[Bill Valentine is the co-founder of Next Step for Success; a division of Ever Higher LLC., along with his wife, Penelope Valentine, CC, Redmond, OR, 541-504-4748. Next Step is an adult and family coaching service.]
As most parents of difficult youth can attest, the journey that begins with emerging, symptomatic, problem behavior can be a long, tortuous and lonely one. Often, that journey passes through one or more therapeutic placements with starts and stops along the way as new maps are offered and followed. Frequently, those pointing out the one, true way to family health and happiness will differ dramatically. Placement may, or may not, end with a successful return to the family.
Now, a new profession is emerging that offers continuity and bridges for the continuum of emotional growth education. Family Coaching can provide trained, certified specialists who serve as strength-based resources for the families of troubled youth, referring professionals and short or long-term therapeutic/emotional growth programs. In addition, family coaches are stepping in to fill the long-neglected gap in transitioning from highly structured programs to the freedom and temptations of post-program life.
As has been discussed in previous essays, coaching as opposed to therapy is a forward-facing, solution-focused and strength-based collaborative effort between coach and client, thus maximizing the individual (and family) tools and resources. Coaches serve as sounding boards and accountability agents while the family moves toward mutual responsibility and individual choices. Families, who utilize coaches, receive questions and suggestions rather than advice and direction.
Coaching, as a profession, is barely two decades old. Most early coaches began in the business world, serving as mentors and partners to executives and managers. As the concept of relational support for individual achievement became more widely accepted, coaching expanded into additional areas of personal and professional life. Indeed, as an indication of the ubiquitous appeal of coaching, there are now nearly 50 coach certification programs and dozens of individuals with practices focused solely on coaching the coaches.
As in any other rapidly growing profession that is still defining itself, families, referring professionals and programs need to be aware that there is a wide range of skill and experience among coaching practitioners. So how do families evaluate a particular coach or coaching service for troubled teens or young adults?
First, there is the issue of certification. Families should require some sort of minimum training and certification to help them in determining an individual's competency. The programs offering training and certification to coaches can range from 36-hours of tele-classes with monitored phone coaching to a two-year Master level matriculation. A certified coach has demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and willingness by developing a theoretical and practical base for their practice.
Next, and probably most important, a family coach must have a depth of knowledge and experience in working with troubled youth and/or their parents or guardians that includes "hands-on" experience within a program or programs. Therapy-based, theory-focused family systems education is not nearly as valuable in family coaching as an intimate experience in the continuum of emotional growth education.
Specialties within specialties are developing as coaches employ their own strengths and experiences to support families. Coaches offer a wide-range of services and expertise to families. Some may limit their practices to working with long-term program attendees and alumni, other coaches focus on transitioning graduates of wilderness programs and/or long-term residential placement. Some coaches may just work with parents or guardians while others work with the whole family.
An out-of-control child creates an emotionally charged environment, and coaches can serve as a resource for families struggling to make rational decisions. Referring professionals and admission staff can also rely on family coaches to support scared, confused or reluctant parents during the enrollment process. During the in-program phase, the experienced family coach can represent a calm and reassuring presence for wavering or guilt-filled parents. Finally, and most needed, is the family coach's role in assisting the student and family with the transition back into the "real world" after a short-term wilderness or long-term residential placement.
When a difficult child or young adult demonstrates a commitment to making healthy, positive choices in his or her life, this makes the effort, money, time and heartache of the family's experience worthwhile. However, completion of a wilderness or boarding school program is not evidence of a young person's ability or willingness to apply the lessons learned and the tools gained to his or her home or school. Family coaches act as accountability agents that can bridge the gap between program and after-care, thus maximizing the power and effectiveness of the program, process and entire family. Students can transform their lives from a problem past to a promising future.
Future family coaching essays will explore in greater detail three primary areas of the profession; the problem child at home, an adjunct to in-program parent education and support, and the transition to after-care.
Next Essay: The Problem Child At Home: Coaching For Logic In An Emotional Crisis.