Existential Perspectives On Coaching

Existentialism (as I see it) is the idea that we can explain human behavior according to reasons (choices), not causes. To this end, I have been interested to read how existentialism is used as a practical tool to help people understand themselves and their lives. I picked up the book, Existential Perspectives On Coaching, edited by Emmy van Deurzen, to see if I could gain insight into how coaches use the existential approach to help people with problems in living.

The foreword, introduction, and first three chapters of this book give a brief overview of the existential approach to problems in living. The writing was clear, straightforward and sought help the reader understand the existential approach. I would have like to have read more about this approach. Instead, the rest of the book is filled mostly with fashionable, technical existential jargon.

Each chapter is written by a different coach who sets forth their use of existential coaching and how they use it in practice. Each chapter also includes a short “case-study” of how they used their approach with an actual client.

I did not like how this book portrayed the so-called “case-studies” peppered throughout it. First, there are no case-studies in coaching, there are persons with problems in living. Second, talking about case-studies dehumanizes a person, turning them into an object to be studied. From my view, the existential approach demands that persons be understood, not studied as if they are a scientific experiment, because life is not a scientific experiment. Also, the book did not tell whether the persons whose life problems were revealed had given their consent to have done so. In one case the coach wrote how they talked about their client’s private coaching session with the client’s mother! Did the client agree to have the coach talk about her private conversation? We are not informed about the answer to this question.

In addition, none of the case studies mentioned whether the subject paid for their coaching. One chapter mentioned that existential coaching should be used to keep employees happy in the workplace. One has to wonder: “who pays for such ‘coaching'”? If the employer pays, then this is a sort of brainwashing to keep employees in line, not existential coaching.

Some of the authors diverge so much from the existential approach (as I see it), that it is difficult to see how they can still call themselves existential coaches. Most authors included complex diagrams that claim to help understand problems in living. I see the diagrams as a way to professionalize and obfuscate. The authors seem to have a desire to impress with their diagrams and unnecessary citations about trivial matters.

I appreciated the straightforward introduction, but beyond that, the book is mostly a way for authors to get their professional name out there and promote themselves as coaches. This is an OK task, but I would not recommend it as a way of gaining insight into problems in living.

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