Coach's Casebook

Coaching and Emotional Transference

Coaching and Emotional Transference

Transference usually refers to the client seeing an emotional relationship developing between themselves and a coach, where the coach is seen by a client as an important figure in the client’s life, such as a parent, authority figure or older sibling.

For example, a client may see their coach as a senior figure, or perceive the client/coaching relationship as one that has more “emotional content” than is actually the case.

This alone may cause difficult consequences for both client and coach. Emotions and needs originally associated with one person are now shifted to the coach as a figure of authority and support.

The concept of “transference” is usually associated with psychoanalytic theory and psychotherapeutic practice, but it can also hold for any relationship where strong emotions are involved in the discussion.

If the client has had some issues with authority figures in there past, perhaps from an overbearing parent or an unsympathetic mother, there is a craving for someone in authority to give them part of their development not previously provided.

Parents who may have been reserved in expressing their feelings of love, may have created a low self-esteem in a child, who may then have developed a negative self-image as an adult.

As a coach, it is important that you do not encourage or support the unconscious redirection of their clients’ feelings towards you.

This approach can have a therapeutic benefit, but must be managed by someone with the experience and training in such therapies.

As a coach, it is much more effective to be aware of any transference early in the coaching process and ensure that it is managed by making the client take responsibility for positive outcomes rather than the coach use it to bolster their own kudos.  You are working for the benefit of the client and not to build your own ego.

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