Why doctors and coaches need to retreat for balance

In retreat, in the quiet, we can listen for our true selves and reconnect to our own meaning.

The world is incredibly noisy. There is so much junk to sift through. I find it tricky to work out what to attend to, what to read, listen to, watch. Is it just me?

Doctors in the UK and NZ have been striking. Surgeons are frustrated about not being able to do their work because there are not enough technicians or nurses to assist them. Emergency departments don’t have enough senior doctors or nurses to guide and support the juniors, who are learning their craft in an already high stress environment.

Patients have comorbidities and complex needs with social causes that are terrible for wellbeing, like poor housing and low health literacy. They are often alone and lonely, far away from their natural family support people and bereft of meaning.

As a doctor working every day in these conditions, can be full of meaning and full of overwhelm. As a coach we are at risk of mirroring the coachee’s experience, of identifying with their confusion, distress or overwhelm. It’s relatively easy to get entangled or enmeshed in all of this complexity as a coach.*

Both doctor and coach can want to turn to more education, more tips and tricks, more books, podcasts. That thought and feeling of I need to learn more, know more, manage time better, is a well learned habit for most. And often serves us well. Sometimes it’s simply more noise.

The human body maintains equilibrium through a careful balance of action, movement and rest, using both the sympathetic and the parasympathetic axes of the nervous systems. Listening to this body wisdom is key to balance. Doctor and coach can both benefit from withdrawing, retreating from the coal face of our work. In fact, we must if we are to avoid the kind of confusion and overwhelm that can cause harm to our counterparts. Rest is critical to achieving balance in the short and long term.

In retreat, in the quiet, we can listen for our true selves and reconnect to our own meaning.
What is it all for?
Why am I doing this?
Where do I want to put my energy?
Who am I?

In retreat I can hear my own voice, my thinking mind and my body mind. In retreat I can come to what really matters and remind myself of myself. In this quiet place that I have intentionally brought myself to, in the hope of rest or recovery, so much more is offered if I am curious. As Thich Nhat Hahn encouraged, if I can give myself the clear message, I’m listening dear one, then I can cultivate compassion and curiosity. Two qualities that can help us be better doctors and better coaches. Two qualities that can cut through the noise of our lives.

Some other things can happen in the quiet space of retreat. As we relax into the space we relax into our bodies, we attune, opening hearts and minds.

Sometimes as this experience deepens, the self can disappear for a few moments. This is awareness. Awareness that is always here but often forgotten, unnoticed. In this state of awareness, we can feel or know the interconnectedness of everything, the interdependence that exists between us. This opening of awareness, of space, brings its own relief. No longer bound by I, me, mine. Instead awake to we and us. No longer bound by body, or system or expectation. Open, resting in awareness.

Open to learning, open to connection, compassion, care. Curious.

I am a much better coach, patient, friend, human because of this regular practice of retreat. *which is why we ask that our coaches are accredited and encourage career long supervision.

Thich Nhat Hahn has been an important teacher for me, one of my favorite books of his is You Are Here (2009).

Recalibrate in 2024

Immersion Development Program for Doctors
Restore Balance and Joy: Build your intra and interpersonal skills.
6 x 1:1 Coaching sessions with Psychologist Coach, Sharee Johnson
24 hrs Masterclasses with a closed group of doctors (max 12)

Develop in ways that will help you reconnect to your purpose.




The Thriving Doctor book on a wooden table


The Thriving Doctor

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


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