Kerstin Sturm, M.Sc.
Psychologist, Systemic Coach

To better understand the role of a systemic coach in a special education setting, consider examples from day-to-day life in which you seek the advice of a friend.

A recent experience my cousin had can serve as an illustration.  She called her best friend seeking support, but received advice.  Her friend’s reaction was reassuring at first: “I’ve been through exactly the same thing,” she’d said.  The part that followed was less helpful:  “Here is how you should handle this.  The solution is easier than you think.” It was not long before my cousin called me, annoyed and scarcely better off.

It got me to thinking… Wouldn’t it be nice if our friends always listened – really listened?  If instead of recognizing their own lives in yours, they applied their focus entirely on your predicaments?  How nice it would have been if, after speaking with her friend my cousin had felt heard instead of feeling her head buzzing, instead of wondering whether she had even been understood.

My cousin’s friend had missed a wonderful opportunity.  She could have helped my cousin to take stock of the ideas she had considered in relation to her problem and to feel a kind of mastery over them.  She could have guided my cousin through a process of discovering the solutions that she simply had yet to work out, even to talk through some scenarios together.

Perhaps you see where this is going. In my capacity as Systemic Coach at The Essential Learning Group, these are precisely the kinds of services I provide to individual families, to staff and to parent groups.  My role is to ensure that people are heard, and, in the face of difficulty are afforded every opportunity to work out their own best solutions.

I deal with, but remain outside of the systems I analyze. The parents and staff with whom I speak are experts within their respective systems (systems, here, can be anything from families to communities to offices, etc.) whereas my expertise lies in the facilitation.  It is their ideas, feelings and inner resources that bring about the resolutions they seek; my personal opinions are of little importance.  It is a highly effective process.

The ways in which my services can be helpful are as numerous as the people I speak to. In a typical session at The Essential Learning Group, I may find myself helping a family to move their child towards improved executive function or helping a similar parent to truly own a decision they have already made concerning therapeutic intervention, or perhaps helping parents to maintain a strong marriage and avoid burnout as they struggle with the challenges of raising a child with special learning needs in Shanghai.

Why, then, is it so difficult to behave as systemic coaches for family and friends?

It may be that people close to us do not enjoy the perspective of the Systemic Coach. Inevitably, somebody who shares such an intimate relationship with you will be part of your system, and frequently an important, heavily invested part. From such a position, gaining the distance necessary to perform the function of a Systemic Coach is nearly impossible.  Additionally, it is only natural that we want those dear to us to profit from our experiences. When my cousin’s best friend offered advice based on her own experience, she certainly was not motivated by selfishness. Taken together, these make for a strong tendency to offer advice rather than to lean back, listen and ask questions.

It would be wonderful if we could behave more like coaches from time to time. I recommend it when your teenage daughter is contemplating her academic choices, when your eight year old is having a fight with his best friend or when your partner tells you about a conflict from at work. It may work beautifully.  Of course, if they want to hear your opinion, you can still offer it.

I, for one, remain very interested in your experience.  By all means, tell me everything. To determine whether I can be helpful to your family, please reach out to [email protected] to schedule a free introductory meeting.