“Wait a minute!” The participant jumped in as a lightbulb clicked on in their head. “So what you’re saying is I don’t have to talk about trauma during a trauma-informed coaching session?” Other class participants nodded in recognition. “You’re saying trauma-informed coaching isn’t necessarily about trauma?”
This workshop participant’s lightbulb moment illuminated a core principle I suddenly realized I wasn’t making clear. I’d written about how trauma-informed coaching is better coaching for everyone, and I’d made this explicit in my teaching. But somehow, not everyone was making the connection that “everyone” includes “those without trauma”, and “those who don’t realize they’re traumatized”, and even “those who don’t want to talk about trauma”.
“Trauma-informed coaching is better coaching for everyone” means everyone. “Everyone” includes my clients who are middle managers in tech trying to create high-performing teams, as well as young professionals looking for a better job. “Everyone” includes entrepreneurs seeking more clarity about their business goals, and global executives attempting to lead change in their industry.
Trauma-informed coaching is better coaching partly because trauma is widespread and common – even (and especially) in corporate c-suites. All coaching clients bring some degree of trauma to coaching because life is traumatizing – especially during global pandemics, political instability, economic uncertainty, and inhumane work expectations.
Trauma-informed coaching is better coaching also because it roots more deeply into the transparency, equity, respect, co-regulation, and profound awareness that create the safety necessary for true change and transformation of any kind.
In that spirit of transparency, let’s clearly differentiate between “trauma coaching” and “trauma-informed coaching”.
“Trauma coaching”, also known as “trauma recovery coaching”, is coaching designed and provided specifically to facilitate growth or healing in survivors of acute trauma. Trauma and/or chronic stress are the focus of the coaching engagement, and individual sessions. The IAOTRC, for instance, is an organization that provides training in trauma recovery coaching.
I think of “trauma-informed coaching” as the following:
- High-quality coaching that brings (a) an additional lens to clients’ emotions and behaviors, (b) a deeper focus on safety, equity, and choice, and (c) a coach commitment to self-regulation.
- Coaching provided in alignment with the CDC/SAMHSA “Six Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach”.
- NOTE: the sixth principle is cultural, historical, and gender issues. A coach, or trauma-informed coach training, is not trauma-informed if they lack depth or fluency in macro-systemic dynamics. These dynamics include oppression, historical and intergenerational trauma, and the ways multiple sources of both strength and stress outside individuals’ control impact those individuals.
- Trauma and chronic stress may – or may not – be the focus of the coaching engagement, or any one session.
- Growth and healing around trauma or chronic stress may occur as a byproduct or sidebar of the coaching engagement.
By these definitions, not all trauma-informed coaching is “trauma coaching”. However, it’s also true that not all trauma coaching is trauma-informed! This sounds contradictory, and it is – all trauma coaching should be trauma-informed. However, I and some of my colleagues have experienced “trauma coaches” who do not know how to effectively self-regulate; who think that systemic oppression is “political” and irrelevant to trauma or coaching; or who engage in behaviors that erode safety, transparency, or client agency.
Trauma-informed coaching is still a relatively new concept, and exists in the borderlands of the professional coaching world. My thinking on the topic will evolve as I continue to walk my journey as a somatic practitioner and trauma survivor. However, there are nine essential qualities of a trauma-informed coach that I believe encompass the high ethics, personal integrity, and intellectual rigor necessary to do this critical work.
Becoming a trauma-informed coach requires training beyond professional coach training programs, and a commitment to personal healing and self-regulation. However, it’s worth it. Being trauma-informed is not only important to coaching all clients effectively, it will become necessary as our clients become more traumatized by the civilization we’ve created.
As archetypal Healers and Counselors, coaches occupy a vital role in society once met by extended families and small tribal communities. It’s time to rise to the challenge.
P.S. Want to learn how to be a trauma-informed coach? Please join one of my upcoming workshops!
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