I listened to a radio programme the other day about “professional depression,” this caught my attention and I stayed tuned…
The programme’s key message was that peoples’ professional lives are increasingly leading to depression. Several examples were shared where professionals are working in organisations and/or environments that lead to significant emotional and psychological disharmony. This can be described as cognitive dissonance, where a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration of one’s own attitudes, beliefs or behaviours to reduce the discomfort and restore balance.
Alternatively, we might create a form of psychological distance between us and the situation so that we can protect ourselves from this uncomfortable sense of disharmony. George Marshall, in his book “Don’t Even Think About It,” talks about why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. This also reminded me of Margaret Heffernan’s work in her book “Wilful Blindness” that talks about why we ignore the obvious.
Yet another approach to creating distance from the discomfort might be to take some form of “medication.” On this note, I found myself very alarmed recently when I read an article that talked about how a pill for loneliness was being developed.
The problem with these approaches is that they can lead to “learned helplessness” (potentially on quite a large, societal scale) where taking action seems impossible because the bigger “system” is not taking action or even paying attention. We recently saw a different response to this in London where climate protesters decided to take non-violent action by disrupting and stopping the traffic in the city. One of the protesters was interviewed and said that he felt so much better afterwards, simply because he had taken some action.
The rapid increase of mental health issues is becoming an all too familiar aspect of our daily lives and yet a specific form of anxiety is also apparently on the increase. Climate anxiety and climate trauma are now being cited by GPs and other healthcare professionals as issues being raised by patients. It would appear that some people are becoming clinically anxious and depressed about their future and that of their children on our struggling planet.
We are also seeing worrying statistics about anxiety in young people, their prospects for work as they leave education and a more generalised concern about the future of work for humans based on the development of AI. At the other end of the spectrum, aging issues is another topic as some people find extended working life and unexpected changes to pensions and financial and lifestyle plans for later life extremely challenging and even daunting.
If the landscape couldn’t get any worse, we then have matters such as “Brexit” and other considerable political tensions around the world…
So, where does this leave us? Well, I know that not all of the points I have raised above appear directly connected, however the landscape is certainly somewhat challenging and the term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) is something I hear on an almost daily basis. Personally, I do believe that there is some systemic connection between all of these, and other, challenges to our existence at this point in our history and evolution.
I am often reminded of a presentation I attended about 15 years ago at a conference that first got me interested in coaching. The presenter said that coaching was not invented by a few bored people in a coffee shop one afternoon. He believed that coaching was created by humans for humans and for a reason… he felt it was something that would meet a human need.
This actually brings me to the point of this article, which is not to paint a picture of doom and gloom for the human race but to offer a few questions and hopefully to provoke some thought and consideration for what our opportunity is here. Or perhaps even, dare I say it, our responsibility. Human beings are incredibly resourceful and resilient creatures and coaching is a wonderfully powerful and effective way to tap into that resourcefulness. We think of our clients as creative, resourceful and whole. How can coaching meet these challenges in a way that evokes significant societal change? The International Coach Federation’s mission is that coaching becomes an integral part of a thriving society. How can we take coaching to the next level to meet and step over the tipping point so that it becomes viral in a positive way through the ripple effect it might have?
Since I have been working in this profession, I have seen coaching develop from being a 1-1 intervention to a 1-team/group intervention and now to a systemic intervention. When coaches work within an organisation, they see the organisation through a lens that others do not get to see. How might that view be a resource? What does this mean for confidentiality, the role of the coach, boundaries and even the definition of coaching? On the other hand, what is being lost by the coach’s view not being shared? Is this wilful blindness or appropriate confidentiality and impartially? What is our role in areas such as Corporate Social Responsibility or social conscience and what does this mean for our profession in the future?
I don’t propose to have all the answers; however, I am very interested in these questions! I am very curious about how coaching could support some of these societal challenges that we face, address the BIG agenda, and discover the human need that coaching was created for in that metaphorical coffee shop.