A girl makes a love heart symbol with her hands as the sun sets

Coaching well-being, goals and insights

Coaching Psychology: The science of helping people grow
Using a number of research approaches, Professor Tony Grant and his team have shown that solution-focused, cognitive-behavioural coaching truly works. It helps people to reach their goals and improves happiness and wellbeing.
Professor Tony Grant

Coaching psychology is a relatively new field of study that focuses on helping people identify and attain meaningful goals rather than treating so-called dysfunction. It’s a shift away from traditional fields of clinical psychology that rely on diagnoses and then the treatment of a disease or disorder.

After completing twenty years of research in this area, including randomised controlled studies, single case studies and other high-level research, Professor Tony Grant has demonstrated that solution-focused, cognitive-behavioural coaching can indeed be very effective.

When you put people through a good coaching program not only do they achieve the goals they set for themselves, their general wellbeing is also improved, as is their resilience.

“They also develop more solution-focused thinking skills and more self-insight.

“Our research shows this is the case with executives, the general public, in the workplace, schools, and in one’s personal life,” said Tony.

“If the person also suffers from anxiety, stress or depression, coaching tends to decrease it significantly, even when the coaching does not focus on ‘treating’ these issues.”

“Helping people identify and then work towards attaining personally meaningful goals has a significant positive impact on their mental health.”

This is where the skill of the coach comes in. It is not always easy for people to identify goals that genuinely resonate for them. The coach needs to draw on a whole range of psychological theories to help the person articulate a genuinely motivating goal or outcome.

It sounds easy, but it’s not. In saying that, Tony admits, it’s one of the most rewarding parts of being a coach.

The Coaching Psychology Unit at the University of Sydney is the first of its kind in the world. The team spearheaded by Tony, have done more coaching research than any other individual or team worldwide.

Their research spans four unique areas, each of which are concerned with improving the general wellbeing of people in the community as well as in areas such as executive coaching and workplace coaching.

It’s expanded well beyond the principles of just coaching to incorporate the study of many other factors that could impact the optimal functioning of people.

These areas of focus include; coaching and coaching techniques, the ‘psycho-mechanics of coaching’, (a term Tony admits he coined himself), the dynamics of positivity within organisations and psychology in the built workplace environment.

“The ‘psycho-mechanics of coaching’ focuses on the role of factors such as self-insight and self-reflection. Self-insight is strongly related to resilience and well-being.”

“Certain types of self-reflection are not related to insight and can in fact be quite harmful. It’s very important to know the difference and practice self-reflection effectively,” said Tony.

Tony’s more recent research focus is geared toward enhancing well-being in the workplace whether that’s through different leadership styles or the built environment.

“We’re interested in finding out how leadership coaching spreads throughout a company. What we’ve found is you can actually track that with social network analysis which looks at how emotions are transferred between one to another. This is known as the coaching ripple effect.”

“We’ve worked with Lendlease in the development of the Barangaroo project investigating how well-designed office space can increase people’s sense of belonging and well-being.

“We’ve also been developing measures to assess the extent to which being in a particular office space can increase an employee’s sense of autonomy, mastery and relatedness - vital psychological aspects in today’s workplace,” Tony explained.

“This is a new and developing area of research. At this stage we have done qualitative studies and we hope to do further research with the help of industry grants and funding.”

The field of coaching psychology is expansive and continues to grow as research clearly demonstrates its legitimacy.

One of the Coaching Psychology Unit’s biggest contributions has been in bringing academic credibility to the science of coaching.

Tony recently co-authored the best-selling book, ‘Eight Steps to Happiness’.

The book came about as a result of the highly successful ABC documentary series ‘Making Australia Happy’ in which Tony was the presenter and scientific advisor.

The series focused on how eight people could make significant positive change in their lives by applying coaching and positive psychology techniques. It was so successful that the outcomes were published in the peer-reviewed psychology press.

Tony has also co-written and co-edited many other books on evidence-based coaching and has over 100 coaching-related publications in the peer-reviewed and professional press, and many of his books have been translated into a wide range of languages, including Russian, Chinese, French, Japanese, Dutch, Greek, German and Korean. He really has made an international impact.

I’ve always been really open with my material and shared my ideas publicly.

“The nice thing about this kind of work is that, to use an old phrase ‘you keep what you have by giving it away’. If you’re open with your ideas and share these kinds of evidence-based coaching tools and methodologies, then the benefit of that always seems to find its way back to you. Maybe that’s the secret of success,” Tony said.