The Coaching Psychology Academy is an international academy aiming at developing and teaching theory and practice in Coaching Psychology from a contemporary humanistic existential outlook.
Specialties: We offer one of very few opportunities worldwide to achieve MA and PhD. in Coaching Psychology and Existential Coaching Psychology..
I studied psychology, philosophy and psychoanthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, at the Sorbonne University (Paris V Universite Rene Descartes) and at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris, France. I worked as a clinical psychologist and supervisor at the Israel Health ministry and taught at Haifa and Tel Aviv University. I researched in clinical psychology, political psychology, psychohistory and coaching psychology. My works include “The Prometheus Molds – an introduction to an evolutionary psychology of the self” and “Beyond the empty glace- words and images from the psychological clinic and beyond”, and a book in press “The Spirit of Time”.
I selected lecturers, set up and led an academic program designated to train coaches from post graduate students in behavioral sciences. Last year I left the Tel Aviv University program and opened NECP where I trained chartered psychologists, scientist/practitioners, to teach at the NECP programs.
The Israel Association for Psychotherapy is the largest and most prestigious in the field of psychotherapy in Israel. Its members are a few hundreds of chartered psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and senior clinical social workers who practice psychotherapy.
The False Paradigm
Revisiting the Domains of Existential coaching and Psychotherapy
In this article the author reviews the rise and decline of existential psychotherapy during the 20th century to these days. The author suggests that the relevance and vitality of existential psychotherapy do not derive from existential philosophy, whose popularity has been declined nowadays, but from the holistic worldview which it promotes. According to the basic principles of existential psychotherapy- parts of which exist in most practices of psychotherapy- human existence is rooted in biology; the human being molds its mental design from the social-cultural context, consolidates its uniqueness from the latent motivations of the self, and urges incessantly to transcend the limits of his own self. The author recommends an updated revision to existential psychotherapy suggesting the examination of its implications on psychopathology, its applications to psychotherapy, and considers the possibilities concerning the scientific inquiry of existential psychotherapy.
In this article the author reviews the rise and decline of existential psychotherapy during the 20th century to these days. The main philosophical postulate in existential thinking is that the search for meaning is fundamental for worthy human life. This claim encounters difficulties in the post modernistic era of the beginning of the 21st
century. Post modernistic approaches: the post-structuralist, the narrative, the constructivist etc. positioned the narrative, the structure or the construct in the center of philosophical inquiry rather than the human condition – which was at the center of existential thought. Nevertheless, the author suggests that the relevance and vitality of existential coaching and psychotherapy seems to be increasing these days .
The proliferation of experiential forms of therapy, psychotherapy marathon workshops, life coaching, Buddhist psychology and many practices of the New Age are all based upon increasing interest in human subjectivity, the inquiry about one’s value system, and the search for meaningfulness in one’s life. The author suggests that the apparent inconsistency between the substitution of existentialism by post modernistic approaches on one hand and the growing interest in the basic premises of existentialism on the other hand derives from the fact that the human search for meaningful life and the formation of an existing and ideal value systems are not philosophical imperatives. These are intrinsic human needs which are formed in different periods of one’s lifespan in the deepest parts of the self. Throughout life the human being is compelled to form patterns of meaning in order to embody his humanity. Based upon developmental psychology, evolutionary theory, culture studies, neuroscience and large system theory, the author construes that the formation of patterns of meaning is vital and unavoidable in human life.
The false paradigm occurs when an individual uses stereotypic patterns of meaning (paradigms) which were molded through formative experiences during different periods in his lifespan. These paradigms form the automatic pilot in one’s life; they impair the possibility of new learning because they obstruct the internalization of new experiences and the formation of new paradigms. The false paradigms (which are not only cognitive but involve unconscious assumptions and emotional experiencing) are source of distress and disrupt self actualization. The author offers a mode of intervention to modify the false paradigms and to generate more adaptive paradigms (psychotherapy) or paradigms which express the unique, self actualizing and transcendental character of the person (existential life coaching).
A revised approach to existential coaching and psychotherapy integrates philosophical thinking with modern scientific research and with human experience-the core element of psychotherapy and coaching. It enables us to construe the self as a self-organizing, nonlinear complex adaptive system. Our role as therapists and coaches is not to restore the self but to enable its spontaneous self organization within an authentic creative and optimal functioning. Doing so we accomplish in the deepest sense the existential predication of Dasein – the human “being in the world”.
© All rights reserved to Dr. Arnon Levy
Existential coaching Psychology
|Existential Coaching Psychology – A Multidisciplinary Bridge Between Coaching, Psychotherapy and Modern Science. Arnon Levy Ph.D.* |
The article describes the present status of coaching and coaching psychology. It examines the unprecedented exponential expansion of coaching on one hand while simultaneously, the mixed attitudes by the public at large, and the skepticism within the academy. It is suggested that the main essence of coaching and coaching psychology is the humanistic psychology aspiration towards self-actualization together with a practical strategy to achieve it. It is argued that both, coaching and psychotherapy serve to restore impaired learning process of the individual. The learning process becomes affected when blocked by maladaptive, outdated paradigms of meaning which are no longer relevant (gremlins, success blockers, defense mechanisms) and which were relevant in the past. The maladaptive paradigms impair the assimilation of new experiences and their transformation into well- adapted paradigms. The restoration of an efficient learning process enables reparation of deficient functions (in psychotherapy) and self-actualization (in life coaching). Theorization of a revised approach to existential/humanistic coaching psychology suggests that this approach is sustained by other disciplines which are based upon scientifically valid research methodology.
Coaching is the second fast emerging occupation in the world today after communication and information technology(<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–><!–[endif]–>). Random click on “Life Coaching” in Google, yielded the result of 41900000 entries. A check I performed a few months ago indicated 17330000 entries on this term alone. Obviously, this is a rapidly expanding area.
However, regardless the fact that coaching is so popular drawing top human capital, it is perceived with ambivalent feelings and mixed judgments by the public at large, and by skepticism within the academy.
Opinion can be enthusiastic in the extreme, reflected with statements like:
Along with contrary statements of strong reservations such as:
The mixed attitude within the academy towards this new occupation derives from more intricate reasons: The academic community is perplexed before this intriguing new phenomena, which is not yet sustained by approved systematic research. . A recent review(<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–><!–[endif]–>) reveals that during the period of 1937- 1999, only 93 papers relating papers to coaching appeared in the APA PsycINFO data base.
In the period of 2000-2007, the number of papers grew to 262. A considerable growth but yet an amazingly low number compared to the abundance of papers in behavioral sciences.
” Unlocks the person’s potential to maximize his own performance, to facilitate or improve his strengths”.
Most of the various definitions could be epitomized into 2 major elements immanent in Life Coaching:
1. Enhancement and facilitation of performance,
2. Designing and triggering strategic, solution-focused process towards realization of the coachee’s personal vision, self actualization and personal growth.
By and large. practicing coaches recognize that the first statement is much easier to realize than the second. Identification and realization of the personal life vision and self actualization is a challenging objective even to experienced coaches. It is easier to be clear about the means to achieve the goal rather than about the goal itself.
As a result we can find at present many types of coaching practices of the first type such as: Adhd coaching, health coaching, leadership coaching, emotional intelligence enhancement coaching etc.
Concerning this point, one of the leading scholars interviewed by Brennan & Matthew Prior (cited before) suggested to distinguish between various practices of coaching with little “c” – and coaching with big “C”.
Let me suggest that if our goal is to develop coaching psychology as a social science discipline we should distinguish between practices of enhancement of performance, which is the heritage that we take from sport coaching and between the realization of the individual self actualization, which is the heritage of humanistic psychology.
Such a distinction is essential for constituting clear boundaries of the coaching psychology domain. Training and coaching are very effective instruments to generate change in people. This is the reason why coaching is so effective regardless of the fact that coaches (and sometimes psychotherapists) often find it difficult to precisely define what they are doing. We often know better how to do rather than to fully understand what we are doing. How to do is good enough for practice. We listen, we empathize and we help our coachees, which is good enough for practitioners. However, if we cannot accurately define what we are doing, perhaps we do well with our coachees by performing a mixture of counseling, listening, mentoring, consulting and training rather than well-defined coaching
My working hypothes is is than that while life coaching could be defined according to what is being done in practice (“coaching with little c” which sometimes results from lack of consensual body of knowledge and definite boundaries)
Coaching psychology should envision the humanistic vision of self-actualization espoused with the spirit of the 21st century. Coaching psychology concords with the zeitgeist of the 21st century: It promotes individuality and efficiency. It is purposeful, effective, solution- focused, designed to enhance individual self-actualization and self-fulfillment within limited period of time”.
Yet, the humanistic/existential vision should also be revised to be compatible with changes and conceptual evolution that occurred since the 60ies of the 20th century.
This is the background to what this paper is about:
In the opening of our discussion we shall examine some common myths about coaching:
1. “Psychotherapy lasts for years, while life coaching is short, and lasts about 3 months”.
Wrong – though it is true that the classical and common psychotherapy mode vis. psychodynamic psychotherapy can last for several years, there are many other modes of treatment in use. Life coaching is based on short term therapy mode developed by a group of prominent theoreticians/practitioners such as Sifneos, Malan, Wolberg, Davanloo and James Man during the 1960s. The forefathers of Life Coaching used concept and practice that was already available on the shelf.
2. “Coaches deal with here and now while the psychologist probes into the past”.
Wrong – the psychologist is also interested in the present; His dealing with the past is only one mode to generate change in the present, through transformation of undesired automated behavioral patterns formed in the past. In addition, the “here and now” perspective evolved within the Gestalt movement which dominated the 1960’s, adopted by the NLP approach and thereafter by the Coaching movement.
3. The solutions exist within the coachee or in “coaching words”: “the coachee possess the agenda”,
That is true; however, modern psychology sustained considerable modifications since Freud considered unveiling the “truth” as the main objective of therapy.
During the 1960’s there was a radical change in client’s consideration: from a “patient” into client and partner to the process. This tendency increased due to the current relational approaches in psychotherapy. James Bugental (<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–><!–[endif]–>), one of the leading existentialist/humanistic theoreticians epitomized the leading humanistic psychology principles which later had been involved with the foundation of Life Coaching:
Bugenthal, a leading scholar many coaches may never heard of, presented holistic outlook in which the human being is responsible for his life and to decisions he makes and that solutions to his predicaments derive from within and not by means of external knowledge.
Furthermore, the central idea of life coaching which is the realization of the coachee’s life vision, derives from the idea of self-actualization; the central idea in Maslow’s pyramid of needs. This idea prevailed in the humanistic psychology movement of the 60ies. Not only the basic assumptions of coaching are based upon psychological knowledge. Many coaching techniques, are based on adapted psychotherapy techniques, mostly upon family therapy techniques. For example, a known technique called “problem externalization” developed by White & Epston (<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–><!–[endif]–>), seems to be adapted into what is called: “the Gremlins technique” used often in life coaching.
These statements do not disvalue life coaching neither making plagiary claim. Coaching is not a scientific discipline and therefore its practitioners are not obliged to comply with scientific standards required in the academy. Furthermore, plagiary claim is invalid, since some founders of Life Coaching movement were gifted and creative people who developed and elaborated ideas used in psychotherapy and implemented them into the emerging field of coaching. Going back to the gremlins example, it is a playful, teasing humorous metaphor to the problem-laden original technique (even though White was a creative good-humored therapist his technique is often practiced in the context of problem solving rather than as a playful game which is occasionally the context of coaching).`
In addition to that, we presently live in an information blast era; thousands of psychology and psychotherapy books composed by the best theoretician/practitioners are available to the public at large in print and on the net. Intelligent people can use ideas from psychology and other disciplines (like quantum physics for ex.) to develop new fields of knowledge [though lack of basic knowledge or clinical experience may often lead to faulty inferences].
Moreover, certain trends in psychology such as transpersonal psychology and life coaching approaches are influenced by common sources of oriental thinking and new age ideologies.
The point we want to make here is that the main lacuna of life coaching is the fact that it is not an evidence based scientific discipline and it does not have definite boundries; thus, it can encompass almost anything. On one hand, not being confined by strict academic rules is quite enticing, since seemingly, the sky is the limit. But on the other hand, if everything is an option, we can develop spiritual yoga coaching, sex excelling coaching workshops, new cuisine cooking coaching courses, or coping with phobias coaching. When we google, we find it all. The new age ideologies joins forces here with post-modern trends considering all kind of beliefs, from whatever origin, as valid as scientific knowledge. This way the life coaching domain can collect superficially studied psychotherapy techniques, misconceived physical knowledge, cultural superstitions, fad subjects, commercial workshops, old age wisdom, and contemporary management models all in the same basket.
In fact, why shouldn’t we coach everyone to realize his wishes, whatever they
If we do so we shall undermine the professional progress of coaching: Life coach does not posses skills of a sex therapist, phobias therapist and teaching modern cookery is not Life Coaching.
The lack of boundaries and commitment to rules used in social sciences, like citations, references, validated objective research according to scientific standards and usage of valid methodologies are among the reasons for the exponential rise of the coaching movement, however, it can also lead to its precipitated collapse. We formerly mentioned the first signs of its decreasing valence and the skeptic attitude towards this new field within the academy.
`To clarify this point we shall refer to common distinction (mentioned in Grant 2) in philosophy of science, between standard science, proto-science and pseudo-science. By and large, our expectations of standard science are to be consistent with the consensual body of scientific knowledge based on valid reliable methodology. Standard science should be accessible for objective observation and research. It should have generalization and predictive capacities and should be open to change and self-criticism**.
Proto-Science is usually an evolving science; it offers a plausible explanation to the body of knowledge it is dealing with, open to self criticism and does not contradict the dominant scientific paradigms. However, it is not prone to objective observation and research; it lacks plausible generalization and prediction abilities and its research methodologies are yet to be reliable, credible and valid.
Pseudo-Science is a collection of ideas, beliefs, practices and methodologies presented as science. Pseudo-Science has no valid research methodology or/and cannot be subjugated to empirical examination. It lacks boundaries and fails to meet scientific methodological requirements such as references to sources, replication of experiments, publications in scientific journals and peers review. Adherents of pseudo-science often use semi-truths, unfounded technical jargon, or demagogic means to convince/prove the validity of their approach.
In a nutshell science could define as a condition in which the knowledge we possess about our world is the most accurate methodologically possible, at a given time; Proto-science is a discipline aspiring to become scientific, and pseudo science is an area pretending to be science.
Since life coaching is construed upon the basis of inconsistent eclectic body of knowledge, it appears to be an area simultaneously involving elements of proto-science and of pseudo-science.
In light of the abovementioned we may reformulate the difference between life coaching and coaching psychology. It seems that most of the various definitions could be epitomized into 2 major elements immanent in Life Coaching:
1. Enhancement and facilitation of performance,
2. Designing and triggering strategic, solution-focused process towards realization of the coachee’s personal vision, self actualization and personal growth.
Despite the deep roots of coaching in psychology, it seems that coaching psychology is not characterized in the best manner as a specific area of expertise in psychology like clinical or social psychology, or, as many scholars suggest, applied positive psychology.
The main objects of inquiry in life coaching such as: search for meaning in one’s life, study of personal and universal values systems, study of the authentic identity, and methodologies used by coaching practitioners to implement these areas, are not to be found in the mainstream of psychology excluding positive psychology.
So why not consider life coaching as a form of applied positive psychology?
Avoiding the controversy among scholars regarding the validity of positive psychology, let me suggest that the emergence of positive psychology is a very meaningful development in psychology. Positive psychology continues the gradual separation of psychology from the medical model. In light of the zeitgeist at the closure of the 20th century – characterized by the search for happiness, resilience, personal strengths, validity of value systems, and the thrive for pleasurable meaningful self-actualizing life – the emergence of positive psychology seems inevitable. The prevalence of these preoccupations at the end of the 20th century needed almost daily consideration by practicing therapists and by psychology as a contemporary discipline. Positive psychology took (maybe unconsciously) the challenge of treating these issues with scientifically based methodology. By so doing, positive psychology substantially contributes to respond to the people’s demands.
In light of the above, positive psychology may be considered as an important new specialty in psychology regardless of its implicit prescriptive agenda. Nevertheless, it seems that positive psychology, as a specialty of psychology cannot lead the revolution towards scientific coaching psychology discipline. Viewing coaching psychology as a specialty of psychology may reduce its ground-breaking invigorating impact and might detriment its creative inter-relations with other disciplines such as philosophy, management, sport, and sociology.
Let me suggest that the new discipline of coaching psychology should be multidimensional and interdisciplinary, as it deals with the highest aspirations of the human being. As such let me suggest that coaching psychology is better construed as an applied humanistic/existential psychology rather than positive psychology. Yet, the humanist/existential vision is to be revised in order to be compatible with the changes and conceptual evolution since the 60ies of the 20th century to these days.
Let me explain this point:
How could we settle the apparent contradiction between the multidisciplinary outlook of coaching psychology on one hand and its inherent relationships with psychology and specifically with humanistic psychology on the other hand ?
Since its inception, humanistic psychology was referred to as “The Third Force” and not as a specialty of psychology. Humanistic psychology challenged the scientific methodology of behaviorism borrowed form the natural sciences and the medical model adopted by the psychoanalytic movement. After the 2nd world war’s atrocities the founders of H.P. focused their interest in human values such as: freedom, personal responsibility, human potential, spirituality, and self-actualization more than a valid methodology. They endeavored to study the human subject through the study of cultures, mythologies, and meaning-formation. The humanistic psychology had a revolutionary impact and a captivating ideology and was therefore called: “the human potential movement” a movement, not a new psychological field. I believe that in a similar way, a revised perspective of humanist/existential theory is not a sub-discipline of psychology, but a ground for multidisciplinary coaching psychology theory dedicated to study the different modalities of meaning- making in the individual from neuroscience, complex system theory, evolutionary science and developmental psychology perspectives.
So how could a revised existential/humanist approach integrate with coaching psychology discipline?
The answer to this is the subject of the rest of the paper: The study of the personal and universal evolution of value systems has relevance to ethological research and culture studies, evolutionary science and developmental psychology. The study of the self as a complex non-linear self- organizing system is affiliated with the study of systems theories and neuroscience. Although these topics do not always relate to daily professional practice, a scientific discipline should also refer to basic research. Moreover, coaches can identify the implications of this approach in practice; e.g. coaches notice how the self acts as a self-organizing complex adaptive system. This could be noticed while the coachee’s behavior is often unpredictable yet it contains an adaptive trait, so when a new insight breaks forth it reorganizes itself anew. The self organizing function may be considered as resonance of the auto-organizing complex adaptive system activity of the human brain.
Could you be more specific about the possible contribution of a revised Existential Psychology coaching theory to the emerging field of Life Coaching?
In spite of differences between various coaching schools, it seems that there is a consensus regarding the following principles:
1. The coach regards the client as a responsible person committed to his/her aspirations.
2. The coach will motivate the client to obtain strategies and solutions to fulfill his vision from within.
3. The coach will motivate the client to reach self-discovery.
4. The coach will help to clarify and will act as an associate regarding objectives the client thrives to achieve.
By and large the common characteristics of most existential approaches are as
Follows (<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–><!–[endif]–>):
We see that coaching psychology and mostly life coaching are implicitly based upon humanistic/existential psychology; the existential approach extends and profounds this relationship. The revised approach satisfies the needs of the evolving coaching science in three main aspects:
p t Openess to other scientific disciplines to facilitate the large scope required for realization of the higher human aspirations in life coaching while drawing its boundaries with other disciplines.
However, existential approaches are multifaceted and often quite
Some approaches include phenomenological outlook regarding existence a phenomenon (Spinelly); while other existential approaches postulate that an individual must assume active responsibility for his life (Frenkel)
Some approaches such as the logotherapy are authoritarian while others such as Rogers’ non-directive therapy are not.
There are descriptive approaches common in the British school, versus interpretive hermeneutic approaches like Dasein analysis.
Some existential approaches, like the one used by Laing and the British school, are based on the “here and now” spontaneity of the process unlike structured techniques such as Logotherapy.
Some approaches like Laing’s, emphasize subjectivity compared to the Interpersonal approach used by the British school.
Finally there are approaches speaking of individuality (Dasein analysis) vs. universal vision (British school), psychopathology (Laing and Dasein analysis) vs. approaches with no reference to pathology (British school).
The revised existential approach is based on the following principles:
The aim of the coach in the present approach is repairing the learning capacities of the coachee blocked by maladaptive, outdated paradigms of meaning (gremlins, success blockers) which were relevant in the past but impair at present assimilation of new experiences into well- adapted paradigms promoting self-actualization. The reparation is applied by means of various psychotherapy and coaching techniques.
It is hopped that a revised humanistic/existential coaching psychology approach may offer a primary ground to the development of of a new coaching discipline
based upon valid research and implemented techniques from different disciplines. Traditional disciples such as: management and marketing, mentoring, sport and philosophy as well as new ones like: culture studies, neuroscience, complex system, chaos theory, and evolutionary theory.
The exponential rise of the captivating field of coaching psychology is the forerunner to the emergence of new knowledge created by old and newly formed disciplines. The new pioneering interdisciplinary approach towards this novel knowledge, challenges us all to find the synergy and integration that will contribute to a better understanding and living of the human mind.
*Arnon Levy Ph.D, a clinical psychologist, psycho-anthropologist, and Life coach, former chair of the Israel Association of Psychotherapy, and founder of the coaching studying program in Tel Aviv University. Founder of:
IACP – Israel Association for Coaching Psychology
& NECP-New Existential Coaching Psychology Association
All Rights Reserved to Arnon Levy Ph.D December 04, 2010.©
**Clearly not all sciences fully adhere to these conditions, periods of Khunian paradigm shifts exacerbate deviations of these requirements, however, by and large these standards are agreeable and yearned for.
1. Psychology today 17.2.10
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3. The Future of Coaching as a profession The Next 5 Years 2005-2010. ICF research report 2004. Diane Brennan, David Matthew Prior. .
4. Whitmore, Doweny, Parsloe in Palmer S. & Whybrow A. Handbook of Coaching Psychology. 2007. Routledge; East Sussex, New York.
5.. Bugental J. The Search for Authenticity, 1965 Irvington Pub.
6. Mike Cooper- Existential Therapies, 2003 Sage publications Ltd. London.
7.. Levy A. Beyond the Empty Glass (in Hebrew) 1998, Cherickover Pub. Tel Aviv
8 .Levy A. The False Paradigm: Revisiting the Domains of the Existential Psychotherapy (In Hebrew. An English version is in preparation) Sihot-Israel review of Psychotherapy. 2006/3