How To Recognize A Phobia While Coaching

Coaching, when done well, can take us in surprising directions. If our coachee trusts us enough they may well reveal some deep 'cause' underlying a surface 'symptom'. Coaching managers would be advised to develop at least a little insight into the signs of abnormal psychology. Consider for example, phobias.

We need to consider phobias and the anxiety response they can produce in their sufferers. 'Phobia' appears to be one of those psychological terms that have become rooted in everyday language. People uneasy with IT equipment complain of Technophobia and nervous maths students claim to be victim to Numberphobia and so on. In truth, although one is only phobic if one experiences some of the physical symptoms of anxiety in situations in which most other people are able to cope.

We can group phobias into three classifications:

Simple phobias – fear of a certain object or situation Social phobias – insecure in public places Agoraphobia – fear of being in unfamiliar places

There are two main explanations as to why people develop phobias:

Learning Theory – which claims that a phobia will develop from an extremely intense experience, eg Watson and Rayner's experiment with young Albert featuring rats and loud noises.

Psychoanalytic Theory – which suggests that a phobia is a conscious manifestation of an unconscious fear, eg Freud's analysis of 'little Hans' in the early 1900s.

Each theory proposes a markedly different treatment:

Learning Theory – suggests systematic desensitization. In other words the sufferer is exposed to the source of their anxiety a little at a time.

Psychoanalytic Theory – suggests that treatment involves revealing the subconscious concern; usually with hypnosis.

One thing is for certain, asking the sufferer why they are afraid of something so silly or suggesting that they pull them together together will probably not help. For the sufferer the fear is all too real.

What then of the coaching manager who uncovers these signs when coaching around work management or time keeping? Best advice would seem to be to keep to good coaching principals. Ask questions designed to raise awareness, generate responsibility and build trust then listen carefully and attentively to the responses. This is highly undesirable to make things worse and may actually do quite a lot of good.

After that, it's a question of referring the coachee to the relevant professional. For this reason I recommend that all coaching managers familiarize themselves with their organization's welfare procedure.