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Soft Boundaries. Creating Coaching Contracts, Part 3

Preventing Soft Boundaries by Contracting your Professional Boundaries and Responsibilities

Soft boundaries are one of the most common issues my students bring to Supervision. So what are soft boundaries? Soft boundaries can either be a boundary that has not been put in place or where you, the Coach, allow the client to ignore a boundary.

There are two types of boundaries to consider, boundaries within the coaching sessions and boundaries between sessions. They both create challenges and can undermine your reputation and business. Some soft boundaries can also be harmful to the client.

Let’s start with the potential soft boundaries within the coaching session beginning with the scope of coaching. As a Coach, you need to have clarity about what is within your scope and this is based on two things: your experience and training as a coach and your choice.

The most common issue (with regard to experience and training as a coach), arises when issues are presented to you by the client that are of a therapeutic nature. Now we could get into a discussion about where the line between therapy and coaching exists but that is a whole other can of worms (I may well write about that another day). This definition is less important than your training. Do you have the training and experience to work with deeper therapy issues? Do you have a Supervisor you can turn to for feedback, support and guidance?

Too many new Coaches fall into the trap where their desire to help their client drives them to take on something they are not equipped to deal with. This is potentially harmful for the client and you may do more harm than good.

Here is something for you to reflect on, write down the level of issues you feel you have the knowledge and training to effectively coach your client about. Give yourself an extra tick if you already have some experience in any of these areas.

Now create a list of topics that you feel would be beyond your scope. These are topics that right now you need to have a boundary about. You might consider creating a list of people you can refer clients to. This could be individuals or professional directories. If you refer to individuals I have a tip for you.

This reflection could be a great topic to discuss with your Supervisor.

Tip: Always offer the client at least three options, this creates true choice. Recommend the client speaks with each of people offered as an option and so the client can make sure they are a good fit. Avoid specifically recommending someone because if it does not go well the client may blame you. You cannot be responsible for how another coach or a therapist works. Unless you have been a client of the person you are referring to you don’t really know how they work anyway. So keep it Professional, offer the options and then advise the client have a chemistry call with each.

Let’s back the truck up a moment. Why do so many Coaches feel pressured to take on clients with issues beyond their scope?

There are three main reasons:

  1. As a Coach you care about people and you really want to help.
  2. The Client suddenly introduces a deeper topic several sessions into a coaching relationship.
  3. Income is an issue.

Let’s take each one in turn. The fact that you care about your clients is important and has a value. Your relationship with your client is incredibly healing and supportive. Carl Rogers talked about the relationship between counsellor and client being the biggest factor in helping clients. This is also true for Coaches.

Where it becomes a problem is the point where you start to take on responsibility for the client’s issues and outcomes. The chances are that some form of transference and countertransference is emerging. You may have joined a “drama triangle” (term from Transactional Analysis). Speaking to your Supervisor is the most appropriate way of untangling yourself. Regular Supervision will help deepen your self-awareness so you can learn to recognise the signs and step back quicker.

NB: The drama triangle is one of the models covered in my Transactional Analysis for Coaches CPD workshop.

When you already have an established coaching relationship and the client introduces a deeper issue you can feel like you are obligated to continue. This is not the case and may not be in your client’s best interests. When a deeper issue is offered it is important that you remind the client that it is outside your scope. You can then use the session to help the client identify where they can get the appropriate support. If the topic feels like it is on the edge of your scope you could contract with the client that you will consult your Supervisor. Depending on your experience level you may be able to expand your scope with support.

Finally, you do need to earn an income (true for most of us). That is okay and understandable. However, if you take on something beyond your scope you may end up damaging your business. Paradoxically when you are clear about boundaries this enhances your reputation in a positive way. Your client may even be more likely to recommend you.

Now, do you remember I also mentioned choice? As a Coach you can choose your scope of practice too. You may have extensive training and experience but not want to work with specific types of issue or client. This is okay, you are allowed to choose your scope of practice. This may be your niche for instance. Many of my students have a niche and a specific client type. Some only work with their preferred niche client and this is the focus of their marketing. Others may choose to take on something outside their niche from time to time but do not advertise the fact. This is choice. What is your choice of scope?

There are other boundary issues that can crop up within the session. Make a list and if you would like to discuss them do join my group on Facebook and pose your questions.

Next time I will address some of the boundary issues that are common between sessions. Do contact me direct if you have questions or comments (or join the Facebook group).

Melody Cheal MSc MAPP
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