Here’s the typical progression: you are in a great client/coach relationship and you are moving forward well and good work is being done. The client comes on time, is excited and engaged, and seldom misses an appointment. After about four or five sessions, the client starts missing appointments. Although they do have reasons for skipping appointments and although they seem appreciative of you and the work, they stop attending sessions, often without notice or a clarifying conversation.
Have you ever experienced this?
I interviewed Dr. Joshua Swift and he shed light on the mystery of missing appointments and what to do about them. Dr. Swift studies why people in treatment (therapy or coaching) sometimes just stop showing up. The phenomenon, he confirmed, is prevalent regardless of the professional background or perspective of the client or healer. He calls it premature discontinuation, which is when a client leaves but you, the practitioner, feel the work is not complete.
According to Dr. Swift, there are several things that we can do to reduce the likelihood of clients dropping off the map, but they all revolve around two central themes – conversations and assessments. Here are some of the most important things a professional can do:
1.) Talk about the ending upfront.
Have the conversation upfront about the likelihood of your client deciding to end the coaching relationship without letting you know. Talk about what you and your client will do and what conversations will be had if the client begins to become less interested, upset due to emotions that surface during sessions, or disengaged.
This conversation can feel awkward on both sides but will better serve the client/coach relationship.
Everyone deals with overwhelming life issues differently. Discussing defeating patterns that can lead to discontinuation upfront can be very helpful. For example, clients who are conflict avoidant often run at the first sign conflict in their life. This pattern is to avoid and run. Discussing this from the beginning is helpful in addressing and arresting the undesirable pattern.
Another useful conversation is preparing the client for what may happen in the session. For example, telling them that you may do work that brings deep and intense emotions to the surface and these can be extremely uncomfortable but valuable. It may not reduce the intensity of the emotions or the likelihood of the client getting upset, but it will reduce the element of surprise.
These conversations can not only inform the current work with a client but also give the coach valuable feedback on their coaching. Is there something that I am doing that may be a contributing factor to the client’s loss of interest? By asking ourselves these questions, we can become better observers of ourselves.
2.) Discuss the ‘general’ number of sessions in the intake process.
The coach should consider proposing a specific number of sessions to work with whatever issue/s that the client presents.
This is a great way to manage expectations. Many issues can be adequately addressed in between 8 and 12 sessions. The end can also be marked by a date rather than by the number of sessions.
After that number of sessions, the client can reassess if they need more guidance on the issue, or if something else has come up that they would like to further explore with additional sessions.
3.) Consider using an objective tool to measure progress.
The third thing we might consider is employing the use of an objective tool like some psychometric measurements after each session and using them to facilitate ongoing conversations about progress. This is helpful as a way to determine if we are missing the mark, moving forward, or sliding backward.
In my practice, I take an assessment of the areas clients want to work in and then have them rate them in 1) order of importance and 2) rate each in terms of the current level of satisfaction. And while I don’t do a touchpoint after each session, I’ve found that my clients like to do quick inventories. It gives them an action step, garners their opinion, and keeps them engaged.
Exploration & Practice
- What is your practice with regards to establishing an agreement with your coaching clients regarding the number of sessions?
- How do you assess “progress” with your client? Would you be willing to use different approaches depending on the client?
- Dialogue with other coaches: what best practices do they use to ensure coaching relationships end with integrity?
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About the Author:
Sislena Grocer Ledbetter, Ph.D. is a social psychologist, researcher, lecturer, author and life coach. She received a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from North Carolina Central University, – Magna Cum Laude. She earned with honors, her Master’s and Doctoral degrees in psychology from Howard University. Her post-graduate studies include educational leadership trainings at Georgetown University Graduate School of Professional Studies and Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She has received several fellowships and internships including the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship for public service in which she served as a White House Intern during the Clinton administration. Dr. Ledbetter has made contributions to the field of education, research, consumer marketing, and psychology. She has held higher education leadership roles including Director of Counseling and Student Development and Associate Vice President of Student Development. She is currently teaching in the Psychology Program at the University of the District of Columbia.
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