#PERSPECTIVES | When Coaching Meets Therapy

World renown life coach, Sharon Pearson comes together with an established clinical supervisor, family therapist and professor Jennifer Slack to talk about how she approaches therapy, her philosophies and discuss their ethics within their different disciplines.


Introduction: Hi I'm Sharon Pearson and welcome to this episode of perspectives. This episode really means so much to me. Recently I was in Fairfield Connecticut in the United States and I'll stay with my dear friend Jennifer. She's an amazing human being.

We met about 18 years ago now and she is the reason I became a life coach. We were sitting outside at my beautiful home having a glass of wine and just talking about where we heading what are we going to do. She just said you should be a coach. I didn't even know what it was. I didn't know it existed and we walked through it and that time she was just starting to train to be a family therapist we're just starting to think about it.

I thought I can't be a coach I can't help anyone but I can't help myself.

So that journey for me was really about me helping me and it all got started with Jen and I remember finding her out one day sound terrified. I don't think I can do it. I'm just so scared and she gave me the classic words that I've used to this day I still say this to so many people and it's always attributed to Jen.

Of course, you feel afraid anyone would in your situation you're about to go to another level. How else could you feel. And I remember just feeling. It was amazing feeling of being validated and being allowed to feel what I feel which is something I was so unfamiliar with. So she gave me very many gifts in the early days of our friendships and continues to she's beautiful you got to meet her. Her sound for herself very shortly. She's warm and kind hearted and values driven. She lives a life that is aligned around what matters to her the most which is her family and make a difference through her therapy work. She has crafted a life for herself that is so suited to who she is it's one of the things one of the many things I admire about her so much and the Fact that we've maintained such a beautiful and close relationship across the malls for all these years means so much to both of us. So I know I got to stay in her beautiful home for a couple of days in Connecticut. We went hiking together and then one morning I said we should do a podcast. And we started chatting and it went for over two hours. And so what we've done is we split it into two parts and you're going to want more and more of this woman when you hear her in the first part. We talk about her approach to therapy and she's a trained therapist. How does she approach therapy what's her philosophy behind therapy. What is she thinking about attending to what is what is she weaving into her therapy and how does she bring that to life. That's going to be the first part of the podcast and the second part which will be playing down the track again with us just sitting on her couch in her beautiful home. We digress and we just by now it just naturally moved into chatting about family because one of the things I've admired about her all these years I was we became friends when her youngest son was just born and was hadn't wasn't walking just a baby. And I've watched her as she's been a mother raising her three beautiful children their amazing human beings and all of them have gone on to start crafting lives that are based on their values what they care about what they stand for. And at young ages they know that. Now one of the things General will be the first to tell you she's not a perfect mother and then not a perfect family. They have ups and downs. They're flawed. She is. She insists that that message comes across and I of course admire that about her as well. The humility she has. But there is still an underpinning there of love being expressed in a really functional and loving way.

And you're going to see that come across in part two of this podcast with Jen. Now I'm going to read here because I want to get a title right. And titles are my strengths. So she is a clinical supervisor and member of the American Association of marriage and family therapy and also an adjunct professor at Fairfield University. And she works as a family therapist and therapist. And I know some of the work she does at university. She works as a supervisor so new therapists who are training. She sits and what it she could be standing. She's with them helping them craft their own narrative style as therapists.

And I say to her nearly every time we talk about this topic anyone who gets trying to get emotional anyone who's fortunate to be trained by this woman is going to be just the most phenomenal therapist. And I hope you love her and I know you'll love her as much as I do. So here's Jen

Sharon Pearson: Hey. This is Sharon Pearson. I'm in Fairfield Connecticut and I'm here with my dear friend Jen psych who is a therapist and a phenomenal human being. And I'm so thrilled to be out to share with you today.

Her message in her words. Welcome Jen. How are you.

Jennifer Slack: Thank you Sharon. It's wonderful to be here with you my dear friend.

S:So we've known each other for

J: since 2001

S: 18 years

J: Yeah.

S: And we met before we were both moving into what became our passions.

J: Yes.

S: And our songs. Yeah. We were trying to figure out our passions our songs. There were conversations we had. Yeah overshadowing the backyard.

J: Exactly. And I I think we helped each other kind of identify and crystallize how to manifest those passions.

S: I'll always remember that moment. Can I share that moment. I was some for some reason I said I was going to be a coach. We'd come to that together over a glass of Chardonnay in my backyard was my turn to host. And then I was on the phone with you saying I was really scared and you said of course you are anyone in your situation would feel that way. You're going to a different level. You're about to have new experiences you've never had before. How else could you feel it was the most beautiful validation. And from there I was able to leap into it completely blind Jan. I we say it's a leap of faith. It was. I didn't have faith. It was a leap without anything but those comforting words. So I'll always remember that moment. Do you remember it or do you do you do.

J: No I do. Yeah.

S: It was very significant to me to feel that validated instead of my fears being dismissed. I was used to hearing you'll be okay or it'll work out. But you just accepted it embraced and held beautifully. My uncertainty about it was very valid and that's what enabled me to launch into something that I felt incredibly ill equipped to do.

J: Well you might not have had faith but you had courage. Yeah. And you were willing to explore the unknown territories and just dive in and figure it out.

S: And I did.

J: Yes you did. Yes.

S: And then so and then some and you began studying when you were in Melbourne.

J: I did. Yeah. So I began a graduate program there. Yeah. Ecology. Yeah. And then we moved back to the States in 2003 and I picked up and began my marriage. Marriage and Family Therapy master's degree.

S: Wow.

J: With three kids of my own I went slowly at a pace that worked for me.

S: And all your kids were under at that stage under about 12 with a rhythm.

J: Yeah. Two years apart each. Yes. So it was a lot.

S: It was a lot.

S: And then tell us a little bit more about what you've done since then to get us up to now and then we'll go into your philosophy of.

J: So I studied at Fairfield University. And I interned at a neighbourhood clinic where I stayed on for a total of 12 years and became a supervisor and then eventually the clinical director and then I left. Just coming up on a year ago to invest fully in a private practice and now I teach a class at Fairfield University and do supervision

S: of psychology or family therapy family.

J: It's family therapy. It is so fearful and I would you to study in family therapy. Yes. That's fantastic. Yeah.

S: And what were the cut up. Because I'm interested what were the kind of who was the influences in that program.

J: Who were they drawing on the structural and strategic models. Primarily with a little limited exposure to post-modern approaches as well. Yeah but really largely based in the modernist perspectives

S: so pre 70s pre 60s.

J: Yes when it was a little bit more objective.

S: Exactly.

J: A little as a black boxy.

S: Yes yes. So who were the main influences for you philosophically. Who do you feel you draw on or empathize with or connect with in terms of approaches to therapy and family therapy.

J: I have to say that the the underpinnings of structural therapy Manute chins the graphics spatial physical metaphors of that model in particular are like a scaffolding for me. Very very helpful. But my way of being with people is much more grounded in post-modern approaches which for me are all about exploring with people not having answers outside of the exploration necessarily but then continuing on. Now what we're learning in terms of neuroscience and brain chemistry and just the organic aspects that are playing a role also that it may be have to do more with like an individual's organic system as much as a family system interest. I think there are so many different kind of layers to explore in terms of doing therapy.

How much do you draw on systems theory for family therapy even if you're working with one individual.

Yeah I think heavily even if I define it in the way I just did. Yeah. So even if I'm working with an individual on individual behaviors and patterns of interacting with people and we're not really talking about their families so much I'm thinking about context and I'm thinking about that maybe their individual systems like their organic body system his you often share with me how when you're with a client where were you feeling that.

S: The question I'm indicating with my hands reality people can say to me you. Where are you feeling that whereas that sitting with you. That's a big part of how you work. So it's to you is that a way of helping the client bridge the cognition to the feeling so that that's one of the ways I use it it gets I think I feel physically is a way of changing it too I feel I have an emotion.

S: Do you ever use it that way or is.

J: Yes. Yeah definitely. And the other way. Yeah. Because sometimes people come in with a lot of awareness about what their body is feeling but they aren't connecting it to a cognition or vice versa. And I think ultimately it's all good. Now one it's all unified. I'd like to separate it and yeah our Western culture but it's all one thing and I just I think having multiple modalities to better understand a person's experience is going to be better than this.

S: Yeah. When you began what was your feeling or your thought around working with people did you have a philosophy or a bent or an expectation back then and I'd be interested to know how it's grown over the years.

J: I think it's grown in a lot of ways and changed as I learned more about just a lot of the like the neuroscience pieces of this and my ideas about diagnosing have shifted a lot over the years and continue to shift back again, in family therapy the idea of diagnosing a person is largely frowned upon. And I think for really good reasons because it's subjective diagnoses are very subjective and there's been a lot of harm done around diagnosing and yet still sometimes people have very specific acute difficulties that can be helped with treatment approaches that go hand in hand with certain diagnoses. So I. So that's been one area of shift. And but then there are areas that are completely the same and haven't shifted at all

S: since the day I met you

J: which is probably three glasses of chardonnay just being with people in a way that is normalizing. That's built in love and compassion and a commitment to be to hold what they say with an open spirit and non judging and respect and integrity so to me that's kind of ethics the ethics of this work. And it's

S:I really want to unpack that because that's one of my that's as you know one of the things that I delight the most from speaking with you. It's how you do that. And it's all how it's who you are when you're doing that. When your clients patients what do you call them either clients.

J: Clients.

S: when your clients come to you and you all just create a scenario for you and change it however you want. A client comes to you the walls are out the boundaries are way too rigid. No one's getting in their home protection defensiveness and the need to repel what's just. Could you paint a picture of perhaps hypothetically how you would go about helping them see that there can be self trust or. What. What are you thinking about. I won’t put words in your mouth. What do I be thinking about self dress. What would you be thinking about.

J: I think I'm thinking about other trust. I'm thinking about how can I create a safe place for this person to begin to trust that my agenda is nothing more than what I am hoping will be helpful and healing to her. Or him. So that it's truly joined and connected. I really ultimately think it's all about connection and when someone comes in so well defended they've been hurt in connection and I'm hoping to be one small repair for them

S: that it can be safe. That their will be their emotions will be safe, that they're bits that they've been rejecting we'll be safe with you.

J: Exactly. And sometimes it takes time for some people one or two conversations does the trick. And for other people it takes I think the passage of time and repeat experience to me. I agree. Heal and enters yes.

S: To rehearse. OK so what happened last weeks consistent this week. I can count on that and I can build on that. This is how I can respond in this moment it's a bit safe for me to respond that way and they can rehearse it with you in a safe environment and a team too. In practice in the real world and experience it

J: and people can tolerate an expression of my emotions that can tolerate hearing what my thoughts are they can tolerate aspects of myself that I'm not sure are tolerable.

S: Yes that was a big part of my healing as you know for me was embracing all of me and not feeling the need to suppress it hide it deny it. Get angry with it judge it. that's. Would you say that's a big piece of what you do.

J: Completely. Yeah. One hundred percent. And I think when things are so scary that we can't even identify themselves let alone risk saying it out loud with another person. They just sit and grow and fester and become very toxic

S: and real. They seem very real.

J: Yes. Yeah they do. They its real and the problem which doesn't even very often is not a problem but it becomes a problem. So my hope is to make these things talk about a ball and with compassion people understanding where they're coming from and that it's OK and that there are more options kind of about expanding options for what you do with these feelings. Beginning with non-judging accept and accepting said things

S: it’s a big part of it

J: huge

S: I didn't even know that was the thing. As you know I could accept my feelings. Yes. What are you talking about. What is this strange magical mystical words you're using. Except yes. And now I can't coach without. Yeah just holding. I always teach coaches we're holding our clients with our hearts as we are using cognition. But if that piece isn't there this won't have an effect. What's your way of interpreting that. Because I know a big part of what you do you're thinking about how to different approaches and different choices. That's an inevitability but a big pot huge part. Most of what you do is holding the client can you talk to that in your own way.

J: Yeah it is. It is a holding space and all of you know I'm unconscious as we're having this conversation about you know the many people who have preceded me in terms of these terms and concepts that they are not original ones. They're just very dear to me.

S: Yes.

J: And yeah it is it's a holding it's a body and a mind experience and it's relational and it's all three of those happening at the same time. And so I think it starts with me being aware with my own feel of my own feelings my own body my own head and really making it all about the client and putting in check anything that's coming up for me if I'm having moments of you know OK. I don't know where I'm gonna go from here. It's a signal to just slow it down and check in with the client. And together we find our way. No two therapy sessions are the same. I mean that's why models are great and they can help us from getting lost. But there is so much creativity that happens in any session.

S: I've never. I can't ever served on the same session twice in thousands of sessions.

J: It's not possible. It wouldn't make sense right. If it if it is happening twice then say OK I was let's paint by number.

S: It is I think is where I began when I was doing student student trials with supervision. I would have begun with I've got my twelve questions thank goodness.

J: Yeah I mean you need a script.