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"Pick Goals and Kick Ass:" Differences in Coaching Methods

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An Article by Alyce Barry

I'm often asked if Shadow Work coaching is similar to life coaching.

No, I answer, it's quite different.

Sometimes I add that in Shadow Work we use the word "coaching" only because there isn't a better word for our private sessions.

As a friend of mine likes to say, life coaching boils down to "pick goals and kick ass." A life coach helps you determine goals and then helps you stay motivated to reach them.

And sometimes that's helpful. During the winter of 2004-2005, I worked with a life coach for six months. At the time, I was revising the manuscript of my book about Shadow Work for about the fourteenth time, and I kept getting lost in the process. I would finish one step and forget what my next step should be.

So I hired a coach, who helped me determine my goals and then checked on my progress each week by phone. Getting prepared for that weekly phone call was the "kick ass" part I had to take a close look at where I stood once every week and assess whether or not I had achieved the week's goals.

I couldn't keep track of the steps myself because I was so mired in the details that I kept losing the big picture; I couldn't see the forest for the trees. If I'd had similar problems in other areas of my life, there might have been cause to think that an underlying emotional issue was the cause.

It's with those underlying issues that, in my experience, life coaching is less effective.


Some years ago, a friend of mine became trained as a life coach and offered me several trial sessions. I gladly accepted, partly to work towards a goal I had at the time, and partly to see what life coaching was like.

Although she and I talked about that goal at some length, we never talked about what might be at risk for me to get it.

There were some very real risks involved in my achieving that goal. I believe those risks are the real reason I never achieved it.

Some common risks people run into when they try to achieve a goal:

  • Letting in support that might go away again.
  • Judging themselves harshly.
  • Damaging a connection with someone they love.
  • Surpassing someone they loved and respected.
  • Stepping into the unknown.
  • Disrupting their lives.
  • Having to take more responsibility for themselves.
  • Believing in something that might not happen.
  • Finding out that the desired goal isn't achievable.


Looking at risks is one big difference between Shadow Work coaching and life coaching. But I think it's really emblematic of a larger difference: Shadow Work looks not just at the goal but at the reasons that it hasn't been achieved. Similarly, when a client comes to me with a personal problem, we look not just at the problem but at the reasons the problem is occurring.

Once we find those reasons, we can fix the problem at the source instead of responding only to its symptoms.

As we approach the source of a problem, often some feelings come up. It's here that we find another very big difference between Shadow Work coaching and life coaching. As another friend, Vicki Woodard, puts it, Shadow Work coaching holds you emotionally so can you let go of things.

Without that emotional holding, it wouldn't feel safe enough to go to the source. Without that emotional holding, it wouldn't be possible to see the source with enough clarity to make clear, conscious, healthy decisions about taking risks.

It's the emotional holding that gives Shadow Work coaching its distinctive "feel." It's what makes Shadow Work coaching capable of examining the most sensitive of issues with complete safety. It's also what makes Shadow Work coaching the most effective kind of coaching for achieving long-term goals.

Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach, and a writer, in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago Read more about Alyce.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in May 2007. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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