Guest post by Connirae Andreas

One-on-one coaches sometimes lament that participants in workshops seem to be so much more responsive than clients in individual sessions.

There are definitely some advantages to the workshop setting, where the Trainer can begin by demonstrating a method with a volunteer from the audience. After this, the group is “primed.” Everyone in the room has seen the demonstration, which offers a clear conscious representation of how things can go, and more importantly it offers a representation for our unconscious to draw upon. Each person in the room has this “role model” to draw upon as they do the exercises in a small group.

In contrast, when I’m working as a coach, and I sit down to work with an individual client, it’s just me and him or her. There’s no demo person in the room to prime unconscious understanding.

A few years ago, I was guiding a client through a new process I’ve been using (which I call “Coming to Wholeness”) and while the process itself is simple, things were not going smoothly or easily. It seemed as if my client wasn’t really understanding what I was attempting to get across, and the words I was using weren’t enough.

I wished for a “demo person” to create that role model. None being there, I decided to be that demo person myself. I felt a bit like I was crossing some kind of unspoken boundary — the coach isn’t supposed to be the client, and I felt a bit vulnerable. But it worked great for my client. My client immediately sensed what I’d failed to fully get across with my words, and the process flowed smoothly and easily. After that experience, I often use myself as the demo person when one is needed, and it almost always results in the session flowing more smoothly and easily.

I do it in a particular way, which both saves time and adds impact. So how do I start? I begin wherever things seem to be unclear to my client. I “take on” my client’s experience right at that point, or slightly sooner. Then I just go forward with the process, only it’s me guiding myself, and the client is “off the hook.” He or she can just watch and listen and soak in whatever he/she does.

I tell myself each instruction (so the client can hear the steps). Then I do inwardly what I’m inviting my client to do, and I describe my experience out loud to my client as it unfolds. I have no plan — I actually and fully go through the step, and just notice what happens in my experience. This gives my client perhaps a more complete sense of how the process can unfold than even watching a demo subject would offer.

Here’s an example of how I did it when guiding someone through the Core Transformation process. My client had no experience with this process, and I could sense a lot of hesitation and some distrust, in addition to just not quite knowing what to do. (If you think about it, saying “go inside and ask the part…” is a very weird instruction if you aren’t used to it.)

We’ll call my client “Kate.” She is working with feeling anxious when she thinks of telling her husband what she wants. She easily notices that when she feels anxious, it feels like pressure in her chest. … Now she seems a bit confused about the next steps. She’s attempting to follow my directions, but it looks a bit “mental” and she doesn’t seem to be really entering in to the experience. She seems to be a bit afraid of this part of her—and reluctant to really tune in to it. “Will she become overwhelmed if she does?

So here’s where I pick up and become the demo subject:

“OK Kate, what I’m going to do is demonstrate the beginning of the process for you, so you have a sense of what it is like. I’m going to “be you,” and begin with what you just described to me and go forward from there. Of course I’m not actually you, I’m me, so it won’t go exactly the way it will go when you do it. You can just watch and listen, and begin to get a sense of how it can go. So I’ll start with the feeling of pressure in my chest.”

I settle back in my chair as I begin.
“So now I’m turning inward,” I close my eyes, and my head tilts forward a bit, “and I notice this part of me which I’m feeling here in my chest. I can feel the pressure. So I just welcome this part and thank it for being there….”
I pause a moment to do this.
“This part seems a tiny bit more relaxed when I say that….”
“And now I ask this part, ‘What do you want?’”

Now I am just giving myself to the process. I am not attempting to be a good role model, because that’s not what I want my client to do. I am just being completely honest with what happens in my experience. That’s what I want my client to do. Go in without expectations, ask the questions, and with curiosity receive the answers. So to do this effectively I have to give up any conscious mind expectation of what I want to be demonstrating, and just let the process flow however it does.

“OK… The part is taking its time. It’s not sure. It is thinking about it… Now it says ‘I’m afraid.’ ” I feel gentle tears—they are connecting tears, the relief of expressing and being heard. So I say to Kate: “And when it says that, I feel a little teary… I thank it for letting me know, and ask the question again, ‘And when you are afraid, what do you want?’ ”
… Now I am just attending to this part and waiting for a response.

“ ‘Protection,’ the word protection comes right away.”
“And I say ‘thank you’ to the part for letting me know this is what it wants.”
“Now I invite the part to step into having protection the way it wants it…”
My body shakes a little as this happens. Kate can see this, so there is no need for me to say anything about it.

“OK the part has stepped into having ‘protection’ part of the way, but I think there is more, so I’m going to give it a little more time.”
As this happens, I feel myself breathing more deeply.
“OK, I don’t consciously know what happened exactly, but I feel differently now.”
“Now I ask the part ‘And when you have protection, fully and completely, what do you want through having protection that is even deeper and more important?’ ”
I turn inward again, and as I check, I spontaneously breath deeply again, and I’m very calm/relaxed. I feel a still peacefulness.
“ ‘Peace’… that’s the answer that comes,” I say gesturing with my hands from my center outward to show how it ‘just comes.’
“It comes as a feeling this time, and ‘peace’ is the word I put to it…
“Now I invite the part to step into having this peace fully and completely, and the part is doing it almost before I invite. I’m feeling my eyes are a bit moist. It feels heart-opening, and I am feeling touched.” [My legs shake a bit too as the peace extends there automatically, but I don’t need to comment on this because it is visible.]

I open my eyes and turn to Kate, who is watching and listening to me closely.
“OK, that’s the first part of the process” I tell her. “Does that give you a sense of it?”
[She is nodding.]
“When I asked this part what it wants, the answers I got were ‘protection’ … and then ‘peace.’ The answers you get when you ask might be somewhat the same, or they might be completely different.”

Then I returned to guiding Kate through the process. This time she entered into it with no hesitation.

How does it make your coaching sessions more effective?

Using myself as the demo subject has several pluses as part of the coaching process.
As already mentioned, it gives me an opportunity to demonstrate how one fully engages in an inward process, and invites unconscious response. The nonverbal example is so much more useful than just verbal instructions. If I just let my own unconscious responses emerge right there, they know what I mean immediately. This is not a small thing—if the person you are working with is not familiar with allowing an unconscious process to unfold, demonstration is key. Otherwise they may feel weird allowing the kinds of things that are “normal and natural” in this kind of process.

In addition, unpredictable advantages and learnings can come from these mini-demos. I recall “taking on” the part of a man who was depressed. He saw the part we were working with as a little gray person above his head and to the left. When I took on the part and asked this part in myself “What do you want?” this part’s response was to run around screaming in a frenzy for a while. It was really angry. I just described what was happening to my client, and then reported “OK the part seemed to want to express itself. Now it’s done that, and it’s kind of tired… It says it wants love.”

It turned out that my client’s part needed to have a similar expressive “fit” before it could go on to answer the question. Its answer was different from mine, but I think that without my modeling of this phase, it wouldn’t have gone as easily.

Another advantage of this approach is that it’s an equalizer. It is permission-giving. When I go through the process, I’m acknowledging that I’m a human being, the same as my client is. I have these same kinds of experiences. While I am starting with my client’s “symptom,” from that point forward I’m working with how it plays out in my own system. I’m the coach, but I’m willing to be the client, also. The unspoken message is that we’re all human beings in this journey and we’re all pretty much the same in the ways that matter the most. And I’m not pretending it’s any different from that.

Taking on my client’s experience also helps convey acceptance of their experience — “It must not be that big of a problem if she’s willing to take it on…. It isn’t actually something that needs to be avoided — it can be approached and included.”

Using oneself as a demo subject is a simple thing to do, but I haven’t heard anyone else talk about doing this, so I decided to write it up. I’m sure this approach won’t fit with every coach’s style, and may not be useful for every method. And when your client already has experience with a method, adding another “demo” is usually not needed. However, I’m finding it a great way to get across a lot of things that would take me a long time to try to verbally describe or elicit in another way.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a demonstration must be worth at least 10,000.

Any Cautions? I’m sure that some people will wonder if it is “safe” to “take on” a client’s experience of a limiting part. Will it leave you with a residue of someone else’s problem if you do that?

I can only say my experience of this is the opposite. If anything, by being the “demo person,” I get a little extra personal growth and integration myself as part of the coaching process. Since the methods I’m using generally guide people to more integration, etc., when we role play these methods, if we role play fully, we can’t help but become a bit more integrated as we do it. The way I think about it, we human beings are all pretty much similar. If I “take on” or role play someone else’s “limitation,” and the resolution of that limitation, then whatever reflection of that is in myself will be more resolved.

Of course we do need to be sure the choice of doing a self-demo is based on benefit for the client. I only do as much of the demonstration as I sense will be useful for the person I’m working with. While I don’t rush — that would be counter-productive — by clock time these demonstrations usually only take a few minutes, while trying to explain in words would take much longer.

“Are there risks in taking on someone else’s experience in this particular way?” It’s possible I could encounter an experience I wouldn’t be willing to take on and “be the demo subject” for. So my suggestion is that if/when you use this approach, notice how it is working for you. Check to find out if you are feeling more integrated afterward (in contrast to feeling a negative residue of some sort). And if you are working with a client, and your intuition says, “Not this time,” respect that.

If you explore this way of working, I would be interested to hear how it goes. Please use the comments section below to share your experience.