Coaching with Sean
From your perspective, what is coaching?
I believe that therapy and coaching are about using a safe relationship as a vehicle for growth and healing. If a sense of safety is achieved in the coach-client relationship, this can activate a deep exploration of both practical and emotional roadblocks to growth and healing. I also believe that grief (large and small) plays a fundamental role in emotional difficulties, and that a safe coaching relationship can provide a space for grief to unfold in a cathartic, productive way.
Please share 2-3 anonymized examples of how the work can play out and/or look in the room so that I can form a visual or narrative of what to expect.
Early in my career I worked with a client who taught me the practical value of the person-centered approach. This client was struggling with addiction, major depression, social anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. I originally tried a very practical approach (making a daily schedule, making a plan for connecting him with mutual support groups, completing CBT exercises during sessions, etc.), but this didn’t seem to work for him. He wasn’t feeling better and he was having a hard time following through on all the plans we would make. I asked him what might be more helpful, and he told me he just wanted me to listen and accept his experience without looking for immediate solutions. So I spent a few months of our meetings just listening to him as deeply as I could, and reflecting what I heard from him. I found myself asking a lot of questions like, “Am I understanding you right?” “Is that what you meant?” “Can you help me understand more about how that felt?” Our work together shifted from being about solutions to being about achieving a deep understanding of his emotional experience. Once I started to gain this understanding, and he started to trust that I was really hearing him, things started to shift therapeutically. He started to lead the sessions in the direction he wanted them to go, rather than being a passive recipient of my suggestions. It was amazing to see, and made a deep impression on my understanding of how therapy and coaching can work.
I remember working with a woman whose son was struggling with opiate addiction. When we first started working together, what she wanted most was answers - “Why is my son addicted? Why won’t he stop? If he does stop, will he stay stopped forever?” All of her questions were focused on her son; her well-being and sense of serenity was entirely dependent on whether her son was “doing well” or not (understandable, of course). I started by validating her sense of hopelessness and powerlessness in the situation, and encouraging her to use our time together to express the many different feelings she was experiencing (rage, sadness, impatience, frustration, hopelessness). For a while, we just focused on the pain she was experiencing, rather than on figuring out what she could “do” about it. Once we did this grief-oriented work, which required us to develop a safe and secure connection, she was able to shift her focus to more practical areas (such as improving her coping skills). She was able to view her son’s recovery, and her own, as an unfolding process rather than as a problem to be immediately solved. I am still working with her and we are slowly shifting her focus to more practical areas, while still making sure we continue to honor her grief.
Sometimes a client comes to coaching with a much more practical focus. I worked with one client for about 3 months, and we focused mainly on learning and practicing coping skills so she could function better in her work environment (it was a very stressful environment!). First, we established why this was important to her (I always like to start with exploring and establishing the deeper values that inform a client’s goals). Once we were solidly grounded in her values, we developed a menu of coping skills that included mindfulness meditation, regular exercise, and more time spent with valued friends and family outside of work. We used some of our weekly meetings to learn and practice mindfulness (we would meditate together, discuss her experience of the meditation, and develop a plan for daily practice); other meetings we used to schedule time with friends, and became part of her “accountability system” to make sure she actually kept her plans with friends. When we found that she was having trouble reaching out to friends outside of our sessions, we decided to use some session time to compose and send text messages to set up plans for the weekend and after work. With this kind of structured support, she started to follow through on her social plans more frequently, and this helped improve her mood and ability to manage stress. Once she felt this new system was firmly established, we ended our work together on a positive note.
How much do you share about yourself during our time together and why?
I have a simple rule of thumb: I only share about myself if I feel confident it will be helpful to you as my client. Generally speaking, my own experience is not a main focus of my work with clients; you are not paying to hear me talk about myself, after all! But if I feel that sharing an experience from my own life will be helpful to you, I might do so (usually after asking for permission first). This is not an intervention style that I use often, but it has been powerful in certain very specific situations.
How participatory are you during sessions?
I am an active participant in sessions, both verbally and nonverbally. As a believer in a person-centered approach to coaching, my first priority is to be truly present with you, and to “tune in” as deeply as is possible to your experience. My main goal is to create a strong connection that will allow you to fully explore your experience with a sense of comfort and safety. Luckily, I truly enjoy being with people and it is a joy for me to be present in this way. When people share their experience with me, I feel that is a gift. I consider myself very lucky to be able to say that I am never bored when I am working. No two clients are alike, and I find the endless variety to be fascinating and engaging.
Do you assign homework, activities, or readings for me to do between sessions? Why or why not?
This depends on your individual goals. There are some things I might recommend you try in between meetings with me (for example, I encourage most of my clients to start a journaling practice, because keeping a journal often helps people clarify their feelings,values, and goals). I will often recommend books, films, television shows, and music, but only if you are interested and open to such recommendations. I don’t have any “requirements” when it comes to what you do in between meetings with me, but I usually find that experimenting with new skills and resources outside of our meetings is a big part of the work we will do together, and feels natural rather than like “homework.”
If I have never been to therapy before, what should I expect? How do I know if I should go, and how do I start?
If you are on the fence about working with a therapist or a coach, first let me say: that makes total sense. If you’ve never done therapy or coaching before, I can understand why you might be hesitant or uncomfortable.
What you should expect from an initial session with me is to hear a little bit about the way I work and hopefully to share a little bit of what is bringing you to a coaching relationship. I say “hopefully share a little bit” because I recognize that at the beginning of our relationship, you might not feel comfortable or safe enough to “put it all out there” - and that’s totally fine. I see the early stages of our work as focusing mainly on your comfort with our connection; your comfort is the foundation of any other work that we might do, so that’s what I pay the most attention to in the early stages. I try to be as transparent as possible, and I encourage clients to ask me any questions, no matter how awkward (some questions I’ve gotten: “Do you really know what you’re doing? Have you ever actually helped anyone? If so, how? Why should I trust you?” etc. - all great questions, and welcome ones). You have every right to have and ask those questions! I believe part of my job is to answer them in a way that feels authentic and transparent.
How will our relationship be different than relationships I have with friends/loved ones?
My relationships with clients are comfortable and warm, but they are also professional. Because you are paying me for a service, I feel that I am accountable to you as the customer. When we are meeting, that time is entirely yours - I am professionally obligated to be focused and attentive, and I take that obligation seriously. I should not be distracted, or impatient, or distant. I also believe that I am professionally obligated to treat you with something called “unconditional positive regard.” This means that I will not judge you or shame you for any thoughts, feelings, or behaviors you might share with me, and I will maintain and transmit a basic belief in your ability to grow and change (these ideas are all center to Rogers’ person-centered approach). This doesn’t mean I won’t ever express concern or ask difficult questions, but it does mean I will never seek to control you directly or manipulate you indirectly.
Is there ever a time when you would encourage me to leave or graduate?
I don’t try to hold on to clients longer than necessary. I will consistently check in with you about whether you feel you are making progress or not; if you feel you have achieved what you wanted to achieve with coaching, then we will talk about concluding our relationship for the time being (you can always return, if you felt our work together was helpful). I also try to be honest with clients about my own limitations; if I feel that our work together is not helping you sufficiently, I will raise this issue and help us have a conversation about other options. Sometimes this might involve me taking a different approach, and sometimes it might involve us finding other professionals to collaborate with. Either way, I’m happy to help you navigate situations where you feel you are not making progress.
Where did you work before going into private practice?
For the past 10 years I have worked as a counselor in various addiction treatment programs in New York City. Most recently I was the Program Director at an outpatient addiction treatment program in NYC.
Have you received any particular training beyond your post-Bachelor’s training?
I have received education and training on working with gambling disorder as a primary addiction, and on the CRAFT approach to working with family members affected by addiction. I have also undergone training on Integrative Harm Reduction Psychotherapy, which is a progressive, person-centered approach to working with addiction.
Do you have experience working with any types of obstacles or people in particular?
I have 10 years of experience working with people experiencing addiction and with family members affected by a loved ones’ experience with addiction.
What led you to become a mental healthcare practitioner?
I have a natural curiosity about other people, and about the human mind/soul. Working in the helping professions allows me to capitalize on this natural curiosity and continue to refine my understanding of the human experience.
What is the best part of the work for you?
I genuinely enjoy connecting with people and supporting people as they work through the obstacles and difficult questions of life. I also consider it sacred when someone trusts me enough to share vulnerably about their personal experience.
What is unique about the work you do, or how have you found your work to be different than your colleagues’?
As a coach, I think that my focus on grief and existential issues is unique. Many coaches take a purely practical approach; I feel that in addition to tackling the practical, we must also tackle the existential and emotional to achieve optimal living.
How do you approach diversity in the room or working with clients who may come from a different background than you?
My approach to diversity is grounded in two things: curiosity and respect. I do my best to be aware of everything that I don’t know, and I do my best not to make any assumptions at all about a client. I also try my best to be open to education and correction. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of ethnic and religious communities over the past 10 years.
How can you tell if I am benefiting from working with you?
If you experience any or all of the following, this would indicate that you are benefiting from our work together: 1. You feel you are better able to understand, tolerate, and accept your emotional experience. 2. You feel you are more consistently making decisions that align with your deepest values. 3. You feel a greater sense of safety and security and a greater trust in your own intuition, capabilities, and worth.
How can you tell if I am feeling stuck, unseen, or unheard?
I do my best to focus not only on what you are saying, but also on nonverbal communication. If you start giving one-word answers, this is probably a sign that I’m asking the wrong questions, or maybe just too many questions. If you stop making eye contact with me, this may suggest you are experiencing shame. Whatever nonverbal signals I notice, I will try to inquire about them sensitively and compassionately. I might say something like, “I just want to check in with you - am I asking too many questions?” As our relationship develops, I will hopefully get better and better at recognizing your emotional experience (whether it is verbalized or not).
How long should I commit to being in therapy, at least in the beginning?
I don’t ask clients to make any specific or formal commitment to our work together, but I think that 3 months is a good ballpark time period to consider, provided of course that you feel comfortable with me after meeting for our first session. I think that 3 months is long enough to allow for a meaningful relationship to develop, but not so long that you will feel overwhelmed or impatient. And of course, you are free to discontinue our relationship at any time if you feel it is not helping you move towards your goals.
How should I prepare for my first session with you?
Feel free to come without any preparation at all! But if you do want to prepare, I would recommend that you give some thought to your main challenges and goals, and also to any questions you may want to ask me about my approach, my background, etc. I like to think of the initial session (or sessions) as an opportunity for you to interview me (rather than the other way around).
Do I need to bring anything with me?
Do I need to be mindful of anything in particular while commuting to your office?
Other than the increasing unreliability of our public transportation system? Nope!
“Sean is able to blend deep compassion with strong clinical skill. Every client that has crossed the threshold of his office almost instantly connects with him. He really believes in the healing power of relationship, and this belief and enthusiasm makes a deep impression on his clients.”