COACHING FOR CONSISTENCY
Posted: Feb 18, 2009, 12:59
By Bill Valentine PsyD, CC
"Rita", a 38 year-old single mother and successful attorney, came to us distraught and "at wits end." Her daughter Jennifer, 15, was becoming increasingly rebellious and confrontational, and Rita lacked the energy and knowledge to handle the difficult teen.
Rita and her husband, Ramon, also an attorney, had divorced two years ago. Since the divorce, Ramon had maintained only sporadic and unpredictable contact with his daughter. Jennifer's rebellion dated from the time of the divorce.
In our first interview, we spent considerable time with Rita exploring the chronology of Jennifer's contrary behavior and the methods Rita had employed in her attempt to provide structure and discipline for her daughter. At the conclusion of the first interview and after carefully explaining the difference between coaching and therapy, we assisted Rita in finding some local sources for family therapy and contracted with her for parent coaching.
What follows is an abridgement of the next several coaching sessions.
Coach: Rita, what do Jennifer's recent behaviors say to you?
Rita: That she doesn't respect me and wants to go live with her father.
Coach: I see. And how do you feel about that?
Rita: [Almost in tears] It really hurts. I've tried so hard to be mother and father to her over these last few years, and she doesn't seem to recognize or care about how hard I've tried.
Coach: I can appreciate how much that must hurt. And I encourage you to explore these feelings with your therapist. What about the possibility of her going to live with her father?
Rita: That will never happen. He barely sees her now as it is. He's all wrapped up in his work and his new girlfriend.
Coach: Supposing, for a minute, that he would take in Jennifer. How would you feel about that?
Rita: [Long pause] If that is what she wants and if Ramon would commit to being a real father AND I could have her spend time here on a regular basis … I guess it would be all right.
Coach: Have you ever discussed this possibility with Ramon?
Rita: No. But I know he'd never agree.
Coach: Well then, let's put that down as one of our goals; to come up with a plan and method for discussing this prospect with your ex-husband. Is that something you will be willing to do?
Rita: I guess so, yes.
Coach: Fine. Now let's turn to the present. What does Jennifer need now rather than what she wants?
Rita: What she needs is someone to say 'NO' and mean it.
Coach: Do you have trouble saying no and meaning it?
Rita: That's funny because at work I have to say no a lot and I can do it without hesitation when it's necessary. But with Jennifer, she knows just how to push my buttons, and when to do it.
Coach: What do you mean?
Rita: She is always asking for something or looking for a fight just after I get home from a long day at work. I am often so tired that I just don't have the energy to debate with her.
Coach: So what happens?
Rita: She usually gets her own way even after I have said no.
Coach: So, are you saying there are no, or few, real rules in your home?
Rita: Oh, no. There are rules, and I try to stick by them. It's just that sometimes I'm too tired or weak to enforce them, I guess.
Coach: Rita, do you think rules of behavior are important for children?
Rita: Well, I know for myself, when I was Jennifer's age, there were a lot of temptations to get in trouble and slide by at home. But my parents were kind of strict, I guess. I always knew what my boundaries were.
Coach: What other ideas does that give you about what Jennifer really needs?
Rita: She needs to know what the boundaries are and that I am here to make sure she stays within them. She needs me to be consistent.
Coach: You've got it. We can talk later about whose responsibility it is for Jennifer to stay within her boundaries, but let's first talk about a method for setting boundaries and remaining consistent. Have you ever heard of a Home Contract?
Rita: No, but I do know about contracts.
Coach: Great. Give me a brief description of a contract.
Rita: Well, it is an agreement between two or more people, written or verbal, in which there is a mutual responsibility to perform certain actions.
Coach: Terrific! Now, applying that framework to a Home Contract, we also need to add the concept of actions that must be refrained from as well. Also, consequences and rewards are spelled out in the Home Contract. Finally, the Home Contract needs to be discussed between all parties and signed by them. Before our next call, why don't you fill in your vision of how a Home Contract between you and your daughter would look.. Send me a quick email of how that would look and come to the call ready to discuss how such a document might help you and Jennifer in getting what you both need.
Several important things were demonstrated by the coach on these calls. First, she clearly separated coaching from therapy in the first call. She then kept Rita focused in subsequent calls on action-oriented problem solving rather than venting or exploring past, unresolved hurts and issues.
She acknowledged the possibility of Jennifer's moving in with Dad, but since this has not yet been addressed aloud, she moved that topic into the "parking lot" and kept the discussion moving toward practical, in-the-present solutions to the chaos in her home. Finally, she focused the client on seeing the Home Contract as a framework for later sessions, putting off for the time being whether Jennifer would go along or need to be policed.