Integrative Coaching: An Introduction
This post aims to demystify key concepts that underpin transformational coaching. It gives you a thorough overview of various coaching approaches including Become’s Integrative Coaching Diplomas at Level 1 and 2.
The reason for writing this post is because I am aware of the jargon that is sometimes used in relation to coaching practice. For example, if you have been researching ways of becoming a coach you might have heard coaches talk about niches (e.g. career coaching, life coaching, executive coaching) or different ways how to coach (e.g. transformational coaching, non-directive, systemic, therapeutic). All this can be overwhelming and I can empathise with that feeling, particularly as you begin your search for a coach training provider.
So in this post I explore fundamental coaching concepts and why I believe that working in an integrative way with clients leads to long-term transformational change. This post includes information on:
- What integration in coaching is and why it’s key for coaching mastery
- How Transformational Coaching works within an Integrative Framework
- How Integrative Coaches support Clients without relying on singular models or prescriptive ways of coaching
- Common Coach Training pitfalls and how to avoid them
- FAQs including definitions of key terms used in integrative and transformational coaching
What is Integrative Coaching?
The ICF describe coaching as being a thought-provoking and creative partnership. As coaching became more prominent in the early 2000s many coaches worked using a model, e.g. through GROW or CLEAR.
Integrative coaching in a way provides a departure from more traditional coaching approaches and we find that this quote by Coaching Psychologist Jonathan Passmore encapsulates its importance:
“Many coaches find themselves fixated with a single model they were trained to use. However, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” (Passmore, 2021)
This gives us the first key understand to what is important in integrative coaching – an integration of models. Unlike coaching approaches that tether themselves to a singular modality or technique, integrative coaching thrives on the synergy of diverse practices, creating a comprehensive and tailored framework for individual client transformation.
Human Experience is Complex and Diversification is Key
At its core, integrative coaches believe that no single coaching modality or approach is a one-size-fits-all solution. Recognising the complexity of human experiences and aspirations, integrative coaching goes beyond rigidity in favour of coach flexibility with their client. This means that coaches draw upon a rich training of evidence-based practices, seamlessly integrating them to meet the unique needs of each client.
On Become’s Level 1 Diploma in Integrative Coaching we adopt this philosophy that embraces the diversity of established methods. We blend coaching approaches such as person-centred coaching, Cognitive-Behavioral strategies, ACT (Acceptance-Commitment Therapy), mindfulness techniques, and more. This amalgamation allows coaches to tailor their approach based on the specific challenges, preferences, and learning styles of the individual client.
The Importance of Evidence-Based Coaching
As we use different approaches, integrative coaching places importance on evidence-based practices, anchoring its methodologies in proven and validated coaching processes. This commitment to evidence ensures that coaching interventions are not merely speculative but grounded in research and real-world efficacy.
Whether drawing on insights from psychological studies or neuroscience, integrative coaching leverages the wealth of knowledge available. This evidence-based foundation not only enhances the credibility of the coaching process but also underscores a commitment to sustainable results.
Holistic Transformation through Integrative Coaching
What sets us apart as coaches is the ability to orchestrate a symphony of modalities as the client creates their own transformative journey . For instance, a client grappling with work-related stress may benefit from a blend of cognitive reframing techniques, stress management strategies, and mindfulness practices. However this is not always the case. Through our process of helping the client understand their own experience (a process underscored by a phenomenological approach) we might identify that deeper work is required.
So, rather than relying solely on a behavioural or cognitive approach, integrative coaching addresses not just the surface-level behaviours but delves deeper into belief systems, emotional landscapes, and even somatic experiences. This holistic perspective facilitates a more profound and enduring transformation in clients.
To support develop our trainees in this approach our Diplomas are facilitated by different ICF tutors. Each with their own background and expertise. This allows you to learn from multiple individuals rather than just one coach (again this minimises our trainees role-playing just one set of behaviours).
How does Transformational Coaching work?
In order to understand Integrative Coaching it might also be useful to identify the way that Coaching itself works. Although this is difficult to do in just one blog post this
Trust and Partnership form the Foundation of Coaching Practice
At the heart of any coaching programme lies a genuine and honest partnership between the coach and the client, grounded in trust and confidentiality. This partnership serves as the foundation for the entire coaching relationship. If you’ve done some studies is therapy or counselling you can think of this as what helps to build the working alliance. The client is invited into a space where open dialogue and vulnerability pave the way for self-discovery and growth.
Coaching has Goals & Actions but these aren't everything...
Clients usually enter a coaching relationship with particular intentions and goals. The role of the coach is to support the client in crafting meaningful goals that are truly important to them. The client and coach work together to articulate what the client hopes to achieve and the specific areas of their life that require attention.
However we also find that traditional coaching focuses a lot on goals and as integrative coaches we approach goals with caution. Focusing solely on goals can lead to the coach being biased and directive in their work. We see it in a lot of new coaches where the focus is on getting to solutions, to practical actions… at times at the detriment of having real conversations about what matters. As integrative coaches we don’t use goals superficially, instead we spend time to help the client verbalise which goals are truly transformational. This is something that is covered extensively on Become’s Level 2 Advanced Diploma in Integrative Coaching.
Coaching is a Dialogue of Explicit and Implicit Communication
Most coaching is based on language which is a very explicit way of communicating. That said, central to coaching is the art of conversation. Unlike conventional conversations, coaching dialogue is purposeful, reflective, and client-led. Through skillful questioning, active listening, and thoughtful summaries, the coach helps the client in exploring their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. This process unveils insights and fosters heightened self-awareness.
However there is a level of coaching interaction that relies more on the interplay between explicit and implicit communication. As ICF Coaches we notice the energy changes, non-verbal behaviour, any incongruence between what the client is saying and not saying. These are just some examples of the way that integrative coaches support transformation in clients.
Accountability stays with the Client - it's the ethical thing to do!
Many traditional coaches take over accountability from their clients. They assign them homework or get them to do something for the sake of the coaching relationship.
As integrative coaches we work in an ethical way whereby we know that if she shift accountability from ourselves to the client we can create longer, transformational change.
By providing valuable insights, celebrate achievements, and gently challenge the client when needed, we help the client build intrinsic motivation and accountability. This dual role of supporter and challenger propels the client forward, ensuring they stay accountable to their goals and maintain momentum in their journey.
Focus beyond Individual Transformation
Even though coaching primarily focuses on individual growth, its impact often extends far beyond the client. As clients experience personal transformation, the positive changes ripple through various aspects of their lives, influencing relationships, professional endeavours, and overall well-being.
How do Integrative Coaches work with clients?
We have discussed that as Integrative Coaches we work across a number of models and techniques. But what does this really look like in practice? And how do our ICF Coaching Certifications support your development?
Start off with Creating a Psychologically-Safe Space
The first thing to do and what we focus throughout the start of the ICF Level 1 Diploma are ways how you can support the creation of a space where the client can be themselves.
We use a person-centred approach (don’t worry so much if you don’t understand this term, think of it as a way where we let the client lead) and as such borrow ideas from Rogerian therapy. Key to this we help our trainees develop:
- Unconditional Positive Regard, i.e. complete support and acceptance of your client.
- Empathy, i.e. ability to take on another person’s perspective and possibly respond to their experience
- Non Judgmental Approach, i.e. you don’t label things as good or bad but instead take a stance of observation and noticing
Change through a mixture of Behavioural, Cognitive & Awareness Focus
Once a foundation of trust is solidly established between the coach and the client, the coaching sessions can seamlessly transition between behavioral, cognitive, and awareness-focused approaches, or even blend elements of all three.
Behavioural Focus: Behavioural focus in coaching refers to a concentration on observable actions, habits, and patterns of behaviour. Here the focus is for the client to identify specific actions and goals, create plans for implementation, and track measurable progress. This approach is rooted in the idea that tangible changes in behavior can lead to positive outcomes and personal development.
Cognitive Focus: This involves exploring and addressing the client’s thought processes, beliefs, and mental frameworks. When using a cognitive approach we support clients become aware of their underlying beliefs, challenge any limiting thoughts, and reshape cognitive patterns. This type of coaching recognises the influence of thoughts on behaviour and aims to create positive shifts in the client’s mindset.
Awareness Focus: We can also support clients enhance their self-awareness and understanding of their emotions, values, and perspectives. We invite clients in exploring their inner world, gaining clarity on their values. This approach fosters a deeper understanding of oneself and what is impacting life choices the client is making.
Let’s take an example: For instance, in a coaching relationship where trust has been cultivated, a client aiming to enhance their leadership skills might start with a behavioral focus, setting specific, measurable goals for implementing new leadership strategies.
As the coaching journey progresses, cognitive aspects may come into play, delving into the client’s underlying beliefs about leadership and challenging any limiting thoughts.
Simultaneously, an awareness-focused approach might encourage the client to reflect on the impact of their leadership style on team dynamics and organisational culture.
The versatility born out of trust allows the coach to tailor each session dynamically, addressing the multifaceted dimensions of the client’s growth journey.
What are some Coach Training Pitfalls I should avoid?
As we mentioned there is a lot of jargon that is used when exploring coaching and coach training. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when looking for an ICF provider.
Neglecting the Foundations and Rushing through Core Learning
One of the most significant pitfalls in coach training is the temptation to rush through foundational principles that are key to develop coaching mastery.
As a professional Coach you must have a solid understanding of coaching ethics, ways of building relationships, and really sharpening your communication skills. Skipping these fundamental aspects and focusing instead on techniques and models can lead to a shaky foundation, hindering the coach’s ability to navigate complex coaching scenarios effectively. Develop yourself as a coach that is adaptable and resilient before learning additional models.
Focusing on the Training Programme and limiting Personal Development
Coaches often focus so much on developing their professional skills that they can neglect their personal growth. However, personal development is intertwined with professional effectiveness in coaching.
That’s why as part of our Level 1 Diploma you will not only coach but be coached. In addition all of our trainees need to keep and submit a reflective journal showing how they are developing as a coach.
Regular self-reflection is a powerful tool for your development as a coach. Focus on understanding your biases, strengths, and areas for improvement. Engage in practices such as mindfulness and seek feedback from peers and mentors. Actively invest in your personal growth will help you become better equipped to guide others on their journey.
Underestimating the Power of Coach Mentoring & Supervision
A coach training programme includes more aspects than the teaching. As we mentioned there’s the process of you being coached. In addition a robust programme will provide you access to mentoring and supervision.
Engage in a coach programme that includes supervision and seek out mentorship opportunities. Supervision provides a structured space for coaches to reflect on their practice, receive constructive feedback, and gain insights from experienced professionals. Mentorship offers a chance to learn from someone who has walked the path before and can provide valuable guidance.
Do I need to remember all of this to be a great transformational coach?
100% you don’t! Particularly if coaching is new to you. Coaching is more of an art than a science and the more you coach the more effective as a coach you become.
To help with some of the key terms we have provided these FAQs.
Integrative Coaching focuses on transformational, long term change in clients using more than one approach or model.
We believe that developing coaches to be able to work with just one framework (e.g. just learning GROW and using this with everyone) can be limiting. It can lead to the coach just following just one process which might not be suitable for your client. We have seen how great coaches flex their style to truly focus on what their clients require.
As a result, on this Diploma you will explore various models, techniques and processes that will allow you to coach in an integrative way. You’ll always do this in a non-directive and client-driven mode and in line with the ICF’s competencies.
Transformational coaching focuses on long term change in clients that goes beyond traditional coaching models. Some coaching frameworks (e.g. GROW) can be more short termed and very outcome-specific. In transformative coaching our focus in on supporting the client truly understand their situation, want, desires and actions. Integrative coaches work in a transformational coaching way with their clients.
There are many benefits of training via an ICF Accredited Programme. First of all there’s piece of mind that your coach training programme has been through a rigorous vetting process by the ICF – the largest awarding body for coaches. They ensure that your programme is robust, follows best practice and is in line with their Code of Conduct and Ethics. Although you don’t have to follow an ICF programme as professional coaches we strongly suggest that you do consider this. We have had many of our Alumni who previously completed a non-ICF programme who then come to us to do their Level 1 or 2 Certification.
Yes. Different providers will have different training programmes that meet the ICF requirements.
In our case our Level 1 Diploma in Integrative Coaching meets the first level of training certification with the ICF leading to the ACC Credential.
Anyone can benefit from undertaking a coaching program. Typically people come to coaching because they would like to discuss a change or an opportunity in their life. Some examples of potential clients you could work with are:
- individuals that are at a change in their lives either as a result of their personal situation or their environment at work
- individuals that are going back to work following a period of absence including maternity or paternity leave
- teams who have used group coaching sessions to further enhance their performance and increase their awareness of each others’ strengths and abilities
- senior executives who are required to develop high-level. strategic goals for their organisations
- individuals who tells us they feel ‘at a loss’ or ‘confused’ with what to do next
You don’t have to choose a niche per se however from a marketing point of view it does help. It shows that you have considered the clients that you want to work with and the type of work that you enjoy. Ultimately coaching is coaching and as an Integrative Coach you will be able to work in a transformative way whether you call yourself an Executive or a Life Coach.
Philosophy plays a pivotal role in coaching, particularly through the lens of phenomenology.
Phenomenology, a philosophical approach focused on understanding individual experiences and perceptions, deeply informs coaching methodologies.
It emphasises the subjective reality of the client, encouraging coaches to explore the unique ways individuals interpret and engage with their world. Integrating this approach into your coaching fosters a rich, client-centered dialogue, allowing coaches to unravel the layers of a client’s lived experiences. This philosophical perspective guides transformational coaches in navigating the complexities of human consciousness, promoting a profound understanding of clients’ perspectives and facilitating a more impactful and tailored coaching journey.
As Integrative Coaches we believe that transformation in coaching does not happen by focusing on one prescriptive model of coaching (e.g. GROW or CLEAR).
Instead, transformational coaching have a core belief that our understanding of the world is based on limited information, much of which is unconsciously derived from wider systems and scripts. We believe that through critical reflection and dialogue we can support individuals notice taken-for-granted assumptions, leading to transformative learning.
We value the humanity of a coaching session, being transparent with our clients and that the client is the expert and not us.
While coaching involves goal-setting, integrative coaches caution against a sole focus on goals, opting for meaningful and transformative objectives. Coaching dialogue incorporates explicit and implicit communication, with integrative coaches noticing energy shifts and non-verbal cues. Unlike traditional coaches, integrative coaches prioritize client accountability, fostering intrinsic motivation. Beyond individual growth, coaching’s impact extends to various aspects of clients’ lives. Integrative coaches create a psychologically-safe space using a person-centered approach, transitioning between behavioral, cognitive, and awareness-focused techniques based on trust.
This article is by Joseph Grech, a BPS Chartered Coaching Psychologist, Psychotherapist in Training and a PCC Accredited Coach. Joseph is the Founder of Become Coaching & Training Ltd., a leading ICF Coach Training provider delivering Diplomas in Integrative Coaching at ICF Levels 1 & 2.