Ep #10 Why Is There A Growing Need For Trauma-Informed Life Coaching?

by | Jan 4, 2024 | Coaching, SCA Podcast

SCAP 10 | Trauma Informed Life Coaching

In the realm of life coaching, a profound shift is underway, one that beckons us to the core of human experience—trauma. As we navigate through the complexities of the human psyche in our coaching practices, the recognition of trauma’s pervasive influence has become unavoidable. My journey, alongside my colleague Ani Anderson, has led us to confront and embrace this reality, reshaping our approach towards a more compassionate and trauma-informed methodology. The growing necessity for this transformation is not just a professional evolution but a deeply personal one as well.

Reflecting on our experiences and insights, it’s clear that trauma-informed life coaching is not merely an optional skill set but an essential one. The landscapes of our lives, both personal and professional, have been indelibly marked by trauma—its shadows and its lessons. This evolution in coaching practices is not just about adapting to a trend but responding to a critical need—a call to understand, heal, and empower in a way that acknowledges the full spectrum of human experience.

Understanding Trauma’s Prevalence in Life Coaching

The Misconception About Trauma in Coaching

One of the most enlightening aspects of our journey has been confronting the misconception that life coaching operates in a realm separate from trauma. The truth is, that trauma’s tentacles reach far beyond the confines of its traditionally understood domains. As coaches, we’re not just dealing with goals and aspirations; we’re engaging with the whole human being. This includes the intricacies of their past experiences, many of which are steeped in trauma. The idea that one can coach effectively without addressing or recognizing these aspects is a misunderstanding we’ve passionately worked to clarify.

SCAP 10 | Trauma Informed Life Coaching

COVID-19 and Its Impact on Trauma Prevalence

The advent of COVID-19 has served as a stark magnifier of trauma’s prevalence. Pre-pandemic research suggested that 90% of people have experienced at least one event that could be categorized as traumatically stressful. The pandemic, with its widespread implications on mental, emotional, and physical health, has likely increased this percentage. This era has underscored the universality of trauma, making it abundantly clear that life coaching, to be effective and ethical, must evolve to address the trauma-informed needs of our clients. No coach can escape working with trauma- we all do. 

The Anatomy of Trauma in Our Lives

Trauma Beyond the Big Events

Trauma, as we’ve come to understand, isn’t just about the “big” events. It’s not solely the domain of catastrophic occurrences but can be found in the nuanced and seemingly mundane aspects of daily life. Our work has illuminated how trauma can manifest in behaviors and attitudes often overlooked or misinterpreted. Procrastination, lack of motivation, negative thought patterns—these are but a few of the ways trauma subtly infiltrates our lives. Drawing on the analogy of a balloon, if trauma were the air, the manifestations are the slow, often unnoticed leaks that affect our being in the present.

SCAP 10 | Trauma Informed Life Coaching

The Nervous System’s Perspective on Trauma

Our exploration into trauma has led us to a pivotal understanding: the nervous system’s perspective. Trauma, from this viewpoint, isn’t about the objective severity of an event but about its physiological and psychological impact. If an experience, no matter how seemingly insignificant, affects one’s ability to express themselves and live freely and fully in the present, it’s likely traumatic. This perspective shifts the focus from the content of the trauma to its effects, allowing us to work with clients in a way that addresses their present state, rather than delving into past events directly.

In our discussions and practice, we’ve emphasized the importance of understanding the body’s stress responses to various threats—be they physical, emotional, or psychological. This understanding forms the bedrock of trauma-informed coaching, enabling us to navigate the complexities of trauma with compassion, empathy, and effectiveness.

Why Trauma-Informed Coaching Is Non-Negotiable

The Ethical Imperative of “Do No Harm”

In our conversations, Ani and I often circle back to the core principle of coaching and healing professions: “Do no harm.” This isn’t just a medical oath; it’s a foundational ethic that should guide every coach. Recognizing the prevalence of trauma, as we discussed, underscores our responsibility to approach coaching with sensitivity and awareness. 

The idea here isn’t to scare coaches away from working with clients who have experienced trauma but to prepare them to handle such situations with care, avoiding client re-traumatization. It’s about knowing that the person in front of you, more likely than not, carries wounds unseen but profoundly impactful on their lives. As coaches, our first step is to ensure our practices, words, and actions do not inadvertently deepen those wounds.

Bridging the Gap Between Coaching and Trauma Therapy

It’s crucial to clarify the distinction between trauma-informed coaching and trauma therapy. As coaches, our focus is on the present and future, helping clients set and achieve goals. However, acknowledging the role of past trauma is essential for understanding their current challenges. 

We’re not diving into the trauma content itself—that’s the realm of therapy. Instead, we’re acknowledging how past experiences might affect present behavior and working within our scope to support clients in navigating their lives more effectively. This approach allows us to work on the periphery of trauma, offering support for stabilization and growth without stepping into therapeutic intervention.

The Journey Towards Becoming a Trauma-Informed Coach

From Awareness to Mastery

My journey towards becoming a trauma-informed coach wasn’t overnight. It was a process of unfolding awareness, deepening understanding, and constantly learning. Early in my career, I realized that despite my best efforts, some clients seemed stuck, unable to move past certain blocks. It wasn’t until I delved into the world of trauma and its impacts on the nervous system that the pieces began to fall into place.

This journey is ongoing. Mastery, in this context, isn’t a final destination but a commitment to continual learning and adaptation. It’s about embracing the complexity of human experience and refining our skills to meet clients where they are, with empathy and effectiveness.

The Importance of Self-Work for Coaches

Self-work is not optional; it’s a critical component of being an effective trauma-informed coach. In our training and practice, Ani and I emphasize the necessity of addressing our traumas. It’s akin to the advice given on airplanes: “Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.”

This principle applies directly to coaching. To be a clear and compassionate presence for our clients, we must first navigate our own healing journeys. This self-work ensures we’re not projecting our unresolved issues onto our clients or getting triggered by their stories. It’s about becoming a mirror, not a projective screen, for their experiences.

Implementing Trauma-Sensitive Practices in Coaching

Techniques for Nervous System Regulation

One of the key strategies we employ in trauma-informed coaching is teaching clients techniques for nervous system regulation. This can include self-massage, movement, breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, and somatic experiencing techniques. These tools are invaluable for clients to manage stress, anxiety, and emotional dysregulation—common symptoms of unresolved trauma.

For example, a simple but powerful series of techniques is to press on specific acupressure points followed by easy body movements and focused breathing. By guiding a client through this series before taking slow, deep breaths, we can help them more sustainably shift from a state of sympathetic arousal (fight or flight) to centered awareness.. This shift is crucial for opening the door to deeper coaching conversations and goal setting.

Creating a Safe Coaching Environment

Creating a safe coaching environment is paramount. Safety, in this context, is not just physical but emotional and psychological. It’s about building trust, ensuring confidentiality, and making the coaching space (whether physical or virtual) a place where clients feel seen, heard, and respected.

This involves setting clear boundaries, using language that is inclusive and non-triggering, and being attuned to the client’s comfort levels. It’s also about being adaptable, recognizing when a particular approach may not be working for a client, and being willing to adjust our methods accordingly.

This approach is not just an addition to our toolkit; it’s a fundamental shift in how we understand and support the journey of healing and growth for our clients.

The Transformative Power of Trauma-Informed Coaching

Case Studies and Success Stories

Throughout our careers, Ani and I have witnessed the profound impact that trauma-informed coaching can have on individuals

For example, consider the story of “Alex” (a hypothetical client based on common experiences). Alex came to us feeling stuck in a cycle of procrastination and self-doubt, a common manifestation of unresolved trauma. By applying trauma-informed techniques, focusing on nervous system regulation, and creating a safe coaching environment, Alex gradually began to unravel the underlying trauma impacts. This process allowed Alex to move forward, setting and achieving goals that once seemed unattainable. It’s success stories like these that underscore the efficacy of trauma-informed practices in coaching.

Looking Forward: The Future of Life Coaching

Looking ahead, I envision a future where trauma-informed practices are the standard, not the exception, in coaching. This vision entails a global coaching community equipped with the skills and knowledge to support clients’ healing and growth comprehensively. 

The integration of trauma-informed practices will enable coaches to work more effectively with a broader range of clients, recognizing and addressing the underlying issues that impede progress. Moreover, this shift promises to elevate the coaching profession, aligning it more closely with holistic wellness and mental health advocacy.

The key to unlocking and reaching any goal your client wants is being able to help them balance, stabilize, and express the beauty of their nervous system out there in the world. Share on X

Conclusion

Reflecting on our discussion about the growing need for trauma-informed life coaching, a few key points stand out:

  • The prevalence of trauma is far more widespread than many realize, affecting the vast majority of individuals we work with as coaches.
  • Adopting trauma-informed practices is not merely an ethical imperative but a necessity for effective coaching.
  • The journey towards becoming a trauma-informed coach is one of continuous learning, growth, and self-reflection.

From my journey, I’ve learned that embracing trauma-informed coaching is not just about enhancing our toolkit; it’s about fundamentally transforming how we understand and engage with our clients. It’s a commitment to healing, growth, and, ultimately, to the profound belief in the human capacity for change.

As we move forward, I encourage my fellow coaches to embark on or continue their journey towards becoming trauma-informed. The path may be challenging, but the impact—on both our clients and ourselves—is immeasurable. Together, let’s strive to create a coaching world that acknowledges, respects, and skillfully supports trauma healing.

Join us in this vital work. Your journey towards becoming a trauma-informed coach not only has the power to transform your practice but also to change lives.

The above blog is based on the Somatic Coaching Academy podcast

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