and test an evidence-based coaching model that can be deployed by coaches to foster clients’ wellbeing.
Theory in practice
The BeWell Group Coaching for Wellbeing Model is based primarily on the psychological wellbeing model, with insights from positive psychology theories and practice, and principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It uses approaches from CBT to support clients in raising awareness of unhelpful thinking patterns and in adopting more helpful explanatory styles (Palmer & Gyllensten, 2008).
The psychological wellbeing model (Ryff & Singer, 2008) has six dimensions: self-acceptance, purpose in life, environmental mastery, positive relationships, personal growth and autonomy. These six constructs are considered to be the foundation for wellbeing, emotional and physical health. This approach draws on various philosophical and psychological theoretical underpinnings, including developmental, clinical, existential and humanist psychology.
Deeply personal vision of wellbeing
The BeWell model has three parts:
- Be, 2. Relate and 3. Act
The first part (Be) helps clients achieve clarity around their values, purpose and meaning. This work is developed mainly through exploring ‘meaning-seeking’ (Wong, 2014) and ‘purpose and values’. Research suggests that increased meaning is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction (Steger, 2018) and
self-esteem (Ryff, 1989), lower rates of anxiety and depression (Steger et al., 2006) and better physical health (Steger et al., 2009).
The purpose in life dimension also draws heavily on existential ideas, which encourages people to live authentically and take responsibility in sense of “being the incontestable author” of their lives (Sartre, 1992). Purpose in life and personal growth are intrinsically linked. Inviting clients to delve into how actively engaged they are with these themes in their lives enables them to connect with a vision of wellbeing deeply personal to them.
The second part (Relate) includes ‘sense of belonging’ and ‘feeling connected’. Both are concerned with the psychological wellbeing dimension of positive relationships, which highlights the “interpersonal realm as a central feature of a positive, well-lived life” (Ryff & Singer, 2008). In group coaching, the group becomes both the crucible and the repository of developing relationships between group members, as well as relationships between each member and the collective group.
Act is the third part of the model, and it includes wellbeing goals/outcomes and accomplishment. These two aspects can be connected, as the latter can result from being able to articulate the former. The model focuses on self-concordant goals, aligned with people’s interest and values. Clients who set self-concordant goals are more likely to achieve them (Linley et al., 2010) and experience increased wellbeing (Burke & Linley, 2007). In addition, when goals, however small, are achieved, clients experience a sense of accomplishment and positive emotions, which can positively impact their wellbeing.
Given the fluid nature of coaching, it’s not possible to prescribe what might be covered in each coaching session. However, during the research, the model was delivered over four phases across six sessions lasting two and half hours each. Phases 1 and 2 focus on the Be aspect of the model, while phases 3 and 4 are linked to the Act, complemented by individually chosen actions and activities which are encouraged throughout the programme. Relate permeates the whole programme and is reflected in the group work and in all interactions the clients have in the coaching process.
It’s important to emphasise that this separation of phases and the three parts of the model is for didactic purposes, to fully explain the different elements. The phases overlap and the programme elements are interlinked.
The programme embodies the multifaceted and complex nature of wellbeing delivered within the spirit of coaching, which is a dynamic process driven by the clients’ agenda.
The model was tested empirically, and coachees’ wellbeing improved after the group coaching intervention. The study’s data analysis shows that the programme supported coachees in various areas associated with wellbeing.
Among pivotal findings is the group as catalyst for change, both as a conduit and as a recipient of individual and collective influences. In addition, the model fostered various wellbeing factors, such as meaning, positive emotions, locus of control, and new perspectives. It also supported individuals in increasing their self-awareness, and provided an encouraging environment for action and change, with both individual and collective accountabilities.
By shining a spotlight on group coaching, this research shows the value of working in this way, including the opportunity to make coaching for wellbeing more inclusive, accessible and impactful.
About the author
- Ana Paula Nacif completed a professional doctorate in coaching and mentoring at Oxford Brookes Business School. She is a lecturer at the University of East London
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