Do you recognise Parallel Processes in  your Coaching sessions?

Parallel processes in your Coaching sessions are common but do you know what they are and how to recognise them?

Let’s start with a definition of parallel processing.

When a parallel process occurs a dynamic in one part of the system can be replayed in another part.

In Coaching the client may describe a problem they have with a colleague or a family member such as talking in circles for example. The client then begins doing the same behaviour with the Coach without realising it. The Coach may end up feeling the same feelings the client had described experiencing with their colleague or family member.

This is often out of awareness of the Coach and the client. As a Coach if you can learn to recognise when a parallel process presents you can begin to utilise it to help your client and as part of your own development.

The first way you can utilise it is to deepen your understanding of your client’s experience. Notice your experience, it may give you clues about what is being triggered for you client.

With this additional empathy you can ask targeted questions to help your client become self-aware. You can then help the client explore what new information they are gaining about the dynamic presented in coaching.

As a self-aware Coach you will also be role modelling how to handle the “problematic behaviour”. This is deliberate parallel processing.  In the example above of talking around in circles you can demonstrate how to focus the client back on the original topic. You might also demonstrate other approaches such as actively listening until the client runs out of steam. You could also reflect back to the client the behaviour you are noticing and bring it into their awareness as a tool for managing the process.

If you are a Supervisor you will also see many examples of parallel processing from the Coaches you Supervise.

 In Supervision the most common form of this is where the Coach unconsciously replays their client’s issue. This may cause the Coach to act toward their supervisor in the same fashion their client acted towards them. This tends to be out of awareness. The skilful Supervisor can bring the parallel process into awareness for the Coach in a way that can promote greater understanding or even transformation.

I find it useful to encourage my Coaching Students to notice parallel processing while in observer role in our Coaching Circles. It is often easier to spot this kind of thing in others. I do a similar thing when I train Supervisors.

If this topic is new to you do contact me with your questions.

Melody Cheal MSc MAPP
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