What a first coaching session might be like

What is a coaching session like? My colleague Alysa Haas and I teamed up to show you how a new client’s first session might go, from start to finish. Here are the videos we made.

What a first coaching session might be like

Alysa Haas and I got trained in Internal Family Systems together, and we’ve been pals ever since. She is currently on her way to licensure in clinical counseling, but for now she’s practicing as a non-clinical coach, like me — and one day this summer, she pointed out an important difference between clinical mental health and the kind of coaching we do. Whereas everybody who’s ever watched TV knows more or less what traditional therapy is like (two people, quiet room, tissues on the table, lots of nodding), almost nobody knows what “coaching” is — particularly the special kind of inward-focused coaching that she and I practice.

“I wish I could give people a better idea of what IFS actually is,” she wrote to me back in June:

What it looks like. And that it’s not as scary and weird as it might sound to some people, who are like, ‘So … voices in your head?’ I’ve been thinking about making a sample video of a session to share on my site. I’m wondering if you might be interested in being my sample client, and in return, I’d be happy to be your sample client. I’m imagining we would make up some of our character while also using our authenticity. What do you think?

I thought the idea was amazing. A couple weeks later, Alysa and I got together on Zoom and recorded two “first sessions.”

Alysa’s first session with “Ted”

I played “Ted,” a middle-aged English professor whose recent panic attacks brought him to Alysa for coaching. I wore my beard down for the purpose, and used an appropriately bookish Zoom background. The character of “Ted” is very much like me in many ways, so our session was much more moving than I expected.

Alysa excerpted this part of our session to demonstrate “unblending,” the IFS technique we use to get a little distance from a part of ourselves who’s taking over the seat of our consciousness.

How Alysa helps “Ted” unblend

“Ted” gets a stomachache when he describes how he’s feeling about his work, and Alysa asks him how he feels about it. He wants it to go away. Here’s what Alysa says at 4:30 in the video:

ALYSA: So I’m wondering if you can see the thought that happens in your mind, that says, “That stomachache should go away,” and witness that thought as something a little bit out here. A little bit removed from you.

“TED”: Like — not just me? …

ALYSA: Right.

“TED”: Okay. … Huh.

ALYSA: So how do you experience that thought, now that it’s a little bit removed from you?

TED: So, this is — it’s just silly, but, like — I imagined it as, like, a surly teenager. Yeah. I don’t know where that came from.

Keep watching to see what happens next!

“What Is ‘Unblending’ in IFS? Highlights from an Internal Family Systems session.” Video: Alysa D. Haas, YouTube

Ash’s first session with “Michelle”

One session down, one to go. To get into our new roles, I braided my beard and put on one of my usual summertime shirts, and Alysa put on a dignified cardigan. Then I had my first coaching session with “Michelle,” a young journalist who has just moved from Europe back to the small American town where her mother lives. (You may recognize her story from a famous and very beloved TV series, which I have somehow managed never to see.)

We did a lot of work together, and here’s an abridged edit of the whole session, with chapters to show different phases of the work.

Ash asks “Michelle” for consent to turn inward

This kind of coaching is built on consent, at every moment, at every level. Before asking “Michelle” to turn her attention inward, at 8:50 in the video, Ash explains how she’ll be in charge the whole time:

ASH. Any time during what we do together, when you are trying to understand how you’re thinking and feeling on the inside, any time you start to get overwhelmed, you can just stop. If if ever starts to feel like too much, just say so, and we’ll back off. That sound okay?

“MICHELLE”: Yeah. That sounds really nice.

ASH: For the rest of our time today, there is nothing to do but be curious. I’m going to pay attention to the time, so you don’t have to worry about it. And all you have to do is just inquire internally. That sound okay?

“MICHELLE”: Yeah, it sounds okay. It sounds a little nebulous, which makes me nervous. But I’m willing. I’m willing.

ASH: All right. It’ll make sense as we do it. So. Just to start out, make yourself as comfortable as you can, just right there where you are.

“MICHELLE”: Should I close my eyes?

ASH: If it feels good to you, you can.

Keep watching to see what “Michelle” discovers in her inner world.

“Internal Family Systems practitioners Alysa D. Haas and Ash Chudgar demonstrate what a first session of IFS coaching can be like.” Video: Ash Chudgar, Vimeo

More to come

There’s so much richness in each moment of my session with “Michelle” that I’m planning to write about it just a little bit at a time, chapter by chapter. But for now, I’m so delighted with our videos that I wanted to share them right away, with immense thanks to my friend and colleague Alysa for her idea and our delightful creative partnership. If you find these videos helpful, pass ’em along!