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XX-YY The Case For Gender-Balanced Coaching

March 6, 2012

By Robert Rutman

Part one of a two part article

As we strive to improve the success rate of our collaborative interventions, we must carefully evaluate all that we are doing as collaborators in order to determine what works and what doesn’t; or what works better and what doesn’t work as well, or at all!

When we first utilized the team approach to divorce resolution, coaching protocols favored gender matching: male coaches worked with male clients, and female coaches worked with female clients.

At the most recent IACP Conference in San Diego, we were told about the Texas One-Coach and the NorCal Mixed-Gender.  Both of these models underplay the importance of gender matching, and hint that it may be unnecessary.  Unwilling to stray too far from an idea that may not be broken, some might want to reconsider the advantages of our original premises regarding coaching to see if in fact they are in need of fixing.

Suspicion surrounds the devaluation of the balanced coaching model.  If the true reason for its abandonment is a paucity of well-trained male mental health persons, then perhaps we need to address ourselves to correcting this problem, rather than taking the approach of the fox in the sour grapes parable.  It might be better to accept a psychologically sound (but impractical) conclusion: that gender matching is more likely to yield a positive outcome, and attempt to train (and attract) more male mental health professionals in the collaborative method.  And so, I proceed forward with what might be an exercise whose value lies only in eulogizing a concept that seemed quite profound not too long ago.

Our first task may be the most difficult: how to measure success. It may be especially difficult for us to agree upon the definition of a successful intervention from a coaching standpoint.  I am not even sure if there is only one such definition; there probably is a long list of them.

One that might qualify would be the following:

When the couple completed the coaching portion of the collaborative sequence, they were able to move into and complete the legal portion of the sequence with minimal difficulty.

(Realizing that minimal is a subjective measure, we might need to include external corroboration for it to be an acceptable definition.)  Perhaps the attorneys would be the best judges of the effectiveness of the coaching portion since they make the first contact with clients after they have completed it. A contamination problem exists, however, since “successful completion of the legal portion” must, in part, be attributed to the attorney.  But, what part…how much?   We might have to evaluate on a case by case basis.

Honestly, this discussion is clouded if we insist on strict scientific methodology.  Five years ago, we would have had to randomize coaches, had gender-matched and unmatched groups and agreed upon specific criteria for measuring success and done a whole bunch of things that would have taken us way too much time to do.  Since we are not attempting to conduct a rigorous scientific experiment, we should probably ignore these problems and turn our attention to the important task of identifying the specific factors that may have contributed to the successful coaching experience.  In reality, we have a lot of reliable evidence.  It is anecdotal evidence.  It is good evidence; maybe even better than scientific evidence.  It tells us what is really happening while we are coaching couples through their divorce.

Robert Rutman PHD is a Mental Health Professional based in Hermosa Beach CA. as well as a member of A Better Divorce.  His primary goal as a divorce coach is to help his client move smoothly through the divorce process from beginning to end.


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