Does Coaching Change the Coach’s Brain?

I haven’t seen studies of this yet, but I wonder if experienced coaches have developed certain aspects of their brains from using them more in their practice? There is evidence that giving birth and caring for children changes the brain in ways that support bonding, attachment and nurturance. I wonder if working as coach does this as well? It’s widely understood that good psychotherapy is often a kind of “reparenting,” enabling our neuroplastic brain to repattern itself. (Sorry everyone, don’t mean to equate coaching with therapy, but their are strong overlaps and parallels in terms of the sort of connection and empathy we have with our clients.) Does this mean that coaches and therapists own brains develop in areas related to empathy, nurturing, and connection?

Anecdotally, coaches do report that their empathy and intuition seems to increase the longer they practice. Since I began teaching basic neuroscience and coaching a year ago, I have asked more than two hundred coaches from probably 20 different countries what they think is different in their own brains since beginning to coach. One of the main things they report is that their intuitive “hits” with clients have become more frequent, faster, and more accurate the longer they have been coaching. And I don’t mean the longer they have known a particular client. Experienced coaches report their intuition improving, even with brand new clients.

Experienced coaches often tell me they feel that many times they know and understand a new client almost immediately. Certainly some of this may simply have to do with the broad context of understanding of human behavior we have developed over the years. There are only so many ways human beings tend to operate, and obviously, we draw on this. But the development I am pointing to is more than a general understanding. It is the ability to “see” a metaphor that is perfect for the client (“How did you know that otters are my favorite animal? You are so right, I AM an otter!”) or feel their emotions in our own bodies so that we pick up on the most subtle sadness or dissonance (stay tuned for more on this down the road when I bring in Mirror Neurons). Surely there must be something happening in the brain.

Another aspect that is common among my more experienced colleagues is that they report heightened sensitivity overall. Many find that strong emotions, loud noises, and conflict is harder to take the longer they work in the field. This used to baffle me – I thought we would develop more immunity to unpleasantness, but it seems that we perhaps are simply developing more and more overall sensitivity.

The fabulous scientists at the HeartMath Institute ( did research on which resonant field tends to dominate in a pair of people. They found (much to their chagrin) it was the negative energy which “won.” In other words, the more negative person brought the positive person down, rather than vice versa. Their conclusion was that open-hearted people who have done huge amounts of work on developing themselves tend to naturally be more positive. And at the same time, this work has also made them more sensitive, more permeable to others and the world.

I’d love to hear about your own experience with how you think your brain has changed since becoming a coach!


3 responses

  1. I’d be fascinated to see how the brain changes with meditation ( and specific ‘above the line’ communication practices, like Non-Violent Communication ( I know there’s quite a bit of meditation research out there, but if you know of any communication-specific research, please share!!

    • That is a great place to look Jade! My sense is that measuring the potential of the brain is the next edge for neuroscience. So far, all I’ve seen is the research on meditators, but there is so much more that could be done to show what is possible in the next evolution of human beings. 🙂

  2. Jade, see, perhaps, Rick Hanson’s books, “Buddha’s Brain,” “Just One Thing,” and “The Mindful Therapist.” Hanson is a psychotherapist, neuroscientist, coach and Buddhist who writes about neuroscience and its practical interaction with mindful practice and self-empowerment. I’m reading the first two and have found them authoritative, accessible and immediately applicable.

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