Understanding the Role of Mindfulness in a Coaching Practice

In recent decades, ‘mindfulness’ has become a ubiquitous concept throughout our society.  Originating as a method of self-awareness and transformation in ancient India, in our contemporary society mindfulness has evolved into one of the more effective interventions for numerous medical and emotional conditions.

But the influence of mindfulness has far extended beyond the clinical sphere and is now part of our society as a whole, influencing corporate culture, the workplace, education, and our health care systems. Supported by thousands of empirical studies, mindfulness has clearly become an integral component of most health initiatives. 

There are two ways to understand the role of mindfulness in coaching practice. These can be labelled Client-Focused Mindfulness Coaching and Practitioner-Focused Mindfulness Coaching.  

Client-Focused Mindfulness Coaching 

This method focuses on encouraging the client to adopt mindfulness. For clients who do not have an active mindfulness practice, it would be necessary to provide instructions on how to effectively practice mindfulness.  

Of course, not all coaches will feel capable of providing such instruction, as teaching mindfulness properly does require a degree of skill and experience.  

In this case, a referral to a mindfulness training centre would be appropriate, with the expectation that the client maintains a regular mindfulness practice throughout the coaching contract and hopefully beyond.  

Client-Focused Mindfulness Coaching relies on the client’s acquisition of mindfulness skills to facilitate the integration of coaching interventions. The teaching of mindfulness is not intended to be a goal in and of itself that is separate from the goals of the coaching interventions.   Rather, mindfulness becomes a process skill, in which the benefits of coaching are mediated through mindfulness.  

In this instance, mindfulness serves as the mediator or mechanism, so to speak, through which the coaching interventions are able to be fully integrated.  

What are some examples of mindfulness as mediators? This may include the capacity to remain in the present moment. This does not mean that one is unaware of past or future-oriented mental activity, but that one remains aware that thoughts about the past or future are occurring in the present moment. When they do this, the client is able to ensure that obstacles to their focus and intention in the present moment are not obscured by other thoughts and emotions.  

A second mediator is acceptance, which is the ability to allow mental experiences to arise within the mind without exerting efforts to prevent them or, for that matter, suppress them once they occur. Acceptance reduces the struggle that our clients often face in combating their own mental activity.

A third mediator is patience, the capacity to be generous towards ourselves as we begin the often-difficult transformational process in coaching. These mediators, and several others such as non-judgement and beginners mind, must be credited to the pioneering work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the contemporary mindfulness movement. As process variables, these mediators create an appropriate environment for coaching interventions to be effectively adopted and integrated.

And so, Client-Focused Mindfulness Coaching relies on mindfulness to facilitate the process of transformation. Of course, the efficacy of such coaching is, to a large degree, based on the client’s ability to sustain a regular and robust mindfulness practice outside of the coaching session. Clients who remain ‘mindless’ are apt to struggle in coaching or any other form of intervention.

Practitioner-Focused Mindfulness Coaching 

This approach shifts attention from the client to the coach, with an expectation that the coach develops their own mindfulness practice. By  embodying mindfulness, the coach brings a set of attitudes to the coaching session that creates a ‘space of transformation’ for their work with the client.  

To a large degree, these mindful attitudes parallel those described above and delineated by Kabat-Zinn. For example, the coach will aim to remain present-focused, accepting, and patient with the client, as well as non-judgemental, non-striving, and curious.  

By cultivating a mindful attitude within themselves, the coach will function optimally and effectively in coaching sessions, which increases the likelihood of the client achieving their agenda.  

A mindful coach also serves as a model for their client because they will express the same qualities of mindfulness that the client is also learning. It would be counterproductive for the client to integrate mindfulness processes but not expect or see the same of the coach. In this way, mindfulness becomes a matrix within which both client and coach work towards actualizing the client’s agenda. Ideally, both coach and client are maintaining a mindfulness practice.  

However, regardless of whether the client is practicing mindfulness, Practitioner-Focused Mindfulness Coaching comprises a set of skills that can enhance the coaching process.

In summary

Mindfulness can be viewed as a critical mediator of coaching success by developing specific attitudes and frames of reference that facilitates the coaching process, especially if both client and coach practice mindfulness. Regular and sustained mindfulness creates a space for both client and coach to work collaboratively to actualize the client’s goals.

Learn more about mindfulness – and how you can use it to deepen the impact of your positive psychology coaching – through our ICF-accredited Positive Psychology Coaching and Mindfulness course.