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 You are here: Special Group in Coaching Psychology > Publications > The Coaching Psychologist > Handbook of Coaching Psychology - A Guide for Practitioners [...]

Edited by Stephen Plamer & Alison Whybrow

Hove: Routledge, 2007.
465 pages. Paperback. £24.99.
ISBN: 978-1-58391-707-7

Reviewed by David Hain

When my wife and I take a city break, our habit is to spend the first morning taking the tourist bus that enables us to see the main sights. Apart from enjoying the ride and learning about the place, we also make notes about venues of particular interest that we can go back to explore in more depth at our leisure. Reading the Handbook of Coaching Psychology, I was regularly reminded about how useful a strategy this is for learning about a large and complex new area. And like the tour bus, taking the ride through this large and comprehensive book is a rewarding experience in its own right, while highlighting areas of coaching practice that can be explored in more depth though other means.

Palmer and Whybrow have been leading advocates of the practice of Coaching Psychology since its infancy, and here they have provided a comprehensive, informative and practical resource that will surely be used regularly by psychologists and practicing coaches alike. They have engaged their extensive contacts in the field to ensure that the many chapters have been written by specialists in a particular area of coaching, and have edited the contributions effectively to ensure that they have a consistency of presentation and a coherence of guiding principles. I particularly liked the use of case examples that work well in bringing the theory preceding them to life. Taken together the book represents an excellent resource for their target readership of practitioners, whether their interest is in exploring the many frameworks and that underpin coaching approaches, or whether they simply want to reflect on how a given approach to coaching really works at a practical level.

The book is organised into four clearly-linked but discrete sections. The first brings readers up-to-date with the history and development of coaching and coaching psychology in particular. With reference to recent research into how coaching psychologists practice, and the (admittedly limited) evidence of the impact of coaching in the workplace, the material is presented in a way that allows readers to appreciate the context for coaching and the issues involved in promoting its use in a variety of applications.

Section 2 provides individual chapters on 11 separate approaches to undertaking coaching assignments. Although contributed by different authors, the structure of each chapter follows the same pattern, with an introduction to the key frameworks, theory and models of the approach followed by a case study that brings this to practical life. For each approach, a comprehensive reading list is provided, as well as some suggested discussion points that enable readers to construct some kind of fit with their own preferred models and approaches. Each chapter is in its own right a primer for the approach described, but read together, it is possible to see where they link and differ, and also to think though in what circumstances clients might benefit from a given style. While I knew some of the approaches very well, it was helpful to compare my own way of going about them with the material presented. In the case of approaches where I was less familiar, I would not now feel that I could experiment with them on a client, but I can see where the fit lies with my existing resources, and I have a detailed bibliography to read about them in more depth if I choose.

Section 3 struck me as more of an attempt to challenge the reader about his or her own practice, exploring issues such as the nature and development of the coach client relationship; the differences and similarities between coaching and counselling; how to ensure that proper attention is paid to diversity issues; the use (and potential abuse) of psychometrics as a coaching tool. Again, each of them contains useful material that can be accessed separately, but as a whole I found myself thinking increasingly about how I do things, what I might be missing and how I can continue to modernise and professionalise my personal practice.

The final section, entitled Sustainable Practice, focuses on what is currently happening with coaching initiatives in organisations and how lessons are being learned about integrating coaching into organisational culture. A final chapter on coaching supervision reminds us all that no matter how experienced or expert we are in our chosen approach, the value of having our own reflective space with an experienced supervisor is incalculable, both as a means of personal development and professional risk management.

This is a book that can be read cover to cover - its style is accessible, largely jargonfree and mostly very practical. However, for me its greatest benefit is that I can use it as a handbook should be used - to dip into for insight and resources on specific models, styles or frameworks, to address particular issues or to bone up on concepts, resources and professional challenges that arise. My own copy is already daubed liberally with highlighter pen and I have no doubt that I will refer back to it regularly.

Given that I learned from the book that the ‘coaching industry’ is worth around $2 billion annually, this is a long-awaited and much needed textbook for a field that has numerous applications, underpinnings and styles, often apparently competitive rather than clearly structured and codified. It makes no attempt to persuade the reader of a particular approach over any other, unlike most of the coaching books out there which are often selling something. Palmer and Whybrow are to be congratulated for delivering this comprehensive and useful resource that will quickly become, I am sure, a kind of ‘bible’ for all of us interested in furthering the emergent coaching profession.


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