In this article, I'm going to share with you the key features of pluralistic coaching. Together, we will look at the theoretical underpinnings and how a pluralistic approach can be applied in a coaching setting.
In addition, we will consider the pluralistic pillars and principles that you can add to your practice. Equipped with these insights, you will be able to identify how a coaching psychologist can apply these core methods.
What is a pluralistic coaching approach?
The pluralistic framework was initially created by Mick Cooper and John McLeod in 2006 as an approach within counselling and psychotherapy. The pluralistic approach came into to being due to an opposition to the lines created by different approaches. Cooper and McLeod state that lots of different approaches can be of value rather than just one. The goal was to ‘develop an approach that was flexible and suited to the needs of each individual’.
According to Cooper & McLeod (2011) one of the fundamental principles of the pluralistic approach is
‘If we want to know what is most likely to help clients, we should talk to them about it’.
Pluralistic coaching theory and concepts
Pluralism takes the view that there is a range of different views and issues that can be taken without there being a right or wrong way. Within the pluralistic framework, this idea is further outlined in the book ‘The Handbook of Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherapy’ which includes the three pillars of pluralism.
Pluralism across orientations
A pluralistic coaching psychologist is open and flexible to exploring a range of different approaches and techniques to help the coachee.
Pluralism across clients
The Pluralistic coaching psychologist offers an individualistic approach for the coachee rather than the coachee having to fit a particular framework.
Pluralism across perspectives
The pluralistic approach encourages shared decision-making across practitioners and coachees. These decisions will include how you work together, goals and approaches used.
In addition to the pillars, the pluralistic approach includes a set of principles:
There is no one right way of conceptualising a coachee’s problems – different understandings are useful for different clients at different time points in time.
There is no one way of practising coaching – different coachees need different things at different points in time.
Many disputes and disagreements in the coaching field can be resolved by taking a ‘both/and’ perspective, rather than an ‘either/or’ one.
It is important that coaching psychologists respect each other’s work and recognise the value it can have.
Mick Cooper & Windy Dryden, pg.3 - adapted for coaching
Related: What is person centered coaching?
Pluralistic Coaching | Role of Coaching Psychologist
Now that we've considered the theoretical foundations of pluralistic coaching, we need to identify how a Coaching Psychologist can apply the core methods of the pluralistic approach.
In this section, we will consider the core methods a coaching psychologist can use to support the coachee. This will include an overview of the assessment methods to establish the needs and preferences of the coachee.
What are the core methods for pluralistic practice?
Establishing goals using questions such as ‘How would you know that our work together has been successful?’
Active listening and care
Reflecting, paraphrasing and summarising
Using symbols and metaphors
Working in the here and now
Helping people make sense of why they do things
Helping people re-evaluate what they do
Helping people re-decide
Essential reading: The Complete Handbook of Coaching
What are the assessment methods in a pluralistic approach?
The pluralistic approach encourages dialogue and collaboration between both parties. The coachee is invited to initiate relevant information and areas of support to allow both the coaching psychologist and the coachee to explore together. The coachee is encouraged to ask questions and make comments and corrections.
Assessment of the coachee’s goals and problems
As the pluralistic approach includes collaboration it is important to use this style to produce a rich and fruitful description of what has brought the coachee for support. Pluralistic practitioners can use this to encourage coachees to create specific goals so there is a clear understanding between the coachee and the coaching psychologist.
It is important to ask the coachee questions relating to support they have received previously and what they found helpful. This will not only help the coaching psychologists establish the needs of the client but will also identify strengths and resources previously used.
Strengths and resources
The pluralistic approach sees the coachee as a ‘co-participant who possess personal knowledge and experiences that can help contribute to the work you do together’ (The Handbook of Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherapy). Helping the coachee identify how they have previously dealt with difficult situations allows an exploration of needs, strengths and resources.
This originated from Kurt Lewin's idea of ‘life space’ (The Handbook of Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherapy) which allows the coaching psychologist to build up a picture of the coachee's everyday life. Once this picture has been built, an exploration of potential resources that may be available to support the coachee can be identified.
From this article, you will have a clear understanding of the core components of pluralistic coaching. This also includes the pillars and principles and how to add pluralistic coaching into your assessment process.
In addition, you will be able to begin applying this approach in your coaching sessions. To finish off, let’s review the key factors of pluralistic coaching.
A pluralistic approach is flexible and suited to the individual needs of the client.
Pluralism can be across clients, perspectives and orientations.
Core assessment methods for the coaching psychologist include collaboration style, goals and problems, preferences and strengths and resources.