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Episode 17

Finding the Transformational Sweet Spot

As coaches we’re all about creating transformative experiences. But how do we know when a client is on the verge of a breakthrough? And how do we know not to push too far?

In this lively conversation, mindfulness and trauma expert David Treleaven clarifies how to recognize the sweet spot of transformation, the core tenet of somatic coaching.

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When change doesn’t last

We’ve all had the experience of attending an absolutely ground-breaking, earth-shattering seminar, only to return to our lives and find ourselves back in old patterns and habits before the week is out. Deep insights in therapy and cathartic experiences though body modalities are all very well, but they don’t necessarily lead to changed behavior.

So what’s missing? How to we create lasting change?

Transformation is possible within a particular bandwidth of experience; an experience that is too intense will not be integrated, while one which has too little impact will also not lead to any shifts.

Coaching therefore has to lead the client to a sweet spot between too much intensity and too little. Gaining awareness of how we know when we’re in that space means paying attention to what are we accessing in that moment where we realize we don’t need to say more or push more.

The sweet spot of transformation

It’s characterized by an aliveness in the conversation, something we can recognize in the client as a place of intense presence and imminent insight. This is the core of somatic coaching; deeply attuning to the client and constantly tracking physical cues to understand where the client is at; it’s a fundamentally embodied experience of coaching. Learning when to lean in and when to hold back is an intuitive faculty that we can build.

This invariably leads to more powerful coaching; when we as coaches take a risk, tell a client what we see and ground it in our observations of their body, it gets the client’s attention – at this point coaching becomes more than empathy and good listening and gains the client’s respect and trust at a new level.

Leading clients into change

Paving the way for a powerful shift can be done by asking the client what they care about most right now in their lives, or what they don’t want to die not having done. This can be followed by checking what commitments they have – from here you can establish the aim of coaching.

A powerful commitment needs to be one that makes them uncomfortable (a stretch) but not frozen. When we feel ourselves committed to a new way of being we start creating new neural pathways, however it takes between 300 – 3000 repetitions before we are able to make different moves under pressure.

A crucial component to somatic coaching is that the exploration is more about HOW someone feels or doesn’t feel something, rather than look at WHY. This is the short cut to the client understanding the physiological path of the response. We can then also ask “What does that take care of for you?” and “What is the cost of that?” – in this way the drive to change becomes anchored in the clarity of their emotional needs and desires.

Coaching and trauma

We have two types of nerves in our bodies –interoceptive (those that relate to what’s happening in our body) and exteroceptive (those that pick up what’s happening outside of our bodies). We are constantly feeling what’s inside and tracking what’s happening outside. When these two don’t work together a person has an incongruent experience – often in somatic coaching the coach is helping the client get these two to line up.

Good coaching will always lead to a client’s conditioned tendencies (the way they protect themselves), and this is where things can get sticky – old trauma can arise and as coaches it’s important that we are humble enough to recognise the limits of our expertise, otherwise we can end up causing more harm.

To change is a very somatic experience – it’s very uncomfortable in the body. You know when you’re on the edge of transformation because you want to escape the situation, or if that’s not possible, escape your body.

Signs of a traumatic response are:

  • Flashbacks
  • Hyper-arousal (exaggerated startle response)
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Super depressed or dissociated (can’t feel bodies or checked out)

Resources mentioned:

About David

David Treleaven

David Treleaven, PhD, is a writer, educator, and trauma professional whose work focuses on the intersection of trauma, mindfulness, and social justice. Born in Toronto, Canada, he trained in counseling psychology at the University of British Columbia and received his doctorate in psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He is author of the book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing.

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