The Versatility of Ontological Coaching
By Alan Sieler
Working in the domain of the body to facilitate transformation is one of the hallmarks of Ontological Coaching. Inviting people to experiment with adopting small changes in aspects of their posture and muscle tension can lead to profound changes in perception (including self perception) and behavior that previously were not thought possible.
One of the less known, but no less powerful, aspects of the ontological approach to working with the body to facilitate change is to directly work with physiological breakdowns, such as persistent pain in the back, neck or stomach.
Juliette had been treated by a number of physiotherapists and chiropractors for significant pain and restriction in the movement of her neck and head. Recently she had been told that there was a problem with a disc in her neck. Intrigued that she didn’t have pain and restriction all the time, Juliette was interested in exploring another avenue to complement the work of somatic practitioners. She was drawn to Ontological Coaching because of the inclusion of the domain of the body in the coaching methodology.
A crucial question
The coach ensured that Juliette understood he was not a somatic practitioner and was willing to do his best to see how an ontological approach could contribute to lessening the discomfort in her neck. After exploring when Juliette most noticed the restriction and discomfort in her neck, the coach asked what turned out to be the most significant question in the conversation (based on the notion of “concerns”), which was, “How does the discomfort and restriction in your neck take care of you?”
(This unusual question is based on the premise that every aspect of our Way of Being and behavior is an interpretation of how we can best take care of ourselves. We are predominantly unaware of these interpretations and can continue to live from them without realising that they are not helpful.)
Juliette’s initial response to the question was a lengthy silence, after which she said, “My first thought was that it doesn’t but then I think there is some purpose there. I think it protects me from being responsible.” The coach and Juliette then explored the areas of her life where she considered she avoided responsibility, along with her moods, overall story and key assessments that accompanied this mode of being.
Exploring different ways of being in the body
Juliette was then invited to stand up and adopt the full body configuration that went with avoiding responsibility, noticing how she held herself, and the related muscle tension and breathing. Not surprisingly, she noticed the pressure she was putting on her neck. Juliette and the coach further explored the languaging and moods that accompanied the posture of not being responsible.
The coach then asked Juliette to “shake off” the unhelpful posture by gently moving her hips and shoulders, swinging her arms, taking some easy deep breaths, and then to sit down again. She and the coach moved into another exploration as the coach asked her to share the areas of her life in which she assessed she was responsible. When Juliette had identified these she was asked to consider the difference in her language and moods from when she was avoiding responsibility. The coach asked Juliette to stand up again, move to a different spatial position from where she stood in the posture of avoiding responsibility, and to adopt a full body configuration of being responsible. She was asked what specific differences she noticed in her posture, muscle tension and breathing compared with being “in a body of avoiding responsibility”.
The main self-observation for Juliette was that she felt so much freer in her neck, which was amazing to her. The coach asked her to move back and forth between the postures of avoiding and accepting responsibility in order for her to gain a clear somatic feel of the difference between each dynamic body disposition. Once this was complete Juliette was asked, “Which way of being in the body is preferable for you?” She replied enthusiastically, “This one”, referring to the body of accepting responsibility.
Another crucial question
The coach assessed that while it seemed very positive that Juliette had discovered a new and more helpful way she could be in her body, this new somatic Way of Being required consolidation. The coach knew it was important to check that Juliette was fully committed to move into the different way of bodily being and ensure there was not any unhelpful doubt that could linger and compromise her improving the quality of her existence.
The coach asked Juliette a crucial question to check for doubt and the potential presence of the mood of Resignation, which acts to “kill” any possibility for change and improvement. The question he asked was, “Do you genuinely give yourself full permission to live from this Way of Being in your body from now on?” Without hesitation Juliette replied with a very definite “Yes”. If she had hesitated or provided a tentative “Yes”, or said “I don’t know”, it would have been essential to explore the doubt and ensure it did not remain.
Juliette’s definite “Yes” indicated to the coach she was committed to make the change to live from accepting her responsibilities in all areas of her life. As a closing comment the coach reinforced that the coaching conversation complement the work of Juliette’s somatic practitioners by saying, “Please continue to use the services of the physiotherapist and chiropractor to ensure that your neck does fully recover”. In a follow up call with Juliette a few months later she shared how her neck had finally responded to professional treatment and how much more she was enjoying life by “taking on the responsibility of being an adult”.
If you have a constant area of pain and discomfort in your body you can ask yourself, “How is this pain and discomfort taking care of me?” Listen to the first answer that occurs in your thoughts, no matter how nonsensical it may seem.
Then ask yourself, “Do I genuinely give myself permission to live without this pain and discomfort? Would it really be OK?” and further ask, “What commitments am I prepared to make to my self with live with much less, or even no, pain and discomfort?” Perhaps this will include seeing a somatic practitioner and ensuring that you follow recommendations for exercises that will gradually enable you to rehabilitate your body.