Macquarie University
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Focusing-oriented transformative coaching: supporting the journey of personal and social change

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posted on 2022-11-28, 03:04 authored by Jeremy MahJeremy Mah

There is an urgent need to address an unprecedented confluence of social and environmental threats, in particular climate change, facing the world today. This will require more innovative and holistic approaches to learning that can address these threats and better support those working to create change. Research shows that change practitioners are particularly susceptible to the risks of feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, burnt out and depressed in relation to their work. Although there is an abundance of information recommending how practitioners can address these risks, there is little to no research examining how more embodied and transformative ways of learning can support both personal and social change. As such, this study examines practitioners’ experiences of burnout, and how Eugene Gendlin’s focusing (a form of inward bodily attention widely used within the humanistic psychotherapy tradition) can be used within coaching to support their self-care and effectiveness. A mixed methods approach was used involving a questionnaire, in-depth interviews and coaching over an 18-month period. The study found that focusing combined with reflective dialogue supported the transformative learning of the participants, helped to address burnout, and improved their self-care and effectiveness. This was achieved by: 1) clarifying their sense of self (including values, beliefs etc.) in relation to life, work and broader sociocultural contexts; 2) developing relationships with aspects of themselves (such as the inner critic) that are connected to unhelpful ways of thinking and feeling; 3) enabling kinds of ‘letting go’ (e.g. of expectations of self and others), becoming more comfortable with ‘not knowing’ and letting the new felt meaning of situations emerge; and 4) supporting shifts in consciousness or ways of being that are more open, curious, kind, playful and authentically hopeful. Based on these findings a model for practitioners – Focusing-oriented transformative coaching is proposed. The significance of this study is that it addresses the need for evidence-based research within the field of adult learning (in particular within Transformative learning and Coaching), regarding how embodied ways of learning can support both personal and social change. In this way, transformation from the individual, micro level to the social, macro level can be viewed as a whole, ongoing process.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Literature review -- 3. Research design and methodology -- 4. An exploration of practitioners’ experiences of burnout -- 5. Discussion of the focusing and coaching processes -- 6. Discussion of the findings and key themes -- 7. Implications for theory and practice -- 8. Conclusion – References -- Appendices


Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Department of Geography and Planning, Faculty of Arts, Macquarie University

Department, Centre or School

Department of Geography and Planning

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Greg Walkerden

Additional Supervisor 1

Kate Lloyd

Additional Supervisor 2

Kath McLachlan


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




464 pages

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