Can personal coaching help targets of workplace bullying?

Coaching is a form of training or development that helps individuals and organizations find solutions to challenges facing them and to make tangible progress toward their goals and objectives. In contrast to individual therapy or counseling, coaching does not involve making diagnoses of psychiatric conditions or psychological injuries. In contrast to standard-brand consulting, coaching does not provide lists of recommendations or suggested solutions. Rather, coaching is about helping clients find the answers and pathways they seek, usually via thoughtful questioning and dialogue.

I just returned from an intensive, three-day seminar for those who are training to become personal and organizational coaches. Among other things, this training will enhance my ongoing efforts to address workplace bullying. In particular, I’ve been thinking a lot about how coaching can help targets of workplace bullying, especially those who are ready to engage a process of renewal following their difficult experiences at work.

Jessi Eden Brown, a licensed mental health counselor and professional coach, has been a pioneer in developing coaching services for targets through her affiliation with the Workplace Bullying Institute. The informal feedback that I’ve received over the years about her work has been very positive, furthering my interest in the potential of coaching to help targets.

As I wrote last year, targets of workplace bullying may go through four stages in their journey to a better place: Recognition, response, recovery, and renewal. Mental health counseling may be especially helpful in helping targets recover from conditions such as depression and PTSD. But coaching can help targets in the other three stages, including identifying options and taking action in the non-clinical realm and serving as a source of encouragement and support.

Just as there are not enough licensed mental health providers sufficiently briefed about the harms wrought by workplace bullying, there are not enough coaches who understand the effects of workplace bullying in ways that can inform their work with clients. Part of my motivation to pursue a coaching training program is to consider how coaching can help targets and organizations alike.

As you can see, this is a work in progress, along with my advocacy for legal reform and other measures designed to prevent, stop, and respond to bullying at work. But I wanted to share these thoughts now, with assurances of more to come.

14 responses

    • The school is the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC), and I recommend it highly for people who are willing to do hard work on themselves (i.e., understanding and receiving coaching as a client) as well as being thrown into the water early in terms of practice coaching. It has been an excellent, super insightful growth experience so far.

  1. Going to a counselor who does not have awareness (significant, not just superficial) of the dynamics of work abuse can end up doing more harm than good for someone who is (or has been) a target. We need therapists and coaches who understand the injustice, the desperation, the isolation, etc. that can be part of the experience of work abuse. AND, we need people who understand how (and why) abuse is a natural by-product of our authoritarian, hierarchical workplaces.

    • All excellent points. Do you believe that academe poses any special challenges?

      Oddly, what renewed my interest in this issue was enrolling in some classes at another college. One of the faculty–in my opinion the most qualified person in that department, with around 35 years of experience–was openly harnessed by two administrators, to the point where he resigned one year short of retirement age.

  2. Wish that I had had some resource available during the years when I was being bullied at Rutgers University. It was all the more troubling at the time, since I knew that the work thst I was doing was some of the best in my career. I was getting positive feedback from other professionals in my field, and the exhibitions that I curated at Rutgers were reviewed favorably in newspapers and magazines. And yet, each outside recognition was met with some act of internal sabotage.

    Others at the university, before and after me, were also treated badly, and other cases of bullying at Rutgers have been well documented. Yet we all suffered in relative silence. Eventually, I was fired from Rutgers.

    At the time, I consulted a labor lawyer who was keen to take on the case, but I declined to do so. The rationale was that it was the “high road” to move on with my own life. In retrospect, that only enabled the university to treat others who followed poorly as well. My health deteriorated significantly in the year that followed, and I am convinced that it was related to that stressful period.

    In retrospect, I wish that had documented every single act of bullying within that institution, and that I had spoken out publicly and with greater force. At the very least, it might have spared others who followed.

    • Kathy, I, too, wish there was a way to showcase the injustices and the behaviors of the bullies, not to mention the ‘systems’ that allow it, even promote it. But even breadth and depth of documentation often doesn’t do much in the way of finding a viable avenue to get people to listen, much less hold those who should be accountable, accountable.

      Certainly, today, skilled and insightful counselors and coaches can help people understand why and how they are not at fault. Perhaps, at best, they could help people possibly step around other potentially abusive situations that may occur in their futures.

      When I experienced my abuse and was trying to make sense of things (this was 15 or better years ago), it was people who had been through something similar and who were further along the path of insight (than I could be at the time) that truly pulled me through. They weren’t therapists or coaches. They were people who understood the pain. I did try to go to a couple of therapists over the years. They were well-intended and meaning, but they did not have a clue about work abuse.

      • DR, there were many people at Rutgers, particularly in other departments, who did reach out to me after I was fired. Since I was Director of the Art Gallery, much of my work was visible. Only later did I learn about some of the experiences of two people who held the same job before me, and a few years after that I was contacted by the person who followed me, after he was forced to resign.

        David Yamada might have some thoughts on this, but it seems to me that situations in academia are particularly tricky, as departments kind of self-police (lacking a better word), and courts have tended to take the position that the university is in the best position to evaluate itself. Jobs are so scarce that no one speaks out, for fear that they will somehow get a reputation as a trouble maker.

        The only reason that I post openly now is that I am of retirement age. Also, some recent public cases from other areas of the same university suggest that there is still work to be done to improve conditions for faculty, staff and students. Fifteen years ago it felt like grand-standing to speak out,

  3. Mr. Yamada, could you please tell me what was inappropriate about the first post I submitted to this discussion? I am truly at a loss as to what could have been found as inappropriate. I addressed the need for a therapist or coach to have more than a superficial understanding of work abuse and the systems that perpetuate it. Please help me understand what was found as not appropriate to the discussion. Thank you.

    • DR, there was nothing inappropriate about your comment. It was caught in the WordPress program’s filter and I had to approve it. Every once in a while that happens with people who have commented before — I don’t know why it occurs but sometimes I miss it. Sorry!

  4. One of the things that I have noticed is that “coaching” is a lot more listening with a little bit of guidance for over coming the devastation that workplace bullying causes.

    After being abused for a period of time, the target’s family and friends, including coworkers, tend to get tired of hearing your constant complaining and tend to turn a deaf ear towards you.

    A good coach can be another outlet for the victims to go for relief and a sense of direction which will take them away from their circumstances as much as possible.

    I find that the people that I talk with have usually already remedied their situation either by resigning or transferring. However, the residual damage that sticks with them still needs to be dealt with and the coaching helps them to move forward and close out that terrible time in their lives.

    For me, having been the recipient (target) of a workplace bully and her mob of co-conspirators and having suffered the emotional, mental and physical effects of it, I did end up getting professional help to try and repair the damage done. If I had access to a good coach at that time, I think my recovery period would have been significantly shortened.

  5. Afternoon. So little research is being done on this topic. And thankful for your inputs and research on the topic. I am in the final stages of completing my Masters, and hope to submit before the end of the week. Hardly any research have been done in South Africa. I really hope I can make an contribution towards the fields of coaching and workplace bullying.

    My topic: An exploration of coaching interventions and techniques used to address workplace bullying in South Africa

  6. Pingback: Conferences as Community Builders | Psychology Benefits Society

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