Let’s remember Carl Rogers in the world of coaching and coach supervision

Some coaching and supervision colleagues may feel quite overwhelmed by the number of techniques, methods and models there are ‘out there’ for coaches to train in and use (building on their initial qualification) acronyms, methodologies and psychometrics abound. Another game changing method is promoted.

This makes me think about what really grounds me in my coaching and supervision work, what allows me to know who I am as a coach and supervisor yet frees me up to add on to my core way of working in the most appropriate way, for me. Without a doubt, this is my experience and training for four years at the start of my career in Person Centred counselling, which, although I never ended up working as a counsellor, went on to underpin how I have worked as a consultant, executive coach and supervisor.

But I wonder why, in the world of coaching and supervision, I rarely hear the mention of the Person Centred approach and of Carl Rogers, its founder. This surprises me, particularly when I argue, and the research supports, that the relationship between the coach or supervisor and the client is the key to opening up growth for the client. Without this relationship these ‘new’ techniques, methods, models and psychometrics most likely will not be of much use or enable lasting change. I think that this is particularly important given the growth of coaching apps, coaching provision on a wide scale with an individual working with more than one coach and hurried provision of coaching with very short sessions.

Carl Rogers died in 1987, aged 85 (the day he received his letter saying that he had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize). Very (very) briefly he talks about the therapist creating a ‘reasonable climate for growth’ so that the human being can develop all their capacities in a way which serves to maintain and enhance them; for the individual to grow, mature and feel enriched and to overcome obstacles and pain.

Roger’s work details the ‘reasonable climate for growth’ that therapists (and other practitioners) can provide via the relationship they offer their clients as well as the trust they have in the client’s necessary inner resources to move towards their unique fulfilment. He identified three personal qualities on the practitioner’s part which are essential for the provision of this ‘climate’.

  • First, a genuine or congruent attitude, the state of being when the practitioner’s outward responses to the client consistently match the inner feelings and sensations they have in relation to the client. Rogers insisted that a professional role, however expertly performed does not, in itself, provide a ‘climate for growth’ but that this requires the practitioner to be real or genuine in a relationship by being constantly in touch with their feelings, thoughts and emotions. Genuiness of this kind implies a preparedness to be fully and deeply involved with another and to be without pretence.
  • Second, being non-judgemental and accepting of the client, positive and warm toward them without reservation, to be sufficiently released from our own prejudices and not to be disturbed when confronted by a person who possesses views, values, attitudes and feelings different from our own. (I would add two points here: I think that practitioners can only work at being as non-judgemental as possible and also, that being non-judgemental may be more necessary and appropriate in counselling and therapy particularly if the coach/supervisor feels very uncomfortable with the views, values and attitudes being expressed and a supervisor feels that challenge is necessary if, for example, ethical boundaries are being crossed which could impact the supervisee’s client).
  • Third, building a deep empathic understanding by true listening, relevant responses and presence.

Roger’s research over the years strongly suggested that these qualities are present in effective therapists no matter their theoretical orientation. These core conditions are just as relevant to the relationship between coach and client, supervisor and supervisee – whatever methodologies are used in addition. The research of Eric de Haan, amongst others, stresses that the relationship is the most important factor in coaching and supervision. And I argue that change cannot truly happen without the client being in a trusting relationship with the coach/supervisor where they can explore their thoughts and emotions (much more about this in my book, Coaching for Optimal Energy Ch 6 and 7).

So let’s not forget Carl Rogers. So much can be learnt from him. When we feel overwhelmed by the rapid pace of development in the coaching world let’s remember the core conditions. If you are on a journey to be as good as you can be and are demonstrating these conditions, as much as is possible and appropriate, in the work you do with your clients you are probably doing okay.

De Haan, E. (2008) Relational Coaching: Journeys towards mastering one-to-one learning. Chichester: Wiley.
Rogers, C. R. (1959) A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationship as developed in the client-centred framework. In Koch, S. (1959) Psychology: A study of science. McGray-Hill.
Rogers, C. R. (1961) On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Photo by Geoffroy Hauwen on Unsplash