Blog Post: Can a Coach Hear Confessions?

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James, the brother of Jesus, wrote:

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so God can heal you. – James 5:16

The goal of confession is healing, and the means to healing is confessing. This is an intimate interaction that must be handled delicately.

While the coach doesn’t formally hear confessions, when a veil of confidentiality is pulled around the conversation and an open presence is provided by the coach, the client will often confess.

What do these confessions sound like?

  1. “I don’t have it all under control.”
  2. “I made a wrong decision.”
  3. “I handled a situation poorly.”
  4. “I don’t know what to do.”
  5. “I treated a co-worker disrespectfully.”
  6. “I can’t calm my anxiety.”
  7. “My pride got in the way of the right decision.”
  8. “I punished someone who I have power over.”

These aren’t all sins, but they are all confessions that open up the possibility of healing.

In all my healthy clients, most of the issue is underneath the surface. They want to appear confident and competent, but under a thin veneer, they feel inadequate for the task at hand. If they don’t feel inadequate, then they need to grow further into who God created them to be. The feeling of inadequacy will come.

The healing James is talking about is an internal healing that creates a healthy conscience for the confessor. The client can then become more confident and competent.

What should the coach do when she hears a confession?

  1. Normalize if applicable.
  2. Refer if necessary.
  3. Forgive if appropriate.

Normalize If Applicable

As a coach, you have the advantage of having heard many clients. You, more than most, know if something is normal or abnormal. When I hear someone confess they have Imposter Syndrome, I know this is normal. Lots of people experience it as they start to see success.

To normalize this confession, I might make this concise statement: “Imposter Syndrome isn’t uncommon.” That’s all that needs to be said. You may want to explain it or share a story, but you would begin to minimize the healing. Make a concise statement of normalization, and let the client soak it in. If the client asks for more information, then give them a brief definition or example.

If it doesn’t sound normal to you, don’t normalize it.

Refer If Necessary

As a coach, you know the limits of coaching. Some issues are beyond your purview. If the confession points to an unhealed wound, then the client needs to see a counselor. The confession opens an avenue toward healing, but the healing is only going to come from a professional who knows how to help them understand what happened and release the trauma the client continues to feel. We often make excuses for not seeing a counselor, but this is a necessary path to growth.

To refer the client, you need to make an observation: “This sounds like a deep wound. We can coach around it, but what would be best is to make an appointment with a trained counselor and work through the trauma.” Notice that this statement is not as concise as the normalization statement. The presence of the wound requires the creation of safety to best hear the observation. I might finish with a statement of normalization: “Counseling is a healthy pursuit that many people find helpful, including me.” Finally, if the client is willing, include an action step toward meeting with a counselor.

Referring to a counselor doesn’t mean the coaching has to stop, but the client can only make so much progress in a wounded area without professional intervention.

Forgive If Appropriate

As a Christian coach, you can forgive the client. Who gave you that authority? Jesus.

Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ. – Ephesians 4:32

The client may need forgiveness from more than just you, but you can start the process. Depending on the confession, the coach can say: “People make mistakes.” Or “If it helps, I forgive you.” Or even, “Jesus is in the business of second chances.”

The coach doesn’t want to stay here long. It can tip the relationship away from coaching. We are a fellow traveler, not the one who forgives a man for his transgression. But when a client hears that they can be forgiven for their selfish behavior, it gives them some hope to take further healing action with others.

This should be the least common of the three responses.

Conclusion

I’ve had a few clients, only a small percentage, who come into coaching with their forcefield up. They won’t admit any fault or any area that might need growth. They are impressive on their own and having a coach could communicate their incompetence to those around him (I used a masculine pronoun on purpose.) One CEO told me that he sees a direct correlation to an employee’s willingness to be coached and their success in the organization.

Confession is good for the soul. It happens a lot in coaching. Be prepared to process it appropriately. You can normalize, refer, and forgive. These are great tools to add to your skillset.

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