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February 2, 2024

Understanding the breadth and depth of Wellbeing Coaching

By Paul Laughlin

Nowadays, it seems like talk of wellbeing is on everyone’s lips and some employers seek to enhance their programmes with wellbeing coaching. But, what is that? Now we come to it, what do we mean by wellbeing anyway?

In my experience as a trainer, coach and consultant, many organisations struggle to answer either. A vague sense of wanting to do the right thing and make sure their employees are “ok” and perhaps “more resilient” guides efforts with mixed results. Something is better than nothing, but with more thought, we can do better. Plus, since coaching is seeking to be more recognised as a profession, we must be clearer on the role that can play in improving wellbeing.

So, I was delighted when my generous coaching supervisor gave me a book entitled “Coaching for Wellbeing: An evidence-based guide for practitioners” as a gift. As he knows, more and more of both my mentoring and coaching clients have raised issues of wellbeing as part of our work together. So, in this post, I will share my book review of “Coaching for Wellbeing” by Ana Paula Nacif and why I recommend reading it.

Foundations of a broader definition

In a well-written and accessible book, Ana provides readers with a great overview of the history of wellbeing theories, paradigms and definitions. She lays out the development of our understanding from the early days of the Happiness movement to a broader definition. This helps bring to life why more than a Hedonic (feel good) definition is needed and why adding a Eudaimonic (meaning & growth) definition helps.

One of the first things that may surprise some leaders is the breadth of aspects of wellbeing. Combining both the above definitions results in a set of statements (signs of wellbeing) covering:

  • Feeling good
  • Positive emotions
  • Absence of negative mood
  • Subjective wellbeing
  • Satisfaction with life
  • Moments of happiness
  • Enjoyment
  • Meaning and purpose
  • Personal growth
  • Self-acceptance
  • Feeling a sense of belongingness
  • A sense of autonomy
  • Engagement/state of flow
  • Beyond self/contribution to something bigger

Many ‘in house’ wellbeing programmes would do well to look further down that list to the Eudaimonic elements in the bottom half. Ana does a great job at grounding the reader in solid academic research for these expanding theories of wellbeing and how they help.

How coaching can help foster wellbeing

After that first part of the book, the author moves on in part two to focussing on wellbeing coaching practice. Once again this is an introduction to a variety of potential approaches and tools that could help. She brings to life the benefit of helping client’s paint a richer vision for their own wellbeing together with tools to help them assess their current state.

Peppered throughout this collection of potential approaches are case studies which bring to life what this can look like with a real client. They are helpful and don’t shy away from the mundane or messy reality of working with clients who are struggling in this area. But it is the final two chapters of this part that may help coaches the most.

First (in chapter 4) Ana faces into the challenge of sustaining change to achieve long-lasting progress. Whikst acknowledging the reality of imperfect engagement and development, she also offers up models like the Spiral of Change and a Wellbeing Plan to help. Then in chapter 5 she outlines the journey to becoming a Wellbeing Coach. The appreciation that is needed of the spectrum of potential mental health needs. The case for compassionate detachment. The need to not ignore systemic issues (how can employees be happy in a toxic workplace?) Plus, recommendations for evaluation.

A model to get you started

When I first read this book, I felt my excitement building as I approached part 3. It was like I was laying all the foundations of a broader understanding ready to be given the keys to the kingdom. For, in this final part of the book, Ana promised to share the BeWell coaching model that she developed & uses. I must confess when I first read about this model I was disappointed. I had come looking for the wrong thing and expected it to somehow give me a workflow to follow for a full programme. In that regard it felt a bit incomplete, like she started well and then left us to our own devices.

However, having now reflected and re-read that section, I can see the wisdom of her approach. In her BeWell coaching model, she guides coaches on a framework for what to explore. Yes, that can help lay good starting foundations, but it can also be a common language for sharing on the journey. Her model is grounded in Wellbeing theories, Positive Psychology models and third-wave Cognitive Behavioural Coaching principles. The pillars and tools offered can support but should never replace what is a personal journey with each client.

For those leaders or coaches interested in group coaching work, the penultimate chapter focuses on this and shares both research and practical advice. Note the language used though. Group not Team Coaching. She recommends groups brought together for the purpose of working on wellbeing, not just “sheep dipping” existing teams. The community and relationships that need to be formed for mutual support require a special type of contracting and shared experience.

Should you buy this book?

If you are responsible for coaching or leading a wellbeing programme in your organisation, yes. It is only a short read (just 101 pages prior to the large appendix). That appendix provides even more practical tools that can be used to help work with individuals and groups.

I would finish by recommending that this book is also read by senior leaders. It will help overcome a vagueness and, at it’s worse, “woke washing” around this topic. Readers will gain a much better appreciation of the breadth of wellbeing and the depth of work needed to help people in this area. I hope many do gain that and reshape today’s noble efforts in this area into wellbeing programmes that are more effective and long-lasting.