Anja is a coach and has a new client. Today’s the first time he comes to tell his story. He’s struggling with a question about how he should manage his team. From what he says, Anja realizes that the problem the client is experiencing has a wider and deeper cause than his question suggests. The client isn’t only insecure about how he approaches his work, but in fact he’s full of self-doubt about his whole way of working. Actually, deep inside he doesn’t think he’s good enough. That’s reflected in all aspects of his life. So the underlying question is actually: ‘How am I going to love myself again?’
Anja is now faced with an ethical dilemma. This client comes to her with a practical question. Anja sees opportunities to address a deeper problem, but does the client want that? Should Anja only deal with the request for help that the client has posed? Or is she going to work deeper, so that he feels better overall?
Sometimes this is a difficult dilemma. Not all clients want to formulate their problems more broadly, because this often implies that the client has to deal with old patterns. I can really understand that people don’t always feel like it. It can make them feel helpless and sometimes feel that the problem is just too big.
They start to wonder: “When am I good enough? When will I have grown enough? When will I be done with all this changingdis? And that is exactly what Transactional Analysis (TA) can offer valuable insights into.
Other people are delighted when the coach recognises the deeper, underlying problem. They then feel heard and seen and are happy that the underlying problem is being dealt with.
Change or development?
The discouragement that people sometimes experience when they have to ‘change’ comes from the idea that, if they do not change, something’s wrong with them. That’s why we prefer to talk about development in TA. We assume that everyone can continue to develop during their lives, but that they are basically OK during that development. This gives a different impression than the use of the word ‘change’. The basic philosophy of TA assumes that everyone is OK as he or she is now.
Yes, but what about that dilemma?
Anja’s dilemma is: how deep should the treatment process of this client be? This depends very much on what the client wants to achieve. He may not want to work on his personal problems and recurring patterns, not even after Anja has shown him with the possibilities. In that case, Anja will have to accept this and help the client with his specific question.
It’s also possible that the client really feels heard and seen when Anja mentions the underlying pattern. That’s also an opportunity for him to develop towards a happier life.
In any case, Anja and her client will have to define a specific, measurable goal for the treatment. Everything that Anja then works on in the process with the client must support to that predetermined goal. This goal is recorded in a contract.
How do you describe such a goal as transparently and clearly as possible? What exactly is a good contract and how do you know whether it will really contribute to the welfare of your client?
Eric Berne, the founder of TA, laid down a wonderful guideline for drawing up contracts between coaches / therapists and clients. “The goal described in the contract must always lead to autonomy of the client.” This guideline offers a compass to determine the direction of your treatment.
What exactly does that autonomy mean? Well, it consists of 3 points, which I describe below in more detail:
Many problems arise because clients have lost their perspective. They’re in a kind of drama, where everything is magnified and exaggerated. A good indicator for this is the use of the words ‘always’ and ‘never’. People don’t live in the here and now, and their thinking is determined by events from the past. The defined purpose of a contract must contribute to the client’s ability to be aware of this. So that they can distinguish between patterns developed in their youth and what’s actually in the here and now.
Clients often react without realizing what they are doing. They are stuck in a small range of behavioural options. You then use a certain Ego state again and again. The client must learn to freely use all the Ego states. If you describe a goal with this client, it must contribute to their ability to use all Ego states if they want to. This means that you can choose to respond from the Parent, Adult, Child or Free Child. Want to know more about Ego states? Read this blog: ‘I am angry, but inside I am afraid.’
- Choosing intimacy
It’s nice if we can choose with whom we want to be intimate. By intimacy I mean: being completely yourself. Saying what you think, feel and find. This isn’t always convenient or desirable, for example, if the person you are communicating with has authority over you. At other times, this intimacy is very healthy and good for you, for example, if you can have a heart-to-heart chat with a good friend. The goal that you define together with your client must contribute to their ability to make an informed choice.
Balance in personal development
It’s often difficult to find a balance between the client’s request and all the possibilities that you see to help your client. I notice in my practice that this is more difficult for young coaches and therapists. I understand that very well. You want to help a client as much as possible and therefore sometimes want too much and go too fast.
A coach or therapist must carefully search for what the client wants. If the client only wants to develop on a practical level, that’s ok. If they really want to address their patterns, that’s OK too. It is your ethical task as a coach to let the client know the possibilities. The rhythm and the wishes of the client are always paramount. TA offers tools to help find your way.
I want to make my knowledge and experience available to you as a coach or therapist. Do you want more experience with TA and get to know me and the TA expertise centre? The two-day course ‘getting to know TA’ offers a wonderful opportunity for this. This session takes place again in the summer months, on 6 and 7 July. Look here for more information and to register. You can also follow this two-day course online. Nice and easy, from your own home. Click here for more information about the online TA introduction. You’re welcome.Yes, I want to know more about the online TA introduction