Our Amazing Yet Challenging Left Hemisphere

Art-based coaching can focus mainly on the right hemisphere and the great value that brings to coaching. However, I don’t want to lessen the extraordinary importance of the left hemisphere. The left hemisphere gives us, amongst other things, the ability for reason and logic that makes us uniquely human. It has enabled us to expand our knowledge and capability in a way that has made the world we live in today. It does, however, bring some challenges with it!

McGilchrist in his book The Master and His Emissary explains that all our new experience comes to our right hemisphere first and then, once it is familiar enough, it is passed to our left hemisphere where it is processed, analysed and re-presented. It does this by categorising, labeling and isolating things. Through this process it is the left hemisphere that creates a stable world for us to live in. This is a world that we can build on, come to ‘know’ and do things with. This is one of the left hemisphere’s ‘functions’ that has enabled us to create the amazing world we live in.

Creating rules – a river is a river is a river

The left hemisphere also creates rules which further enables us to label, analyse and live within a stable world. For example, if we take a river, the reality is that from one moment to the next a river is never the same. Water is in constant motion; surface patterns change all the time and its shape will be constantly changing as its banks are eroded or silt deposits are laid down. One river is not the same as another. This constant change and uniqueness of things is what the right hemisphere experiences. However, our left hemisphere has given us the label ‘river’ and with that label comes certain ‘rules’ that enable us to apply that label to other things we experience that fit those rules. We can live comfortably with the fact that the river is in constant change because we have stabilised it into the concept of a river, and it doesn’t matter that one river is not the same as another as long as it fits the rule; they are all rivers. It would be a challenging world to live in if everything we encountered was completely, unpredictably new and unforeseen!

Whilst the left hemisphere enables us to do extraordinary things, it also brings with it some challenges.  Whilst most of the time these challenges aren’t an issue, in some circumstances and particularly is some coaching scenarios, these can present a problem. The challenges include:

Exploring these challenges together with the reality of left hemisphere dominance, they may start to explain why clients can get stuck in thinking loops, maintain unhelpful patterns of behaviour and thinking, and not be open to new information. Our clients may be stuck in their left hemisphere re-presented world, they may be too focused on what they know, ignoring data that doesn’t fit with that model; they can’t breakthrough.

In coaching we often work with clients who want to break out of unhelpful patterns, or who are stuck in thinking loops, and can’t get beyond them. Working with the right hemisphere gives greater opportunity and possibilities for our clients to see the situation as it really is, which can lead to changes in patterns of thinking and behaving that ultimately helps them achieve their coaching aims.

When using art in coaching I have found it to be a fast and powerful way of helping the truth of the issue emerge; breaking through thinking loops and/or deepening awareness and understanding of unhelpful patterns.


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