There is no such thing as a difficult coaching client. And, this applies more generally to other therapeutic fields such as counselling and psychotherapy. If the person has difficulties, that is precisely why they have come to you! 

A window 

The ‘difficulty’ that you experience as the practitioner is very likely what the person repeats in their everyday life. And, they may not be fully aware that it is now playing out once again with you. As such, the difficulty becomes a fertile area for exploration. For, if you do not address it, how will they become more aware of what is going on for them and resolve it? 

So, it is very likely to be the client’s habitual pattern. They may be repeating this same behaviour in their personal or professional relationships.  And. it will have to do with how they relate to certain people and situations. A way of relating conditioned by past experience. And, now this way of relating is happening right here with you — what is often called a parallel process. So, it is a cause for celebration, not lamentation. You have right in front of you what needs working through! 

Knowing yourself 

It is very important to also know to what extent the difficulty is caused by YOU, the practitioner. Is it really the coachee being difficult, or are you (partly) responsible because of how you react? It may be that, you, as coach are triggered by particular types of clients whom you experience as difficult. And, not because they are behaving in a way that one would ordinarily consider difficult.  

It is vital then that you really know yourself and your inner baseline. If not, there will always be a doubt around to what extent you, as coach, are creating the difficulty. So, always ask yourself: Is this ‘your stuff’ or/and theirs? Once you are satisfied that what is at play is not your doing, you must find the courage to disclose your experience. Only by having the courage to bring the difficulty out into the open is there any hope of supporting your client. 

Embrace the difficult coaching client 

Of course, there is such a thing as ‘is a person coachable or not?’ Are they ready to embark on an exploration of their inner world and behaviour? And, the answer to this may be ‘no’. But, you should have already gauged this before starting the coaching. Usually, the very fact that they have sought you out is some indication of their openness.  But, sometimes even this may not be enough.

A client may come to you with a certain issue, only for another difficulty to keep reappearing in how they engage. But, it may be too confronting for them to look deeper into. All, you can do as a practitioner in such circumstances is to draw attention to what you notice and experience and enquire into how the client feels about this. 

Radical openness with your difficult coaching client

If there is resistance, always remember that the coachee has still chosen to put their trust in you and to be challenged. It is your job to hold this potentially uncomfortable space along with whatever might emerge within it. To hold this space of radical openness, where you accept the client as they are — in whatever capacity they are able to engage in the enquiry. 

The issue may be something that has to be approached gently, precisely because it is painful for them. And, if the client feels unable to explore it at all, perhaps the seeds for future exploration have been sown.  Do not fall into the trap of trying to ‘fix’ the person. People are not things to be fixed and everything has a natural time it will take to come into fruition.

We must simply do our best to enable deeper understanding and healing. In the end, that is all that we can do.


life coaching londonHarsha is a 1:1 coach and coach supervisor based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.

Subscribe to Harsha's Blog

11 + 10 =