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Self-care helps coaches serve others while avoiding caregiver burnout

Caregivers often struggle to give energy to their personal well-being. When coaches invest in self-care, they build a foundation to support others and avoid caregiver burnout.

Coaches, like other helping professionals, can struggle with compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout

Coaching skills and resources can help coaches uncover unmet needs and strengthen personal well-being

Elevating self-care and mutual care as coaching pillars can support a resilient and sustainable industry

For a sustainable coaching industry, coaches need to address stress and caregiver burnout

A coach’s well-being directly impacts their ability to perform at a quality level. When coaches are mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy, they can deliver better coaching experiences to their clients. Their clarity, empathy, and focus are heightened, resulting in more effective guidance and support. However, when coaches are overextended, they can experience high levels of stress, leading to compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout. Drawing inspiration from other helping professions, coaches can tackle the challenge of caregiver burnout and pave the way for a resilient and impactful coaching profession.

Caregiver burnout is a major well-being challenge for helping professionals, such as doctors, nurses, educators, mental health professionals, and emergency response personnel. In the medical field, physician burnout rates spiked to 63% in 2021 at the height of the pandemic. Of physicians experiencing burnout, around 9% were prone to making at least one major medical error. With workforce transitions like the Great Resignation and the rise in organizational wellness programs driving increased demand for coaching services, coaches are encouraged to take their own need for self-care and support seriously to prevent fatigue and burnout.

“There are so many people that are not well in their inner life, and we have resources for those folks, but the people who are in the professions providing that support are burning out.”

Sackeena Gordon

Examining the relationship between coach and client well-being

Well-being is the foundation for effective coaching conversations. An unwell, stressed, coach, may struggle to identify critical moments in a conversation, experience self-doubt, or introduce judgments. Pulling from his research in emotional intelligence and leadership, Wisdom Weaver Badri Bajaj reflects, “Clients can sense a coach’s emotions in less than a second, so taking time to care for ourselves, exercise, or meditate — these things help us to be in the right frame of mind with our clients.”

Well-being is not only important for coaching presence but can shape client confidence. Coaches who prioritize their own well-being set a positive example, encouraging clients to do the same by fostering a culture of holistic wellness within coaching relationships. Wisdom Weaver Christian van Nieuwerburgh, a researcher who studies the connection between coaching, health, and well-being, sees coaches as role models. He affirms: “It is not self-indulgent to look after our well-being. We must do it as coaches so that we can be of better service to our clients. If we are not well, we will not be able to provide the kind of quality of presence and safe space required for effective coaching.”

“Beyond taking on more clients, we as coaches must be mindful of how we can serve better — to be mindful of how we can serve people relates to how we can take care of ourselves.”

Juan Diego Calisto

Client trauma and coach well-being

Beyond self-care, coaches must also consider how their work with clients can impact their sense of well-being. Wisdom Weaver and coach Juan Diego Calisto, provides social and emotional training to children and youth in underserved areas who are exposed to gang violence, poverty, and domestic violence through the school system. As a coach in a context embedded with trauma, Juan discusses caregiver burnout through the lens of trauma exposure. Juan explains that secondary traumatic stress — also known as trauma exposure — is not something widely discussed in schools or society at large. What he has learned is this experience can drain the coach’s energy and have a tremendous impact on their own emotional and psychological health. Juan emphasizes, “The well-being of the coach should also be considered and addressed with tools to manage the interaction and the client’s trauma.” He believes coaches should be equipped to manage trauma exposure and tap into caregiver resources such as Trauma Stewardship, which covers self-care for those who are caring for others. Juan explains, “For me, the biggest takeaway of managing trauma exposure is being mindful that it exists. If a caregiver notices that they are not feeling well, seek support.”

Self-care enables effective coaching and underlies many coaching competencies

A coach’s well-being influences the quality of the relationship and the effectiveness of the coaching process. Wisdom Weaver and coach Sackeena Gordon discusses the importance of maintaining presence — being aware of the whole self, not just the coach self, because coaches are a whole being. She explains, “Self-care involves presence, paying attention to ‘I know I have five coaching sessions today, but I am also aware that I am experiencing pain right now. I am grieving this thing that just happened, so maybe today will not be the best day for me to have five coaching clients. Or I need to do something to manage myself in how I approach these sessions.” For Sackeena, embodying a coaching mindset means remembering that even though coaches are all whole people who are resourceful with creative intelligence, they are also human. When coaches hold that coaching mindset for themselves, they also need to ask: “How do I do this for me?”

Self-care tips from coaches to coaches:

  • Start coaching sessions with a self-care practice to ground both coach and client
  • Space client sessions to provide time to breathe, reflect, and process emotions
  • Practice self-compassion and consider postponing a coaching session when needed
  • Think of oneself as a client — what tools would a client need at this moment to be well?
  • Reach out to peers or work with a coach supervisor for extra support

One way to connect coaching impact to coach well-being, is to elevate self-care in future coach training and certification as a core competency. By understanding the importance of self-care, coaches can actively work to counteract caregiver burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue. Taking the example from the American Nursing Association’s Code of Ethics, which frames self-care as foundational to the practice of nursing, coach accrediting bodies can follow suit.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) outlines skills and standards for coaches in its Coaching Competencies. Many of these skills gesture to the importance of care for self, but do not explicitly mention this. The ICF Core Competency #2, “Embodies a Coaching Mindset,” has subpoint 2.8, “Seek help from outside sources when necessary.” If coaches apply this competency to their clients, one can assume that a coach should then know to do this for themselves, but the directive is not set up for self-interpretation. Core Competencies can easily be expanded to include self-care competencies that instruct coaches to apply the same care they give to clients to themselves.

“Professional coaching associations can champion self-care by treating it as a core competency: highlight its importance, emphasize the importance of knowing how to look after and invest in one’s own well-being and how to reach out for help when well-being support is needed.”

Dr. Christian van Nieuwerburgh

Creating networks of support and mutual growth will ensure a sustainable industry

Self-care as a coaching competency echoes a movement in other helping professions to reimagine competencies around an ethics of care framework. As a guiding philosophy, ethics of care highlights connection and interdependence between people and the value of both care giving and care receiving. Embodying an ethic of care signals a philosophical shift that highlights the relationship between care for self and others. This shift also paves the way to support professional networks of care giving and receiving including peer coaching, mentorship, coaching supervision, and support networks, to ensure coach longevity and stamina.

The future of coaching calls for coaches to develop innovation and adaptability in their ability to meet client needs, but a coach’s well-being affects their capacity for creativity and innovation. A healthy, balanced coach is more likely to explore new methodologies, approaches, and technologies, thereby driving innovation in coaching practices. Additionally, they are more adaptable to changes in the field, such as new research findings or evolving client needs. Applying principles of innovation and adaptability can, at times, be stressful, requiring resilience to prevent burnout. Self-care provides the foundation for a resilient coaching profession, in addition to building support networks that sustain this cultural shift.

Framing self-care as a new coaching competency also requires balance on a personal level, self-reflection, and systems of support such as professional training and supervision. Juan explains: “I know many coaches who are starting out and even more advanced coaches who are not very balanced. They think they are assertive, or confident, or close, but they are not. And they need others to help them see themselves clearly.” For Juan, what helps coaches maintain this balance could be a training, mentor, therapist, or their own coach; reaching out to these greater support systems can help coaches see where they are. Sackeena sees the matter as twofold. First, since it is difficult for coaches to see themselves, she, like Juan, recommends that they get a coach to assist them with their own self-care and professional goals. Second, coaches must also practice what they coach with their clients: “As we are helping our clients to be more intentional and find ways to bring structures in their lives that help them, we should be doing the same.” By instilling a culture and systems for coaches to receive self-care in the form of emotional, psychological, and professional support, the field of coaching is investing in its own future viability.

In essence, coach well-being is not just about personal health — it significantly influences the entire coaching landscape. Prioritizing a coach’s well-being contributes to a healthier, more effective, and sustainable coaching practice, ultimately benefiting both coaches and their clients. The well-being of coaches is crucial for the sustainability of the coaching profession. Burnout and high turnover rates among coaches can have negative implications for the field. By promoting coach well-being through systemic support, the profession becomes more attractive, retains talented professionals, and maintains its credibility and effectiveness over time.

Looking to the future of coaching, the prioritization of self-care among coaches through the form of core coaching competencies becomes increasingly relevant.

By combining professional support development with empirically validated strategies, coaching experts like Wisdom Weaver Richard Boyatzis, believe it is now time to rethink coaching competencies to ensure they meet the needs of actual coaching praxis. For Boyatzis, a competency is “a set of related behaviors organized around an underlying intent based on a theory of performance.” Part of that evaluation should support sustainable caregiving and practice similar to other helping professions. By fostering a culture of self-care, retooling coach training, and providing robust systemic support systems, the future of coaching can thrive as a vital, sustainable profession.

Transformational questions:

  1. How does integrating self-care practices into daily/weekly work rhythms enhance a coach’s overall effectiveness and well-being?
  2. How can the field of coaching provide support to coaches seeking both self-care and general support?
  3. Considering the evolution of coaching competencies, how can the coaching profession incorporate self-care as a core element in coach training?
  4. How can coaches meet their self-care needs through proactive networking, mentorship, coaching for coaches, and therapy?
  5. What will coaching look like in the future when self-care for coaches is an expectation that is well-resourced and modeled by mentor coaches?

Resources to dig deeper:

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