Coaching is often described as counter-cutural

It is designed to create new thinking, to widen the field of vision we are working in.

The work I do in medicine coaching, facilitating workshops and speaking, is sometimes described as counter-cultural.

I am curious about the doctor’s experience of our conversation or what they are hearing from me. I often ask medics to turn inward, to check their own bodies for sensations and feelings including emotions. I ask them, what’s happening in YOUR mind and body in this moment?

There are two primary responses to these inquiries:

  • Relief that someone wants to know, that someone has seen them as a human being
  • Disillusionment and confusion, sometimes annoyance.

Doctors are focused on the other people, their patients. Doctors are busy with the outside world, solving problems, fixing things, telling others what their opinion is. Important, meaningful work. You have been taught to be objective, to limit your own sharing and you are mostly working under significant time pressure and very high expectations generated by everyone around you and by yourself.

And that’s also why my questions are counter-cultural, unexpected.

For those who feel relief and validation our working relationship usually progresses quickly and productively. The result of truly seeing the doctor as a person with needs and experiences of their own, establishes the trust we need to do the candid, action based work of coaching together. Where there is a wider audience there is usually a spike in work for us at Coaching for Doctors after the event if the audience members have felt this validation. Members of the audience express hope about a way forward.

For those who are confused by my questions, a wide range of reactions are possible. Sometimes the doctor is annoyed, expresses a view that their own state is irrelevant, or my question misses the point of the story they are telling me.

Sometimes the doctor might suddenly have no words, be struck dumb by an inability to recognise the question or to find an answer. This is shocking, confronting and can create a feeling of incredible vulnerability for the doctor. In a workshop or speaking situation when this happens, I might learn about it months later, when the doctor has had time for processing their response.

This experience of not knowing the answer, of discovering the disconnect within one’s self, is one of the most powerful moments I have the privilege to be a part of in my work – especially when it happens 1:1 or in a small group. Holding space for a doctor while they reorient and find an anchor in this situation, in these moments of confusion, is one of the most important things I can do in our relationship.

Coaching is not like any other conversation. It is designed to create new thinking, to widen the field of vision we are working in. When the Coachee, the doctor, enters a moment of unknowing, the opportunity for learning is immense. To step into the opportunity is entirely up to the Doctor Coachee. I hold the space. I might ask what do you notice just now? We might simply sit in silence, leaving space and time for processing, thinking, feeling. Sometimes the doctor is ready, sometimes they are not. I don’t know what will happen, I sit in acceptance and love and let them take the lead. We are exploring their terrain in service of their goals and aspirations.

Our bodies give us important information. Asking how do you feel or what’s happening inside you just now, is not a soft fluffy question. It might be the hardest question you ever ask yourself. Medicine is changing, your patients expect you to connect with them, your colleagues want to be in relationship with you as team members. To build a different kind of healthcare and a more sustainable career in medicine, you need to understand yourself. 

The doctor who holds everyone at arm’s length and relies on their technical knowledge and their special position of status has been promoted and trained for decades now. I don’t know exactly what better medicine looks like. That will be created by many people over time. What I do know is that the way we have been training and delivering medicine creates too many doctors who are unhappy, disillusioned, disempowered, hurting, sick and now leaving the profession. We can do much better than we have been by our doctors.

There is an exquisite terrain within each of us to explore. Your answers are within you. When you are curious to learn and grow, you raise your self awareness. Then the way you relate to the external terrain of life often changes. New ways to behave and think emerge and they create new feelings and emotions, new potentials, new options for your work and your life.

You can start today by being curious about your own experience, you are much more than a thinking brain on a stick…. You can be a whole, interesting, expressing person, even when you are at work, who others want to connect and share with. You can be the change, you can find joy in your work, you can be a part of better medicine.

So, what’s happening inside your body right now?
How are you feeling?
Can you describe your emotional state?
What can you learn from this information?

With so much love and gratitude, may you be well, Sharee x

The Thriving Doctor book on a wooden table

The Thriving Doctor

Sharee Johnson’s new book The Thriving Doctor is available in all good bookstores on online.

Sharee has been coaching doctors since 2014, find out more about her work