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  • Writer's pictureHelen Burt Iain McCormick

Using Buddhist Psychology in Executive Coaching

Photo credit: Leonard Laub

Iain McCormick and Stewart Forsyth

From a paper presented at the NZPsS Conference Rotorua, August 2019.

Buddhism predates modern psychology by several thousand years, yet it provides insights into dealing with twenty-first century living that can be incorporated into executive coaching. A Buddhist-inspired framework for dealing with difficult emotions (Szczygiel, 2015) suggests that four concepts are particularly helpful in this: Sitting With, Middle Path, Healthy Interdependency, and Compassion.

Sitting with simply means that the coaching client is able to be present with his or her actual, direct, typically painful, emotional experience. It is closely related to mindfulness (being in the moment) and is important because it aims to overcome the powerful reinforcing aspects of the avoidance of painful emotions. Experiential avoidance involves trying to escape from unpleasant thoughts, feelings, memories and sensations even when doing so causes harm in the long-run.

TheMiddle Path encourages the coaching client to find a balance between holding on and letting go, between rigidity and flexibility. It challenges the client to give up false dichotomies such as good or bad, positive or negative. This is particularly helpful with reference to both to their inner emotional life and to important others, often persecutors or intimidators, in their present and past.

Healthy interdependency is the ability of the client to find a healthy balance between being a self-determining, free individual yet still relying on the kindness, warmth and concern of others. It involves the client accepting his or her own unique individuality while appreciating the impact others have on their development and effectiveness.

Compassion can be defined as the acceptance of and sensitivity towards the suffering of oneself and others. It motivates clients to take action to help the physical, mental, or emotional pain of others and themselves, while ensuring they do not become overwhelmed by such difficult emotions.

Our executive coaching has used these concepts to deal with past trauma and enrich client's lives.

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