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Trigger Warning! Working with Triggers as a Coach.

This should be said up front. This blogpost will not contain anything triggering. And if it does, we got tips that will help.


This week we are joined by Lisa Finck (A.C.C.), Brooke Adair Walters (M.C.P.C.), Jerome LeDuff Jr (M.C.L.C.), and Anthony Lopez (M.C.P.C). as we explore how coaches should navigate triggers in the coaching space for both themselves and the client they are working with.


When we say triggers, we mean something that incites a physical/emotional response related to a past trauma, not something that slightly annoys us or that we find disagreeable.


What makes triggers somewhat difficult to navigate as a coach is the fact that they can be unpredictable.


For example, while in most cases it's good form for a coach to avoid violent or disturbing topics of conversation, it may not have been obvious that your choice of cologne that day caused an anxiety attack in your client. Or that a particular date you booked your next session for was the worst possible choice. Or that a tasteful painting of a bowl of fruit you put on the wall reminded someone of some horrible experience.


The fact remains, there may not be anything inherent in the trigger itself that is distressing; but nonetheless, a client's subjective experience may be highly affected by it.


If you are a coach who has their own triggers, you know how frustrating it can be that these situations come up in the most unexpected ways.


So how do we navigate triggers in the smoothest and most professional way?

A Coach's Triggers

Anonymous asks: "Should I tell my clients my triggers?"


Our answer: We can't stop you but we certainly don't recommend it.


Reason being, we are always trying to keep the session about the client and their goals, not about our own personal matters. While it's important to set boundaries, we find that its far more productive to coach/market yourself in the positive, rather than the negative. This is not positive/negative in the sense of good vs. bad. Here's an example of what we mean:

  • Positive Coaching: By coaching with me you can achieve X. My expertise is Y. The benefits you will receive is Z.

  • Negative Coaching: We will partner with each other to reach your goals, but you can't talk about or do X,Y,Z.

The important part is focusing on what a client can do by working with you, not what they aren't allowed to do.

Which brings us to the trickier question...


What do I do if I become triggered in a session? Should I tell my client if I am?


It's not uncommon in the midst of a coaching session for a client to wander into territory that may be uncomfortable or unknowingly do something that triggers you. The answer entirely depends on your comfort level and your rapport with your client.


But, if we can make 1 rule to always follow, no matter what, it's this:


PRIORITIZE YOUR OWN COMFORT AND MENTAL HEALTH.


As Lisa likes to put it, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can save others. That means you have a duty to attend to your own mental well-being before you can effectively coach clients.


So what can you do in session if you are being triggered?

  • Notice the signs: Don't ignore what your body is telling you. Part of being a coach is having an awareness of the conversation at hand and your own internal experience.

  • Develop coping strategies: This varies from person to person but some effective strategies we discuss, while still remaining present, are:

    • Deep breathing

    • Writing notes

    • Grounding yourself physically. What can you see, touch, hear, smell, taste?

    • Focus on tensing and relaxing specific muscles

    • Refocusing on the client's overarching goals or the session contract

  • Relocate: Sometimes a change of scenery is all that is needed to manage a trigger. Moving to a different room, or (asking the client first) go on a walk, coach outside, or have the session in a different environment.

  • Take a break: There is nothing wrong with asking to use the restroom or taking a 5 minute break to center yourself. Again, depending on the rapport you have, you can share as little or as much info required.

  • End the Session: If needed, call it a day. The details of rescheduling or refunding can be handled later if necessary. At this point your trigger is inhibiting your ability to coach and it is neither fair to yourself or the client to continue. No amount of money and no session is worth the cost of your mental health.

A Client's Triggers

Anonymous asks: "Should I ask what my client's triggers are?"


Our answer: NO. Let me spell that out for you. N - O.


If a client decides to tell you their trigger warnings then fantastic, they set a boundary and it should be then incorporated into all the other spoken or unspoken boundaries.


But quite frankly, asking for a client's triggers is akin to asking "Hey, have any past trauma? I want to know!" Not exactly the focus of coaching and it is presumptuous at best.


There is a happy middle ground though and a way to open the door for the client to tell you on their own terms.


"If you have any trigger warnings or if you ever feel uncomfortable in a session, feel free to let me know"


Safe, non-assuming, non-judgmental. All you are doing is letting the client know that this is a safe space for them and you are helping to co-create it.


Keeping all of this in mind, being aware of a client, their emotional wellbeing, and their triggers, falls under the ICF Core Competency domains of Cultivating Trust & Safety and Active Listening.

  1. We demonstrate respect for the client’s identity, perceptions, style, and language and adapt our coaching to the client.

  2. We notice, acknowledge, and explore the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors.

This does not mean we try to explore a client's specific triggers. Only that we notice and react appropriately to client as the session unfolds and direct attention to the goal.


Knowing is the first step and we hope that our coaches will take this information and cultivate a more trusting environment for their clients!

 

Thank you,


Lisa Finck, Brooke Adair Walters, Jerome LeDuff Jr., and Anthony Lopez


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