Coaching Intervention: Meaning and Types
As coaches, we often have to juggle a myriad of different scenarios when supporting others and, even within the same encounter, we need to shift and leverage different styles or techniques in the dance with the person in front of us. Recognising what is needed in every situation can be sometimes a bit tricky. In this article, I dive into the six categories of intervention in the helping professions introduced by J. Heron. I explore how they are applicable in coaching and how I have developed them even further thanks to my experience as a supervisor. These approaches aren’t just for one-on-one sessions: they can play a crucial role in coaching groups, teams, and organisations.
By Lucia Baldelli
What is a Coaching Intervention?
Coaching intervention is a term that is regularly used. But what does it mean? As coaches, our goal is not to provide advice but rather to facilitate a transformative process that empowers the client to find their own answers. Coaching interventions are the specific actions, tools, or techniques that we use to facilitate this transformative process. They are designed to encourage reflection, increase self-awareness, and motivate change. The effectiveness of a coaching intervention lies in its ability to help them explore new perspectives, challenge their assumptions and, ultimately, drive their personal and professional growth. Our toolbox is full of techniques that can be leveraged in different scenarios.
In his book Helping the Client: A Creative Practical Guide, John Heron defines six different categories of intervention in the helping professions: prescriptive, informative, confronting, cathartic, catalytic, and supportive. He further classifies them into two primary styles. The first three fall under an authoritative style, where the coach provides input or suggests actions. The latter three represent a facilitative style, where the coach’s role is to invite new awareness and insight through thoughtful questions and observations.
As we enter the coaching room, we might need to tap into multiple intervention styles during the dance with our client. But how can we facilitate personal and professional development through a strategic use of coaching interventions?
Have you ever struggled to choose the right intervention and felt unsure about what to do? You are not alone! Understanding coaching interventions is one thing, but knowing how to effectively incorporate them into our coaching practice is another. Each coaching intervention carries its unique purpose and therefore it may not be appropriate for all scenarios. Learning to discern which intervention will best serve our client in their current situation takes time and practice.
Our personal preference for certain interventions over others will inevitably influence our approach. This is not necessarily a negative aspect as it shapes who we are and what we bring to the room. Coaching models, and the interventions we leverage, are not mutually exclusive. Our unique value lies in the way we blend these different techniques and intervention styles, defining a signature that is distinctly our own. This is what defines our identity as a coach and the uniqueness of our coaching practice.
In the following sections, I’ll delve deeper into each of these interventions, exploring their nuances, applicability, and potential impact on our coaching practice. By understanding these interventions in detail, we can more intentionally tap into them, enhancing the client experience.
Coaching interventions aren’t standalone tools; they are deeply rooted in the broader approaches that shape coaching as a discipline. Various coaching approaches inspire these interventions, each approach offering a unique perspective on facilitating client growth and transformation.
A few examples of these coaching approaches include:
- Process Coaching, which emphasizes the coaching journey and the continuous development it fosters.
- Behavioural Coaching, which focuses on identifying and transforming potentially limiting behavioural patterns.
- Development Coaching, which aims to enhance specific skills or competencies.
- Transformational Coaching, which seeks profound change at a deeper, more foundational level.
Traditional coaching models tend to favour a facilitative approach, while others may lean towards a more confronting style, pushing clients out of their comfort zones, as John Blakey and Ian Day explored in the book Challenging Coaching.
6 coaching intervention types
Let’s delve into the heart of interventions, the backbone of our coaching practice: the six categories of coaching intervention identified by Heron. Each one offers a unique approach to facilitate client growth and transformation, and they can be strategically employed depending on their specific needs and context.
Heron’s model is elegantly simple yet powerful, categorising these six interventions into two primary styles – ‘authoritative’ and ‘facilitative’ – and providing a useful framework to understand the dynamic between us and the client.
Under the ‘facilitative’ style, we find:
- cathartic interventions
- catalytic interventions
- supportive interventions
Moving on to the ‘authoritative’ style, we have:
- prescriptive interventions
- informative interventions
- confronting interventions.
In the following sections, I will unpack each of these exploring their characteristics and potential applications.
Facilitative style of coaching interventions
The facilitative style of coaching lightens a path for self-discovery. It is something we intentionally develop as we embark in coach training. Our role is not to lead, but to follow and walk along our clients as they uncover their own solutions. The power of this approach lies in its ability to tap into their innate wisdom and self-awareness. We learn to partner and co-create what happens in the session, let go of our opinions and experiences to facilitate someone else’s thinking.
With the facilitative style, we create a safe space for introspection, allowing them to reflect, explore, and critically analyse their thoughts and experiences. We do not provide answers, but rather, offer them a mirror to gaze upon their inner landscape, allowing a deeper understanding of their own narratives. The facilitative style empowers them to create their own meaning and decide their path forward. It is a journey of self-learning, where they become the architect of their own development.
Let’s explore the three facilitative coaching interventions.
Have you ever coached someone who entered the room with a whole lot of emotions and you had just to bear witness while they were processing? Maybe in that session there was no forward movement. It was all about getting everything off their chest to make sense of it and feel better.
The cathartic intervention facilitates the client’s emotional exploration and expression. We create a safe and supportive environment that allows them to express what they had not confronted and explored yet. This intervention is a journey into the depths of their emotional landscape, fostering deeper self-awareness. It provides a cathartic experience that often leads to profound insight and transformation.
When to use it
The cathartic intervention is particularly effective to:
- help them process intense emotions and strong feelings
- foster self-reflection when they are struggling with emotional turmoil
- facilitate emotional release when feelings have been suppressed or unexpressed
- create a reflective space to process their feelings and thoughts.
This intervention can provide a much-needed emotional release, helping them navigate through their emotional landscape with greater clarity and self-awareness.
Examples of questions
The following are examples of questions or prompts that can facilitate a cathartic intervention.
- How do you feel about this?
- Can you describe what you’re feeling right now?
- How is this anger serving you?
- What is causing you to feel this way?
- Can you recall when you first started feeling this way?
- What would it look like to let go of this feeling?
- How might your perspective change if this emotion wasn’t in the picture?
These questions are designed to help them delve into their emotional state, fostering deeper self-awareness and understanding.
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When I think about this intervention, I can picture some of my clients. They are self-aware and understand their situation and their struggles quite well. They feel safe and bring courage to do deep and transformative work.
The catalytic intervention is appropriate in these cases. It is all about sparking change and they are ready for it. We master the art of asking thought-provoking questions that stimulate reflection, discovery, and learning. This approach is about letting them lead, while we follow. We need to do very little while they travel to a place of new awareness.
By using catalytic interventions, we enable them to become more self-directed and autonomous in their decision-making. This approach fosters a sense of empowerment and self-efficacy, boosting motivation and encouraging them to take ownership of the changes they wish to make.
When to use it
The catalytic intervention can be particularly effective when:
- we aim to draw out their own answers and insights
- they are on the brink of self-discovery and needs a push to delve deeper
- they are grappling with a problem and could benefit from a structured thinking process
- we want to encourage them to take ownership of their learning and growth.
In essence, the goal of catalytic interventions is to kindle their inner wisdom, fostering self-directed growth and transformation.
Examples of questions
To facilitate a catalytic intervention, here are some thought-provoking questions we might consider.
- If you look back, what do you think needs to change?
- What patterns are you noticing in this situation?
- I hear you’re really struggling with this. How do you intend to start?
- What resources do you have that could help you address this challenge?
- It sounds like you’re unsatisfied about this relationship. What would you like to be different from this person?
- How might your perspective shift if you approached this relationship from a different angle?
These questions are designed to stimulate deep reflection, guiding them towards their own insights and solutions.
The supportive interventions come quite easy when we have a small ego and we can clearly see and acknowledge the greatness that our client is bringing to the session: their competencies, qualities, work and achievements. We intentionally bring warmth and human connection and deepen trust in the relationship. They feel seen… The supportive intervention centres on boosting their confidence and self-belief. The aim of this approach is not just to celebrate them, but to remind them of their inherent strengths and capabilities.
Through supportive interventions, we nurture a positive self-image in our clients, affirming their worth and potential. This approach fosters a sense of self-efficacy and empowerment, encouraging them to embrace their abilities and confidently navigate their personal and professional journey.
When to use it
Supportive interventions are particularly effective when:
- they are feeling low on confidence
- they are struggling to recognise their strengths and achievements
- we want to encourage them to embrace their capabilities and potential
- they need a boost of positivity and affirmation.
In essence, supportive interventions serve as a mirror, reflecting their worth and potential back to them, fostering a positive self-image and a sense of empowerment.
Examples of questions
To facilitate a supportive intervention, we can use the following questions.
- Your commitment is really inspiring! How does that drive you?
- I’m confident that you’ll be successful. What are your thoughts?
- It sounds like you have a number of ideas to try out! It’ll be exciting to see which works best for you. Which one will you start with?
- You have accomplished so much already! How does that make you feel?
- I see your strength in the way you approach challenges. How can you use this strength in this situation?
These prompts not only affirm the client’s qualities and achievements but also encourage them to acknowledge and appreciate their own capabilities.
Authoritative style of coaching interventions
The authoritative style of coaching marks a shift in the dynamics of the coaching relationship. Unlike the facilitative style, where we guide the client towards self-discovery, the authoritative style sees us taking a more directive role. This means providing information, challenging them, or making suggestions.
The authoritative style is particularly useful when they appear to be stuck or unable to find their own answers. By offering a different perspective or providing information, we can break the impasse and help them move forward. This approach is about providing direction and guidance, while still empowering them to take ownership of their journey.
Let’s explore the coaching interventions under this approach.
The prescriptive intervention is one of the most direct forms of coaching interventions under the authoritative style. We are in the driver’s seat, providing a specific direction to the client. The focus here is not on sparking self-discovery, but on offering clear guidance. With prescriptive interventions, we essentially outline a course of action for them.
While this may seem contrary to the principle of client autonomy, it is a valuable tool in situations where they are feeling overwhelmed or directionless. By providing a clear path forward, we can help them regain their footing and move forward with confidence.
When to use it
Prescriptive interventions can be a powerful tool in our repertoire, but it must be used judiciously. While coaches, including myself, may not employ the prescriptive style at all in the coaching room, it can be particularly effective in other helping professions, such as supervision. However, we should always leverage this intervention to serve the client’s best interests without undermining their autonomy.
Here are some scenarios where a prescriptive intervention might be appropriate:
- they are feeling overwhelmed and is struggling to identify a suitable course of action
- they specifically request advice or guidance – they do not have the answer
- they are stuck in a pattern of unproductive behaviour and need a clear direction.
While prescriptive interventions can provide a clear path forward, they should not replace the client’s own decision-making process. Instead, they should serve as a guide, assisting them to regain their footing and continue their journey.
Example of questions
Here are some examples of statements or questions to consider for prescriptive interventions.
- I think you should really tackle this situation. What’s stopping you?
- Based on what you’ve shared, I would not stay in this role. Have you considered other options?
- You should really make a decision. What are the potential outcomes of each option?
While these statements are more directive, they should still fuel further discussion and reflection, rather than simply imposing a course of action.
In the informative style, we essentially serve as a resource, offering relevant information or sharing knowledge that can illuminate the client’s path. We provide information in a way that empowers them to make their own informed decisions, rather than prescribing a specific course of action.
Our clients might even prompt us to make comments or recognise our expertise on a certain topic and therefore invite our input. When this happens, I always feel I am walking on egg shells, as I do not want to make it about me. So, unless it is an absolute truth, I tend to share resources offline after the session and focus on their thinking while we are together.
When to use it
The informative intervention type can be particularly useful in the following scenarios:
- when they seek a deeper understanding of a specific concept or theory
- when they ask for feedback, such as “What do you think?” or “How am I doing?”
- when they could benefit from additional information to make a choice
- when providing information that can illuminate their challenge.
The aim of an informative intervention is to equip them with knowledge, thereby empowering them to make their own informed decisions.
Examples of questions
In an informative intervention, we might use statements and questions like:
- This book has great exercises to increase self-confidence. Have you considered exploring these resources?
- You spoke authentically and that was brave! How did it feel to speak your truth?
- Holding boundaries is important. How can you apply this in your current situation?
- Based on my experience, this approach could be beneficial. What are your thoughts on this?
The confronting intervention represents a more challenging aspect of the authoritative coaching style. This approach involves the coach directly challenging the client’s behaviour or thinking. I tend to be confronting when I notice patterns that are not serving their forward movement, when I notice a conflict of values, when a limiting belief emerges, when they are telling themselves stories that might not be true.
Confronting interventions are not about criticism or judgment. Instead, they serve as a mirror, reflecting the client’s patterns of thought and behaviour that may be hindering their progress. The aim here is to create awareness, allowing the client to recognise them and address them.
By doing so, we can help them break free from self-imposed constraints and move towards more empowering ways of thinking and behaving. It’s about shaking up the status quo and encouraging them to step outside their comfort zone where transformation can happen.
When to use it
The confronting intervention type can be effective in a variety of scenarios. Here are a few instances when this approach might be particularly useful:
- when we notice emotions that they are not acknowledging or addressing
- when we identify thoughts or behaviours that seem to be holding them back
- when they appear to be stuck in unproductive patterns of thinking or behaving
- when they seem to be operating under limiting beliefs that are hindering their progress.
The aim of a confronting intervention is to challenge in a supportive and respectful manner. It’s about creating awareness and prompting them to examine and address the barriers to their growth.
Example of questions
In a confronting intervention, we may use statements and questions like:
- What’s stopping you from doing this now?
- What else might you have not thought of?
- What is behind this thought?
- What are you avoiding now?
- You keep going back to this without moving forward. How can we break this cycle?
We are deliberately challenging them, prompting them to examine their thought processes, assumptions, and behaviours. The goal is to facilitate self-awareness and encourage them to address the barriers to their progress.
When it comes to designing a coaching intervention, we might be tempted to meticulously plan out every detail – the coaching content, the approach, the intervention points, and our style. However, this may not serve our clients best.
We actually cannot – and should not – design a coaching intervention in a pre-determined manner. The choice of an intervention style is not a one-size-fits-all solution but rather it is uniquely tailored to the combination of the client, their situation, and their emotional state at any given moment.
The most effective approach is to be fully present and responsive to what is happening in the here-and-now. This allows us to intuitively select the style that serves them in the most meaningful and impactful way.
If you want to define your unique signature as a coach, we invite you to join our upcoming course Deepening Conversations.
- Helping the Client: A Creative Practical Guide, by J. Heron
- Challenging Coaching, by John Blakey and Ian Day
- The coaching relationship: definition and key elements, by Lucia Baldelli MCC
- Building trust in a coaching relationship, by Lucia Baldelli MCC
- Designing actions in coaching, by Lucia Baldelli MCC