Home Concepts Best Practices What Is Coaching? What Isn’t Coaching? Where are the Boundaries?

What Is Coaching? What Isn’t Coaching? Where are the Boundaries?

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As a coach, licensed clinical social worker, and researcher, I have been curious about the definition of and boundaries around coaching since I first started learning about coaching over 10 years ago. There are a number of definitions of coaching that have been circulated, without any clear consensus that any of the definitions is superior to the others. But if we can’t agree on what coaches do, it seemed important to find a way to describe coaching so that we and future researchers would, at least, have a common language when talking about coaching.

So, in 2009, Tatiana Bachkirova, a professor and researcher at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, and I submitted a research proposal to the Institute of Coaching at Harvard University and were awarded a grant to develop an instrument that could be used to describe what happens in a coaching session – the Coaching Process Q-set.

Together with a student at Oxford Brookes, Adrian Myers, we developed an initial set of items to describe what might happen in a coaching session, keeping in mind the coach, client, and coach-client dyad. We were inspired by a series of research studies from the psychology process research literature. Enrico Jones had developed a set of 100 items to describe psychotherapy sessions and went on, with colleagues, to use these items:
• to describe differences between psychotherapy approaches (descriptions of prototypes for various forms of therapy)
• to explore differences between how psychotherapists said they practiced (e.g., expert cognitive-behavioral therapists vs. psychodynamic therapists) and the actual sessions of these therapists
• to evaluate which items and approaches seemed to lead to better outcomes
Coaching is a relatively new field and the psychological process literature had a much longer history than the coaching process literature and we hoped to provide future coaching researchers with a tool that could describe coaching at a more granular level than previous approaches we had found.

We convened a group of expert coaches in the UK to explore and revise our initial list of items, followed by groups in the US and Canada. Each time, we incorporated the feedback we received from the group. Following this, we posted the list of items on the internet and gathered feedback from 207 visitors from 26 countries about these items. At this point, based on this feedback, it appeared that our list was reasonably complete and ready to be piloted.

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