What Trauma-Informed Coaching Is (And What It Isn’t)

by | Career Growth, Mental Health

A majority of U.S. adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their life. How do you effectively navigate the complex emotions, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that accompany trauma?

One option worth exploring is trauma-informed coaching. Keep reading to learn more about trauma-informed coaching, including what it is, how it’s different from mental health therapy, and where to find a trauma-informed coach.

What Is Trauma-Informed Coaching?

For starters, what is trauma-informed coaching?

According to Moving The Human Spirit, trauma-informed coaching happens when a coach “understands what trauma is, how it shows up in the session, and in what way to respond within the established coaching boundaries and contractual agreements.”

As a tech career coach, here are a few examples of the many types of trauma that show up in my clients’ careers and lives:

[Read: What Is A Career Coach? (And How To Tell If You Really Need One)]

Note: Trauma manifests differently in everyone. Moreover, two people may experience the same event and have different reactions. Regardless, your thoughts, feelings, and emotions are valid, period.

What Is A Trauma-Informed Coach?

Put simply, a trauma-informed coach is a practitioner who is aware (informed) of the complex impact that trauma can have on your life, but doesn’t concentrate sessions on “fixing” you or your trauma.

Some people choose to refer to trauma-informed coaches as “trauma coaches;” however, this is a bit misleading, as the goal is to coach the person, not the trauma.

Importantly, a trauma-informed coach is not the same as a mental health therapist, as the methodology each practitioner uses, the education they’ve completed, and their scope of practice are distinct.

What Is The Difference Between Trauma-Informed Coaching And Therapy?

Therapy isn’t the same, but it can be a great complement to trauma-informed coaching, and your coach will likely have referrals to trauma-informed therapists they recommend and trust.

While trauma-informed coaching and therapy share many similarities on the surface, and you might even work with a trauma-informed coach and a mental health therapist at the same time, they are not interchangeable.

Trauma-Informed Coaching

Trauma-informed coaching is client-directed and goal-focused while also being cognizant of how trauma may reveal itself. Simply put, you the client are in the driver’s seat, while the coach is a watchful co-pilot and attuned to your needs.

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” According to the ICF, “the process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership.”

[Read: “What Is Executive Coaching?” Answered]

The coaching industry is currently unregulated, which means anyone can say they’re a coach and work with individuals who have experienced trauma, regardless of their experience, education, training, or skills.

Mental Health Therapy

Conversely, talk therapy, often also referred to as psychotherapy or counseling, refers to treatments used to manage and cope with difficult emotions, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. As the name implies, these treatments often involve talking with a mental health professional to process emotions.

In the United States, mental health therapists and counselors are regulated by licensing boards. While there are still some bad eggs out there (I’ve met my fair share of mediocre practitioners), in general, therapists must meet a minimum level of education, complete clinical hours, and obtain licensure to practice their craft.

As you can see, coaching and therapy are not one and the same. If you’re new to coaching, therapy, or both, it’s important to clarify the differences between the two, as you don’t want to go into your sessions with false expectations.

Trauma-Informed Coaching Tools

A trauma-informed coach is typically equipped with various tools and resources to support you in navigating how complex emotions, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors may show up in your coaching sessions and in life. Examples of these tools include:

How Do I Find A Trauma-Informed Coach?

Now, how do you find a high-quality trauma-informed coach?

Thankfully, the steps for finding a trauma-informed coach are similar to those for other types of coaches and include:

  • Getting clear on your expectations, goals, and anticipated outcomes for coaching.
  • Identifying a practitioner who possesses advanced training and education in coaching (AKA they’re not flying by the seat of their pants).
  • Reviewing and verifying multiple testimonials from a prospective coach’s former clients.
  • Conducting chemistry calls (no-obligation consultations) with several coaches to find the right one for your needs and goals.

However, there is an important distinction when searching for a trauma-informed coach: you also want to find a practitioner who has completed advanced training in coaching individuals living with trauma.

You might also wish to seek out a coach with a similar background and lived experiences as your own. If you’re navigating a toxic workplace or difficult manager, for example, you may find it helpful to partner with a coach who has been there. Importantly, though, a professional coach shouldn’t be spending your sessions divulging their entire life story; it’s your session.

Trauma-Informed Coach Training

Not all trauma training or coaching is created equal, though.

For instance, watching a webinar on workplace mental health or completing an online course on the impact of trauma does not provide a coach with the same depth of experience or proficiency as completing a rigorous coach training program in trauma-informed best practices and neuroscience.

While there are several trauma-informed coach training programs, Moving The Human Spirit (MTHS) is a global leader in trauma-informed coach training.

MTHS is not only the first ICF-accredited course, which is considered the gold standard for the coaching industry, but also draws on the latest neuroscience and contemporary practices to coach with a trauma-informed lens. Moreover, the coach training program is continually being improved to incorporate the latest best practices.

MTHS Logo

Be wary if a coach is working only from their own lived experiences without pursuing the necessary training and hands-on education. Trauma work is not something to be taken lightly.

(Full disclosure: I completed my Trauma-Informed Coaching Certification program through MTHS.)

Conclusion: Trauma-Informed Coaching

Trauma is nuanced and can show up differently in each of us. Trauma-informed coaching can provide a container and brave space in which to navigate your goals while also staying cognizant of how trauma shows up in work and life.

If you choose to give trauma-informed coaching a try, look for a practitioner with advanced training and hands-on experience in supporting those living with trauma.

Finally, please don’t hesitate to contact me or schedule a consultation if you’d like to learn more about trauma-informed coaching. I’m here for you! You’ve got this!

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. His expertise is in Silicon Valley and high-tech. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine.

A trusted career expert, Dr. Elliott’s words have been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, among dozens of other leading publications. He has been recognized as a Best Career & Interview Coach, Best Resume Writer for Silicon Valley/Tech Managers & Executives, and LinkedIn Top Voice (the platform’s highest honor).

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