Two women talking to each in a cafe.

The depth and breadth of the matter: five tips for systems-psychodynamic coaching

The ‘systems-psychodynamic’ approach to executive coaching focuses on the emotional and relational dimensions of work roles – developing the capacity to analyse the impact of the wider system on the individual, and navigate complex processes in the workplace. 

If you’re new to this approach, here are five key tips to consider:

1. Emotion is Data

As professionals at work we are often encouraged to leave our emotions to one side. We are trained to be calm and considered, and the focus on high-level performance leaves little space for noticing the impact of how work leaves us feeling. In the systems-psychodynamic approach to coaching, the emotions clients experience in the workplace, and the emotions that we experience in the room as a coach, are used to inform our work. We believe they are a communication that has much to offer if we pay attention.

2. System and organisational hierarchy is intertwined with personal experience

As systems-psychodynamic coaches, we work with what we refer to as the PRO Model. We engage with the person, P, of the client, and even work with the personal, because we always link it to the role, R, and organisation, O. Making sense of any situation always means understanding the context from all three perspectives, and exploring the role structures, organisational history, and system pressures always sheds new light on an individual experience.

3.Working with boundary and role

In a changing environment, roles might be blurred and fudged, yet knowing where a role starts and stops is crucial. We encourage clients to notice and explore what happens around the boundaries of time, work tasks and authority, and how these aspects of their role might be playing out in work relationships. We notice and explore boundaries within coaching sessions too. For example, a client might invite a coach to give their opinion, or tell them what to do. We think carefully before taking up an ‘expert’ or mentoring position, because, in systems-psychodynamic coaching, simply responding to such an invitation may mean bringing a new dynamic to the coaching relationship, and missing an opportunity to learn from the experience of not-knowing (right away).

4. Have courageous conversations

It’s often the conversations that seem to be the hardest to have that are the most important to have with our clients. Every coach will recognise the moment when something comes to mind that feels difficult to say, and in the systems-psychodynamic approach we take these moments seriously. We work with our intuition that if it feels difficult to say, it’s exactly what needs to be said, with all the warning signs. Of course, the timing and pace of courageous conversations will need to be carefully considered. However, if they are handled well, the difficult-to-ask questions can lead to significant insights and creative outcomes.

5.Coach as accompanist

The coach serves the client, and this means a number of things in the systems-psychodynamic approach. Firstly, we go at our client’s pace and hold onto the idea that if there was a simple solution, the client would have found it already. Secondly, we assume the client is the expert in terms of their work organisation and culture – our job is to help them harness their expertise in a way that works for them. Thirdly, we trust that clients will use coaching in a way that is helpful to them and indicate in both spoken and unspoken ways what it is that really needs to be addressed in order to shift or transform their current situation. It is our privilege to accompany them on the way.

Dr Robyn Vesey is an organisational consultant with Tavistock Consulting, part of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

Interested in finding out more?

Dr Robyn Vesey has delivered a Digital Academy masterclass, Executive coaching: the systems-psychodynamic approach (DAM004), which introduces the fundamentals of this coaching approach. You can rent the masterclass recording on our video-on-demand platform.

Tavistock Consulting runs a systems-psychodynamic Executive coaching programme, which is accredited by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) at senior practitioner level.

For more experienced coaches interested in the Tavistock Consulting approach, Advanced Coaching Practice is a four-day, online course with a Tavistock Consulting certificate upon completion.

Related courses

For a better viewing experience we recommend you upgrade your browser.