The real question clients want to know

“If a man carries his own lantern, he need not fear darkness.” — Hasidic saying

I am taking an interpersonal dynamics course at the Stanford Business School. “Touchy Feely” for those familiar with the curriculum. My participation in the class is one step in a larger journey to facilitate the same course for future graduate students.

In preparation for each week’s session, I receive assigned readings that instill the concepts taught in the course. This week, On Becoming a Person published by Carl R. Rogers made the list of reading materials. Rogers was a prominent psychotherapist and his paper, published in the mid 90s, summarizes some of his experience with clients.

When I sit down with the readings each week, I hold two purposes in mind. The first is to discover them from the lens of a graduate student. The second is to extract nuggets I can bring into my work with coaching clients today.

When I hold the first purpose, I imagine Stanford students trying to place themselves in the evolution of clients that Carl outlines. Asking the question, where am I on the continuum of becoming that Carl outlines. That is what I did. I looked back at my own years of personal work, through therapy and coaching, trying to place myself in each of Carl’s outlined phases. We want to know where we stand in others’ mental models.

For context, I want to provide you with the journey that Carl outlines in his paper.

Psychotherapy clients move:

  1. Away from facades — from who they are NOT
  2. Away from oughts — from the plethora of shoulds sitting in our minds
  3. Away from meeting expectations — space from the expectations our cultures implant in us
  4. Away from pleasing others — from making decisions to manage others experiences
  5. Toward self-direction — stepping into autonomy and active choice
  6. Toward being process — releases our rigidity of wanting tidy conclusions
  7. Toward being complexity — a state of awe and wonder about our own paradoxes
  8. Toward openness to experience — witnessing our experience with less judgment
  9. Toward acceptance of others — acceptance of ourselves makes it is easier to accept others
  10. Toward trust of self — entering into a state where we trust ourselves

When I hold the second purpose, I find myself in fear. I evaluate myself for how easily (or impossibly) I am able to answer the most common question I field from prospective clients.

“How does coaching usually work for people?”

I resist telling clients what the coaching process looks like for most people. As soon as I define “what is typical,” I give the relationship between a coach and client an upper limit. In doing so, I create an invitation to hold back, stay safe, follow the course of the past. And yet, when I dance around that question, I sense a disappointment coming from prospective clients.

I can choose to reframe the question.

Instead of “what is typical,” I can answer a different question.

“What is possible?”
“What can I expect?”

More important and what clients are really asking is “will I walk away from this experience trusting myself?” This is where I meet Carl’s model. Who wouldn’t want to be at #10 more often? This is carrying our own lantern, removing the fear of darkness.

The short answer is yes.

In my experience, clients develop a deeper capacity to trust themselves. It not about creating trust, but rather a strengthening that trust they innately have. Trust with oneself is not something you gain, it already exists. Watch any kid who has just learned to walk for the first time and they are full of trust for themselves, certain that they can go anywhere. That trust doesn’t disappear. It is buried by experience.

Coaching unlocks that view of your own potential. A coaching container acknowledges the truth of Roger’s entire list. And a good coach will keep a client pointed towards the 10th item. We remind clients that they are capable of carrying their own lantern. Power comes when we step into the accountability gained from holding our own lantern.

This week, consider asking yourself, “where do I want to trust myself more.” This is the path towards knowing where to grow.