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Solution Focused Coaching


Rabbi Joshua Ritchie MD   •   November 23, 2014

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Ritchie: Yeah, the beautiful thing that, as I started to say earlier, what I first learned coaching, I was learning coaching already thirty and forty years ago before we called it coaching. I was learning it, one, by the fact that I was teaching as a physician, teaching medical students and interns and residents and graduate positions in the community, I was a Professor of Pediatrics & Infectious Diseases in Family Medicine in several different medical schools, so I was doing higher education and training professionals how to work with their patients and their clients. That really is coaching because you have to be respectfully improving the skills of a doctor, you can’t be just like a teacher in grade school. You have to be working with them in a way that you’re coaching them to use their skills and helping them apply their knowledge and their skills and their wisdom. So my whole medical career was training doctors to be, in a sense, coaching doctors, to be better physicians.

Then, I was privileged when I came to teach at the medical school in Jerusalem, I came to teach pediatrics and run a pediatric ward, by divine providence, God led me to settle in the nearest religious neighborhood to the hospital at the time, and I found myself less than a 5-minute walk from the home and Yeshiva and minyan the previous Amshinov Rebbe, so this very super holy Hasidic master allowed me, and so to speak, adopted me like a member of the household and I had free reign to his empire, if you will. He had his quarters, he received people in his chambers between the Yeshiva and his living quarters, he had a room where he received people, one at a time for counseling, for advising. I found myself sitting in while he was counseling people, and I look back now and realize that over the course of eight to ten years, I had spent more than one thousand hours sitting in the room while he was counseling people, which in retrospect, now that I have studied all of the various forms of counseling and coaching and therapy, what he was doing was basically solution-focused coaching, if you will.

What do I mean by that? People would come to him, and they would start to pour out their hearts, their problems, their questions, and the first foundation of all of this is you really have to join them, you have to really be empathetically, compassionately really hearing them and joining them and letting them feel that you care, they really feel you care, you understand, you respect them, you understand them, and you want to help them, you love them basically. And there are ways that we teach now, how did he do that. He only allowed me to observe. He never gave me a lecture, but he modeled for me, as we call it, he was an unbelievable role model, an extremely skillful, capable beloved coach and counselor, rabbi, an advisor, mentor, call him whatever you want, but he remarkably was skillful at helping people and transform from brokenness, confusion, failure, anguish, misery and transform and help them transform themselves with God’s help, as we were saying, help them transform in remarkably short time and a remarkably limited amount of time that he actually spent with them. He would see them, for maybe, 20, 30 minutes, he would see them, maybe a few times over the few months or a few years; yet, they felt so connected, so guided, he gave them so much support within. Over the months, I could see them, as they came back, I could see them in the community and see the magical transformation that happened.

Awesome. Awesome to see and, I’ll share a story with you, I think it’s a very beautiful story, and I love to tell this story and I probably don’t tell it often enough. I was sitting in shul one day in the Yeshiva, and it was a shabbos, the young chassan was being called up for an aliah because he was getting married the coming week, and sitting there, was the father-in-law to-be, his daughter was getting married, and he was there with his future son-in-law beaming, obviously, beaming, radiating, looking like a very beautiful distinguished looking Jew, a beautiful face, shining, like radiating pride and joy and on top of the world. And I was just enjoying seeing his joy, and all of a sudden, I say to myself, oh my goodness, I remember when he first came to the Yeshiva, I was standing on the entrance way on the stairs as he walked up and the Amshinover Rebbe greeted him at the entrance to the Yeshiva. The Rebbe somehow had a way of doing this. The Rebbe was there and greeted him as he was walking up the steps, and I happened to be fortunate to just be there to watch this first encounter, and I’m remembering, oh my goodness, when he first appeared, he looked like a homeless bum. Here, on Shabos, he was wearing a beautiful, distinguished kapata, you know an elegant long flock, and he had a beautiful full white beard. He looked glorious.

When I remember that first occasion, he wasn’t wearing a hat, he wasn’t wearing a coat, he was looking bedraggled, and he looked like a failure. He looked very down, very dejected, and he comes up and he’s talking to the Rebbe and basically, the impression that I'm getting, I didn’t hear every word, but I’m seeing the exchange, I’m hearing a few words, and the impression I’m getting is, he doesn’t know what to do with himself, he doesn’t have work right now, he kind of looked like he had gone broke and out of work, and the Rebbe was saying, oh, I could use some help, why don’t you come help out at the Yeshiva.

So the next thing I see, he’s working in the kitchen, cleaning. Ok, suitable, so this poor guy is down and out, and he’s helping clean up the kitchen, but I notice, over the months, he’s beginning to take more and more responsibility and within less than half a year, he’s already, sort of running the place, he’s got the whole bundle of keys, he’s the manager, administrator, running the whole Yeshiva and the kitchen and everything, the dorm, and wow, and then I remembered the day that he goes to the rabbi and says, I’m so sorry but I’ve got so many important things calling me in life that I have to get back to my world, and I really appreciate and I'm grateful but regretfully, I have to turn in my resignation. I can’t stay any longer. That was about after half a year, and then about another half a year later, he’s marrying off his daughter looking very successful.

So how did the rabbi help make this transformation? It wasn’t by diagnosing him, and it wasn’t by thinking which CBT method am I using. But it was by, first of all, really empathetically, compassionately understanding the person, respecting the person, building his confidence, and showing him that he had abilities. Calling forth his abilities and allowing him to use his abilities and allowing him to progress as fast as he was willing and able to progress, helping him to take whatever the next step he was willing and able to take. Not by doing therapy on his problems but by helping him move in the direction that he would want to move in based on his abilities and his skills and allowing him to use them. And yes, built his confidence little step by little step, by being able to use more and more of his talents and his skills and his abilities, so he was convinced of his abilities and his skills and was confident enough, to now go forth and face the challenges in life and the world and continue to be a successful person.

Actually, I hope I’m not going to take too long with these stories, but I continued to look around and I look around at the other young man standing in the corner, this was an older man, maybe in his 50s, then I see a young man, maybe in his early 20s, and I say, oh yeah, and I remember when he first came in, he’s now looking also like a very distinguished fine young man, dressed very nicely and looking very together, and I said, oh my goodness, I remember when he first showed up, he also looked very bedraggled and kind of like, I don’t like to use this expression, but kind of like a drowned rat or mouse? He looked old and bedraggled and disheveled and so on also, and here he was, a few months later, looking very together, very self-confident, very respectable, and he’s gone on to be a fine, wonderful householder member of the community, and it only took a few months to see his transformation. And again, the Rebbe when he spoke to anybody was speaking to them with great love and respect and deference conveyed to them, he saw them, not as they appeared on the outside, he was able to see their potential, and not only did he see their potential, but he related to it. He treated them as though they were what they could be, and I think you all know that, as well, with children.

If you’ve ever noticed with children, or students, if you treat them as if they’re a no good bum, they’ll probably grow up to be no good bums. If you treat them with love and respect and appreciation and admiration and treasuring them, they will grow up to be what they can be and helping them accomplish what they can accomplish rather than criticizing and looking at their problems. So what the world is now calling positive psychology is not just helping them be normal, you’re helping them be all they can be, and you help them be all they can be by seeing them, one of the expressions that they use, especially in the British circles, every client, every coaching client is brilliant, as they say, everyone is a genius, has great potential.

You look to find the good, you see them with good eyes, you see their virtues, their character strengths, their potential, and by relating to them in that way and that you’re not treating and relating to them, oh this is an ADHD or this is a cripple, this is disturbed, this is somebody who’s appositionally defiant, this is someone who’s co-dependent, this is someone who’s addicted, instead of looking at them in their negative light, looking to see what their great potential is and helping them see what their great potential is, and helping them then aspire to that, helping them get a clear image of what life would be like when they’re living up to their potential. And then having that attract them and motivate them and help them move forward and help give them the courage and strength because we believe in them. And we expect and anticipate and support and endorse them and empower them to be all that they can be. And yes, to only take the small steps that they’re ready, willing and able to take at each moment, and it might be very small steps at the beginning. It could be tiny, baby steps, but it’s steps in the right direction so seeing them capable of moving in the right direction, supporting them and endorsing them and cheering them on and helping them move step by step until it begins to grow like a snow ball, it gains momentum, and it’s this wonderful, positive spiral and it gets faster and faster.

So as we help them get a clearer and clearer picture of what they want and need, the preferred future, the quality world, the miracle, the wonder of what they can accomplish, that draws them to have the courage and the strength to go step by step, and as they accomplish one success, then they’re ready for the next challenge and the next, and it’s amazing how fast people can transform from being shattered to being very powerfully whole and growing and moving to more and more fulfillment. It’s a powerful methodology that works, it works by the people who do kiruv, it works by the people who are educators, it works by people who are rabbis, tutors, mentors, coaches, it’s all the people in our Torah world that are helping people grow and accomplish are using basically the same approach. We’re just helping them learn some more and practice in a safe environment, some of these tools.

Our program is not just that we lecture at you, we cover these things with you, we share these tools, we demonstrate them, we provide you with some reading material and some video, but we also have you practice. Part of the program is you’re going to spend a lot of time, God willing, in the practicum in the practice sessions where you role play, you play the part of coach, you coach each other with supervision from the faculty, with supervision from your peers, from your classmates and other people in the course, from other students, so that you have a safe environment where you can get some positive feedback, you’re able to learn and practice and improve your skills that you’ve learned from these sessions. You’re getting the material, you have the training manual, you have the textbooks, and then each week, you’re practicing with each other and your community and your environment and in the work that you’re doing, you’re applying it in your real world, you’re applying it in your practice sessions. And by the end of the year, there’s a magic transformation, you’re all going to be skillful coaches. It’s almost going to be like automatic, like you learned how to ride a bike, like you’ve learned to drive a car. You’ve learned a new skill that becomes natural now, and it becomes automatic, and yet, you can continue to grow and learn and become more and more skillful, but by the end of the year, you’ve mastered the basics, for sure, and you will get a diploma and you will be certified as a professional coach.

So it is a process that works, we’ve been doing this now for quite a number of years. We’ve been doing this sort of counseling and coach training for now, it’s more than a dozen years, it’s almost fifteen years, more than fifteen years already. We were founded twenty years ago, we’ve been teaching coaching for almost ten years. Before, we were teaching counseling, a lot of crisis counseling and counseling in general, and now, the focus is coaching and it’s the type of coaching that is very much the world of cognitive and included in the cognitive is solution-focused and NLP and other technologies that make it all the more effective. It’s all built on this foundation of respect for the client, the client’s ability to use their resources and find their solutions with our facilitating their discoveries. They have to discover it, and they have to enact it, but we’re the ones that can help them do that, and without us, it might not happen. It usually doesn’t. Coaching is a powerful tool for bringing the best out in people and helping them make great progress at a rapid pace.

Ok, I think I’ve enjoyed sharing that with you. Let me pause for a moment and see if people have some comments or questions on what I’ve said so far, and then, I’ll have some more to share with you, but let me hear some feedback. So the mics are open, if you people know how to unmute yourselves on the phone system, if you’re calling in by phone, it’s *7 on a touch phone to unmute yourself and on the webex, you need to unmute the microphone that you see by your name. Ok…

Label: My name is Label from Brooklyn, and I was wondering, throughout my life, I’ve always been a good listener, people appreciated that.

Ritchie: Yeah, very important.

Label: Yeah and I was wondering but when it gets to technical, I start to become a little scared, and I was wondering how does this relate?

Ritchie: Listening is the essence, it’s 90% of it. You’re right on when you talk about the importance of listening. The whole foundation, again, is you really do have to understand and the client has to feel understood and heard and to coach them, you stimulate them to discover what they need to discover but the only way you can do that is by hearing them and you help them hear themselves so by really listening and letting them hear what you’ve heard, being able to reflect that back to them, they, then, are able to begin to discover their resources, their strengths, and their solutions.

Yes, it all depends and it’s all built on your being able to really hear them, and if you’re too busy trying to figure out what to do next, you’re not listening to them. So yeah, you do have to be able to really, really be hearing them and not rush them and not rush yourself and really patiently stay focused, it really is an art to really really listen and really hear them. What’s called active listening, reflective listening, you have to echo back, you have to paraphrase, you have to summarize, you have to let them know summarize or let them know that you really heard and understood them compassionately and by sometimes slightly rephrasing it slightly reframing it, often helps them hear themselves almost for the first time by your prompting them along, allowing them to speak, asking the right questions, they begin to speak out things that they need to hear themselves say and so, your really listening and being able to ask the next question because you’ve really heard them, you let them know you’ve heard and ask the next question that it leads to, you’re interested in them. You care about them. You’re curious, you want to know more so that you can help them discover.

That really is a tremendous resource for them, that really gives them the strength, the courage, it empowers them. If you’re familiar with the work of Carl Rogers, a great clinical psychologist who really opens this whole world of humanistic psychology back in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. He started as a teacher and then went into counseling, and he developed, what was called, client-centered or client-focused, if you will, client-centered counseling. He shifted the whole world from the previous Freudian and behaviorist to where he was really compassionately, empathetically really allowing the client to be heard. That gave the client the power, the strength, and the courage to open himself up, discover himself, and begin to heal himself. The only thing we’re adding to that in coaching is that, we can with some of the cognitive methods, help them move even a little further and a little faster, by helping them more clearly clarify their goals and envision their future, discover their resourcefulness, discover their skills.

There are things that I was mentioning before about solution-focused. There are lots of ways that once the person really feels respected and understood and cared for, that empowers them to begin to be willing to grow and to be brave enough to try and move forward, and then, we can help them by guiding them with the right coaching questions. Yes,  it does take time to shift to learn the skills that become natural because you don’t want it to become mechanical, you want it to become natural, so it does take time and that’s part of the point of the training, it does take time, it takes practice, step by step, we’ll guide you in that practice where you’ll get comfortable doing it. Did that answer your question?

Label: I’m also wondering about the technical about finding someone with a plan. Is that more involved or…? Providing the person with the plan of action, is that a major part of it? That’s not my strong point…

Ritchie: If there’s a plan of action to be made, it’s made by the client. The coach might, indeed, often does, help the client build the plan, but it’s not you, the coach, that makes the plan, that’s old fashioned social work, old fashioned therapy. We, in coaching, are again, it’s the client-centered who builds his plan. We help them, for sure, we help them refine it, structure it, we ask them the right questions, we guide them in the process, but it’s their choice. We’re empowering the client. It’s their process that they have to work through because we’re not just providing them the answers, that’s not our job, we’re providing them the strength and the skills that they find their solutions and they build their own plan. We help them indeed define a smart goal and smart plans, and that’s a whole, we’ll go through that, how you help a client build a smart goal and a smart plan, and it’s a stepwise process and it’s the client’s making. What is his specific goal? And it needs to be specific and simple and measurable. Is it achievable? Is it relevant and rewarding and is it timely? Is it even smarter? Is it empowering? Is it invigorating and is it reportable? Will they be motivated and will they be able to return and report to the coach about their successes?

Yes, we might help them do that, but they’re the ones that decide the goal, they’re the ones that help figure out how they’re going to measure it, if it’s really attainable for them, what’s their time frame, etc. That’s the client that has to determine it.

Guest: What’s the difference between counseling and coaching?

Ritchie: I really don’t want to try to answer that in one minute. In what we’re calling solution-focused coaching, what we’re calling cognitive behavioral coaching, what we’re calling Refuah coaching, includes maybe some of what you might call counseling, it includes maybe some of what you might all therapy, but let’s take the spectrum. The far end of the spectrum is therapy, in the old fashioned sense, that I diagnose and I tell you what you need to do and I give you orders and instructions, here’s what you need to do. I tell you what your program is, here’s your prescription, go do it. That’s old-fashioned therapy.

Coaching is, I discuss with you what it is that you want, and how do you get there, and I  help the client make his plan of action and support him in that. Counseling, in a sense, is somewhere in between, where sometimes, they’ll ask you for advice, and they need some information.  There’s also a concept called mentoring, if you have the skill or the information, there are times where you’ll model it, you’ll demonstrate it, or you’ll teach it but you will do it respectfully and won’t force it on them. Ask them; is this something you would like me to describe to you? Is this something you’d like me to teach you or would you like me to help coach you through it and you’ll discover it, or would you like me to share with you some of what I know about this? So yes, we will at times, counsel, advise, we sometimes teach, but it’s always done in a respectful coaching matter, we’re not just ordering them or preaching at them or lecturing them or prescribing and telling them, ordering them in an authoritarian way. It’s always the client that ultimately gets to choose because it’s their life, after all, and we respect that, and that’s what’s going to work, what they choose to do is what’s going to work, not what we force on them.

Guest: Right, and how much does your course cost?

Ritchie: How much does our course cost? If you apply, we’ll send you the information, ok? If you’ll email us or if you’ll phone us, give us your information, we’ll send you our information package.

Guest: Is your diploma internationally recognized?

Ritchie: Yes, our diploma is internationally recognized and you will also be certified, if you successfully complete the program, which most of our students do, you’ll be certified by the AAPC, the American Association of Professional Coaches, so you get two credentials. You get a diploma from the Refuah Institute and you get a certificate that you’re a certified coach from the American Association of Professional Coaches, which those two credentials put you in very good standing.

Guest: How long is the course?

Ritchie: It’s a one-year program.

Guest: When is it starting?

Ritchie: In a week, a week from tonight, a week from today, it’s the same time, same method, and it starts in exactly one week.

Guest: and how many hours?

Ritchie: The lecture is 2 hours on Sundays and then you have an opportunity to join practice sessions and we provide reading material, a training manual, textbooks, etc., etc., but if you’ll contact us, we’ll send you a whole information package and we’ll be glad to talk to you about it.

Guest: Thank you.

Ritchie: You can either phone, you can email, and we’ll be very happy to provide you with lots of information, or you can look up on our website has a lot of that information as well. 

Guest: Thanks.

Ritchie: Hope you’ll be able to join us.

Guest: Will think about it. Thanks.

Ritchie: You’re welcome.

Guest 2: Do you have to have any background in professional psychology or…?

Ritchie: The prerequisite is that you be a sound person who wants to help people. You have empathy and compassion that you’re capable and wanting to better help people, it’s not a matter of if you have college or any other academic training. What’s important is that you have the desire to help people, you have that type of personality that’s wanting to empathetically, respectfully help people, and you have that attitude, you have that desire of helping people. You want to be a part of the helping profession and that you’re willing to put in the time and effort to learn how to help people, but no, you don’t need any previous academic or professional training. We do have people who come with very advanced training, and we have people who come with absolutely no previous training, and somehow they all work together and they all fit in their level of need.

So we train people who already have a PhDs in Counseling and Psychology and who have been practicing therapists, and we have had people who come with absolutely, young people with no problem, and they all have managed to get what they want and need out of it.

Guest 2: Wonderful.

Ritchie: And it’s true, those that come with more background will understand the finer points, and those that don’t have the background will understand the basics, very thoroughly.

Guest 3: Do you include Psychology?

Ritchie: It depends on what you call psychology.

Guest 3: Like is their Freud…

Ritchie: Well Freud, I don’t consider Psychology, I consider it a fraud, so if you’re talking about positive psychology of today, if you’re talking about, there is a whole world about what is now called positive psychology, if you’re talking about humanistic psychology if you’re talking about things like cognitive behavioral therapy, solution-focused therapy, reality therapy, neurolinguistic programing, those types of psychology, yes, those that are proven scientifically and that are humanistic, compassionate and proven to be helpful, yes, we teach a lot of that, but Freud, no. Freud is not scientific, and it’s not scientifically proven, not Torah compatible. So no, we don’t waste our time with something that we consider counter productive.

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