Building heartfelt, trusting relationships with your clients is a journey that holds the key to your success as a coach. This is where understanding the dynamics of therapeutic relationships becomes truly invaluable.

Therapeutic relationships, rich with respect and genuine care, form the foundation for transformative growth and healing.

As a coach, you are responsible for creating a supportive environment where your clients learn, grow, and reach their highest potential. Incorporating the principles of therapeutic relationships will set the stage for your clients to achieve meaningful change. 

Read on to understand the meaning and elements of a therapeutic relationship. You’ll also learn how to use therapeutic coaching to set healthy boundaries while helping your clients achieve their coaching goals.

What Is a Therapeutic Relationship in Coaching? 

A therapeutic relationship is a bond between a coach and a client that’s built on trust, empathy, and mutual respect. This type of relationship between the coach and the client aims to create a safe and supportive space where the client feels understood, valued, and empowered to explore their potential.

How Do You Apply the Therapeutic Relationship in Coaching?

In the context of coaching, the term therapeutic relationship can be misleading because of a therapy-oriented approach, which is not the primary intent of coaching. The coach’s role differs fundamentally from a therapist’s by focusing on personal development and goal achievement rather than psychological healing.

As a coach, it’s important to understand and respect these differences to maintain professional integrity and ensure your client’s well-being. Nevertheless, the same traits of the therapeutic relationship with a professional psychologist or therapist can be paralleled in the coaching relationship. 

Broken Trust in the Coaching Therapeutic Relationship

When there is broken trust in the therapeutic relationship, it’s nearly impossible to move forward. A coach who breaks client trust is unprofessional and should simply not be practicing coaching at all. 

But broken trust can happen from the other side of the therapeutic relationship, too. A coaching client can violate your trust by not being honest about the work they’re undertaking. Maybe they exaggerate their workout frequency, claim to have done the homework that they never attempted, or fabricate excuses for why they failed to have that difficult conversation with their boss. 

If these small deceptions become a pattern, they obliterate the trust in the coaching therapeutic relationship. In many cases, there’s no coming back from these repeated betrayals, so you will have to fire the client.  

Four Stages of the Therapeutic Relationship in Coaching

The coaching experience tends to pass through four key phases.

the four stages of the therapeutic relationship

1. Commitment

During this brief initial phase, the client and coach establish rapport, identify baselines with assessments, and set goals for the coaching experience.

2. Working the Plan

The bulk of the coaching time is spent in this stage. This is when a coach applies exercises, tools, incentives, and frameworks to help the client make progress towards their goals. 

3. Transformation

Success! Once the desired change is achieved and celebrated, the client learns hacks for ongoing maintenance and self-checks to prevent regressions. 

4. Graduation

At this stage, the client is ready to move on without the support of the coach. This transition can be made by slowly decreasing the frequency of sessions. A three- or six-month follow up session during this phase gives the client an opportunity to make a retrospective assessment of the transformation they achieved. (This look back is a great time to ask your client for a testimonial.)

A coach and client shake hands to indicate the therapeutic relationship

6 Factors for Building a Therapeutic Relationship During Coaching

The most common barriers to the therapeutic relationship in coaching are simply the inverse or lack of these six factors. As a coach, it’s your responsibility to bring these six factors to the table. You set the tone and the ground rules of the interactions. 

1. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It is a critical aspect of therapeutic relationships and involves being present, listening attentively, and understanding the client’s perspective without judgment. Empathy allows coaches to facilitate understanding, connection, and trust in the coaching context. 

By recognizing and validating the client’s feelings, coaches demonstrate that they truly comprehend the client’s experiences. This validation can provide a strong foundation for clients to explore their potential and face challenging issues.

2. Active Listening

Active listening is more than just hearing what the client is saying. It involves being fully present, showing genuine interest, and offering feedback that confirms understanding. 

An effective coach reflects on the client’s words, asks insightful questions, and refrains from interjecting their own opinions prematurely. Through active listening, coaches will better understand the client’s perspective, promoting effective communication and the client’s self-exploration and self-understanding.

3. Non-judgmental Attitude

A non-judgmental attitude creates a safe space for clients to express their thoughts, feelings, and fears without the fear of being criticized or dismissed. When coaches approach their clients with unconditional positive energy, it creates a sense of acceptance that can empower clients to explore deeper personal issues and barriers to their success. Such an environment also facilitates honesty, promoting transparent communication and building trust.

4. Confidentiality

Confidentiality is crucial for establishing trust in the coaching relationship. Clients should feel confident that their personal and professional information is protected. This level of security encourages clients to engage more fully in coaching, dramatically improving coaching outcomes.

5. Collaboration

The coaching process should be collaborative. Coaches and clients must work together to set and achieve goals that are meaningful, realistic, and aligned with the client’s values and ambitions. This shared process increases the client’s engagement and commitment to the coaching process and the achievement of their personal and professional goals.

6. Maintaining Boundaries

Setting and maintaining professional boundaries is vital in coaching. Clear boundaries help define the roles and expectations in the coaching relationship, preventing misunderstandings and potential conflicts. Boundaries provide a framework for the coaching process, protecting the client’s safety and the coach’s professional integrity. They ensure the coaching relationship remains professional and focused on the client’s growth and development. 

How to Set Healthy Boundaries in the Coaching Therapeutic Relationship

Healthy boundaries in coaching define the relationship’s professional nature and establish the parameters for appropriate behavior and communication. These boundaries protect the integrity of the coaching process and create a safe, respectful environment for the client. They ensure the focus remains on the client’s development and growth, prevent misunderstandings, and clarify roles and responsibilities.

Boundaries reassure the client that the coaching relationship is professional and objective, promoting safety and reliability. Clients who understand their coach will maintain their privacy and professional ethics and engage fully in the process. 

Setting and maintaining boundaries involves clear, open communication from the beginning. Here are a few strategies for setting effective boundaries:

  • Explain your role as a coach, what they can expect from the process, and what you expect of them. 
  • Discuss confidentiality and its limitations. 
  • Ensure regular check-ins to revisit these boundaries and address any concerns. 
  • Maintain professional conduct during sessions and limit interactions outside the agreed coaching context. 
  • Be mindful of power dynamics, ensuring the client feels comfortable and empowered.

Addressing Boundary Violations and Common Challenges

Boundary violations can include overstepping professional roles, inappropriate personal disclosures, or breaches of confidentiality. If a violation occurs, address it promptly and openly. Reemphasize the boundary, explain its importance, and discuss steps to prevent future violations.

In case of persistent violations, consider seeking supervision or guidance from a mentor or a professional body. Maintaining healthy boundaries may present challenges, especially in complex situations. Still, it is critical for the well-being of both the coach and client and the overall efficacy of the coaching process.

Therapeutic Relationship Strategies Enhance Coaching 

Understanding and applying principles from the therapeutic relationship can significantly enhance your coaching practice by enriching the connection with your clients. This unique intertwining of coaching and therapeutic principles is not about diagnosing or healing but about building an atmosphere of genuine trust, respect, and care.

Preserving boundaries is also a key aspect of successful coaching relationships. Boundaries preserve the coaching relationship’s professionalism, foster trust, and promote client safety. Although setting and maintaining boundaries may present challenges, addressing these proactively and openly helps to ensure a healthy and effective coaching relationship.

Coaching is a transformative process that nurtures growth, encourages self-awareness, and creates lasting change. By applying these principles from the therapeutic relationship to your coaching practice, you not only enable your clients to reach their goals but also support their holistic personal and professional development. And in doing so, you contribute positively to their lives — a reward that truly reflects the essence of coaching.

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Written by The Coach Factory Team

We're a team of coaching enthusiasts who hire and work with coaches. Members of our team run businesses in the coaching industry or provide services that support coaches, and several of us are coaches ourselves.

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