Coaching and therapy: conversations in time

Human beings exist in time. It defines who we are and how we organise our lives. So when someone goes for coaching or therapy, time always features prominently. From the time someone commits to coaching or therapy, to how they use the language of time to articulate their difficulties and challenges, time is ever-present. In this article, I look at overcoming the relationship between time, coaching and therapy.

A question of time

We all lead busy lives, so the decision to set aside time to tackle our problems in coaching or therapy can involve many factors. If we are busy how do, we make time? If we don’t want others to know, how do we make this work when so much of our time is shared? What are our expectations of coaching or therapy? Do we expect it to be quick or do we accept it will take as long as it takes? And do we deserve to set aside time for ourselves in this way when we have so many other competing demands on our time? If we do then what does this say about the value we attach to ourselves – to our Personal and/or Professional Development? And if we don’t? What does this say about our relationship with ourselves?

Periods of time

Coaching and therapy address periods of time, from decades to fleeting moments. And they address the events that define those periods: a past bereavement long ago, a job interview next week or a future ambition such as a career change. A coaching or therapy session is itself a distinct moment in time, where both client and practitioner work together to make the most of their time together. And even though a coaching or therapy session lasts about an hour, the amount of time covered can quite literally be a lifetime.

The language of time

People often talk about coaching or therapy as taking some time out or finding some time for themselves. Language is used to capture the distinctness of this time for them; it creates a clear boundary between this use of their time and all of the other demands on it. In this way language captures the value of this time for someone. An hour spent talking to a coach or therapist is an hour not given to someone or something else.

The language of time is used in coaching and therapy to symbolise how someone feels about themselves and their lives. ‘I’m not getting any younger.’ ‘If I don’t go for it now, then I will regret it.’ ‘My work/life balance means I have no time for myself, for my children or partner.’ And overcoming such difficulties and challenges is expressed in the language of timescales and deadlines: hours, days, weeks, months and years.

Time travelling

In building up a detailed picture of what someone is going through, a coach or therapist will seek to understand the relative importance of a client’s past, present or future. This will require a spot of time travelling. For example, are someone’s marital difficulties in the present explained by past trauma? Or is someone’s present drug addiction explained by fears for the future? A good understanding, acquired through effective time travelling, can increase the accuracy, relevance and efficacy of coaching or therapy. A poor understanding is like having the wrong map for the territory being explored, meaning everyone becomes lost.

Conscious and unconscious time

Establishing the relevance of someone’s past, present and future can be easy – or difficult. It can be easy when someone knows whether their past, present or future is at the root of things, or if they are able to consciously access this knowledge in coaching or therapy. Matters are less straightforward when someone is unaware of why things are as they are. Just because someone knows they are struggling does not mean they know how time is a factor in their struggles. However, an effective coach or therapist will be able to bring this unconscious knowledge to the surface, through building a strong relationship, asking the right questions and finding the right approaches.

Harmony and alignment

The aim of coaching and therapy is to bring harmony and alignment to someone’s past, present and future. For example:

  • Past: letting go of what isn’t working and taking forwards what is
  • Present: strengthening what is working and resolving what isn’t
  • Future: having a positive vision that builds on a positive past and present

While disharmony can make progress difficult, it is not necessarily a bad thing as it can highlight that there are issues still to be resolved, such as a past trauma, a present stressor or future fear.

Getting it right, getting it wrong

A good understanding of the relationship between someone’s issues and time can make coaching or therapy more effective. It means the focus will be on the right areas of someone’s life and the approaches taken tailored appropriately. Coaching and therapy becomes ineffective when it gets the focus wrong e.g. when there is a preoccupation with the past to the exclusion of the present and future. How does a practitioner and client know whether the coaching or therapy is getting it right? Because a client will be making progress.

Change one, change all

When progress is made in one area of time, there can be a positive knock-on effect on the other areas. This is because our past, present and future do not exist independently of each other in our mind/body systems. Whose difficult past has not become ‘less’ difficult when present problems are overcome? Or whose present has not become happier when future worries are resolved? This interconnectedness can be variously reassuring and exciting. It can lessen the amount of work needed to be done in coaching or therapy, or open up new areas for personal growth and transformation when someone is freed from the grip, say, of a difficult past.

Getting support to time travel

Being unable to time travel is like having the wrong map for the territory being explored. We just become lost. If you can’t make sense of your difficulties, maybe time travelling can help. If you are struggling but don’t know why, then please get in touch. It might be that time travelling can help you make sense of why things are as they are.