As an Employee & Family Assistance Program Life Coach and Career Counsellor, I have noticed the following assumptions about career coaching and career counselling.
- Since the area of support is under “career coaching,” other areas of life are not to be part of the conversation.
- That strong emotions are not something that should come up in career coaching sessions, and if they do, the client is either not accessing the appropriate service for their needs.
Both are myths. These false assumptions can be harmful for the potential and/or current client, the professional and the profession itself.
For example, a consequence of these myths might be that if strong emotions come up for the client, they may be followed by an apology, shame or deflection or stifling of the emotion, thus hindering the coaching and counselling process.
I strongly believe that by bringing attention to the fact that strong emotions come up in career coaching sessions, understanding the vital role they play in the client-coach relationship and encouraging clients to share their emotions, we can then learn to use and manage emotions effectively – both the client’s and our own. This enables career professionals to provide the best possible support and help facilitate a client’s desired outcome
In Part 1 of this two-part article series, I will discuss the role and place of emotions in career coaching, as well as dispel some common myths and misunderstandings that might get in the way of helping your client. Part 2 will explore how to work with strong emotions and support your client while also taking care of your own emotional well-being.
Although the term strong emotions can be subjective, for the purposes of this article, I am referring to any emotion, positive or negative, expressed outwardly. Uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions (also referred to as “negative” by some) are often harder to work with and experience, but for some, positive (pleasant) emotions can also be challenging. Being able to work with strong emotions is imperative to your client’s overall outcome and success.
Understanding the role and importance of emotion in your coaching sessions
Emotions are the driving force for action (or inaction), and they are a source of data for both you and your client.
If used effectively, the driving force emotions create can help your client reach their goals by:
- Facilitating strong rapport between you and your client
- Getting more clarity into a situation
- Working through tough processes such as grieving, letting go, moving forward
- Processing painful and challenging events
- Sharing and appreciating successes and accomplishments
- Managing stress and promoting overall well-being
By working with the emotion, you and your client will better understand the motivation behind the client’s actions/inactions and can use this awareness to help your client go from where they are to where they want to be.
Why might a client come to career coaching when there are other issues going on?
Some clients may be receiving additional support for other areas in their lives but many are not. You might be the first person they reach out to, either by external or self-referral.
There are several explanations behind this.
- For many, career coaching is a ‘safer” place to start. There is often less negative stigma and shame associated with career coaching (the same goes for coaching versus counselling).
- The client may believe their root cause of distress is their career or job when it might not be.
- They may not know where to start and have been referred to you, and/or not do not have access to or know about other resources.
- Their primary issue may be related to career; however, they may also share other areas of their life that are affecting them in their sessions.
- They may not be ready to address the other areas in their life, finding it emotionally less painful to focus on their work.
While we may be more familiar with client misconceptions about accessing career services, as career professionals, we can also be susceptible to myths about the role of emotions in our work.
Here are 8 common myths to watch out for:
1. There are no emotions, or if there are, they are “light” and positive: Not every case elicits strong, negative emotions, but a lot do. It is best to be prepared and trained to handle these situations.
2. The emotion expressed by the client is directly related to what the client is feeling at the time or to the situation the client is describing: An emotion is an outward expression and reaction to a thought or experience and does not always represent the true feelings of the client. That is why laughing is not necessarily a reaction to something funny; it could reflect embarrassment or discomfort. Avoid making assumptions and always ask the client what is going on for them when they are expressing a strong emotion.
3. The client is fully aware of what is behind their emotions: Maybe not. It’s your job to help them explore things further and evoke awareness and insight if that is the direction they would like to go.
4. Expression of the emotion is a reaction that needs to be quickly silenced: By immediately offering a Kleenex to someone when crying, we might be trying to help them get past it. However, if an emotion is being expressed, there is something more going on. This may be a powerful resource toward your client’s success. In coaching we say, “Go after the emotion.” Give it space. Lean into it. Explore it.
5. It’s not OK to share an emotion with a client: Yes, it is OK to share your emotions with your client. However, be careful with this as not all emotion expressed by the client means that is what the client is experiencing. You might therefore mistakenly join in on a laugh when things are not funny. Or express joy because you think it is a good scenario, but it may not be for your client. Expressing an emotion and sharing this with a client can actually enhance the relationship and process by nurturing safety, trust, rapport and empathy with your client. You just don’t want to make the experience about you or/and your emotions. (i.e. crying with a client is not encouraged and may not be appropriate)
A reminder too that experiencing and expressing an emotion are two different things. Use your discretion.
6. There is only one emotion going on at a time: While clients may present one strong emotional outwardly, usually there is a lot more going on. You can help your client identify their emotions. Brené Brown’s excellent book Atlas of the Heart identifies 87 emotions, which can be a resource to help grow knowledge around emotions and related vocabulary.
7. Career coaches do not get affected in or out of sessions: We hear a lot; we hold space and carry a lot. Make sure you get support and help for yourself when/if needed.
8. If strong emotions come up, refer to someone else immediately: It is part of your job to support the client. However, if the expressed emotions are an issue for you (i.e. is a trigger, don’t feel safe, don’t feel qualified), then you might not be able to support the client, nor would it be ethical or professional to do so. In that case, you could consult and refer.
Now that you hopefully have a greater understanding of the role and importance and place of emotions within career coaching, I invite you to join me in Part 2 of this series where I explore ways to work with strong emotions expressed by your clients in session and how to work through strong emotions that come up for you.