Art in Coaching

Art in coaching is about working with our clients (coachees) in a way that gives them access to a deeper level of personal awareness, understanding and meaning.

Working in this way deepens and enriches our coaching conversations in a way that purely verbal coaching cannot. It creates transformational shifts in perceptions and understanding that can lead to significant changes in personal development and growth.

As someone who both coaches and paints I firmly believe that art has an important role in coaching today.

What do I mean by art?

When I talk about art, I don’t mean master pieces I mean any image that someone produces which means something to them. The art is their imagery made visible and tangible through using line, form, shape and colour whether it is drawing, painting, sculpture or collage. It is about personal expression and we can all do this. As coaches, we facilitate this process, building a bridge between our client and their image.

Normally I have to work quite hard to get through the analytic stage of unpicking (talking it through)... making the image visible through art by passed this getting me straight to the issue without any disguise...’
Ann, Executive Coach

Benefits of using art in coaching

Using art in coaching produces many benefits for our coaching practice. Including;

  • Unlocking the core area being worked on very quickly by uncovering hidden material and working at a deeper level
  • Supporting transformational change by helping a coachee get to a deeper level of self-awareness and understanding
  • Helping coachees externalise those things they find hard to verbalise through image making and the language of creating
  • Creating a safe space to hold complexity and paradox
  • Breaking through thinking loops where coachees are stuck in the same thinking patterns
  • Slowing down articulate coachees who can talk to deflect, defend and gloss over
  • Giving our right brain a voice – the home of the Ah Ha! moment
  • Introducing fun and play which can lead to creative thinking and deeper self-awareness and understanding
  • Allowing us to spend time with our coachees in areas of importance

Art and the brain – giving the right hemisphere a voice

Art also connects to our right brain hemisphere and our unconscious. The right hemisphere is the home of the ‘Ah Ha!’ moment and is where personal meaning resides. Through art we give our right hemisphere a voice helping us to externalise what is hidden, complex and sometimes paradoxical. Being able to connect to our right hemisphere world, understand and communicate its perceptions, is crucial for transformational coaching. In the 1970’s Roger Sperry, in his research into the two hemispheres of the brain, said ‘modern society discriminates against the right hemisphere’ and current research shows that this is still very much the case – we very much value left hemisphere perceptions over and above right hemisphere perceptions.

For transformational change to occur Hawkins & Smith in their Four Levels of Engagement state that we need to be working at the fourth level of engagement; values, beliefs, behaviour patterns, personal stories and moral codes. This is mainly the domain of the right hemisphere.

Art and communication

Art is a form of communication that pre-dates written and verbal language and has been used for tens of thousands of years to communicate our place in the world; our ideas, feelings and perceptions. Psychology has also found that using image making allows people to externalise and understand that which otherwise they have found difficult and/or impossible to articulate. Art Therapists use this approach to great effect.

When thoughts are pushed aside, spontaneous images can emerge: symbolic aspects of the self in need of recognition

Liesl Silverstone, Art Therapy – The Person Centred Approach