Life Coaching for GPs
Q. After you provided life coaching support for GPs in Shropshire and Staffordshire, 94% said they would recommend coaching to other doctors. What was it exactly that you did to help these GPs?
A; This started out as pilot for Recruitment and Retention of GPs and there were three life coaches - myself and two non medics.
I sat down with individual doctors and listened to what was important for them and what they wanted to change. Then I asked them questions that helped them find their own solutions. It was important that all the solutions came from them. My role was to coach, not advise.
Each GP was offered one face to face session and then up to six, one hour telephone coaching sessions. In fact most of the GPs got what they wanted in about three or four sessions.
Q: What other work have you undertaken to help GPs?
A: I coach individual GPs and am also 18 months into a GP mentoring project funded by Telford and Wrekin PCT, where I'm training GP mentors.
Q: What do you find are the main Work/Life issues GPs are facing these days?
A: Most GPs could easily fill up all their time, even if they are Part Time. Thats why it is important to develop the ability to say 'No' to other people's demands and to say 'Yes' to yourself. If I say, 'Yes' to what other people want, what am I saying 'No' to is usually my husband/wife and family - and especially to my own needs.
This applies to me too. I recently said, 'Yes' to taking on a Clinical Governance role for three, half day sessions a week and this is already having a big impact on my working and home life.
Work/Life Balance isn't static. It is changing and dynamic.
Q: How can life coaching help?
A: It is different for each individual. That's why I listen to what is going on in each person's work and their lives outside work, to what is working well and what isn't, and to what values are most important for them. This makes it easier to consider the issues they are facing, in particular whether these are in line with their values or not. It helps people crystallize what they want to be doing and why.
If they are in the habit of saying Yes what is driving this? Beliefs can be supportive or limiting. However, beliefs, although often ingrained, can be changed. We need to first recognize what these limiting beliefs are, then think what would be a better, more empowering belief and to find evidence that this is more appropriate.
For example are people reluctant to say, No because they feel other people won't like them or will find a way of getting rid of them?
Q: . Might one problem be that GPs are facing a role conflict between the old style local GP they might like to be and the type of GP the government seems to be looking for?
A: Yes. There's a political element to what GPs do, driven by the DoH and the government of the time. The agenda keeps changing.
One of the things about GPs is that once they get hold of an idea they tend to be quite good at seeing how they can make it work and run with it, even if they are asked to do unreasonable things. The good news is that GPs may need less life coaching than most other people. On the Shropshire and Staffordshire project the non medical life coaches commented on how quickly GPs got hold of ideas and got things sorted. Maybe that's because that's what being a GP is about, every ten minutes, however many times a day.
However, it may be a double edged sword. This ability may mean GPs are more likely to say Yes to too many things.
Q: What about the pace of change for GPs? Again, is this anything life coaching can help with?
A: Life coaching provides time to be listened to and time to focus on the main issues for yourself. GPs spend most of their working lives listening to other people, so taking time out to reflect can be quite difficult.
Some GPs may prefer the medical machismo model - we don't need to stop and think. They are used to seeing themselves as people who help others rather than needing help themselves. However, I suspect most need time for reflection. Is this where we want to go with our lives and how we want to do it?
Q: What would you say to those doctors who may be sceptical about the value of life coaching?
A: It may not work for everyone but try to keep an open mind. You can always try it. Even if your'e very independent and feel you can do this yourself you may be underestimating the cost to yourself.
Q: If GPs are interested in life coaching, where can they find out more?
A: A good starting point is the European Mentoring and Coaching Council www.emccouncil.org
Q: Apart from life coaching what other sources of support are available to GPs?
A: Balint groups have been going for quite a while and can be very useful. Most other sources of support are more specialized. They help GPs who have alcohol problems, financial problems, job problems or whatever. Coaching is really good for people in the pre struggling phase, before they have started to fall apart.
Q: How did you come to get involved in life coaching?
A: I was a full time GP Principal with three children. Then one day I fell and fractured a vertebra and ended up off work for 8 weeks. It gave me time to reflect and to reevaluate my life. Without that space I'd probably never have done it as my life was just so busy and full I had no real time for reflection.
This led to me consider moving out of full time GP Practice but to do what? Then one February day, walking in gardens full of snowdrops with a friend, she mentioned a mutual friend who'd become a life coach a couple of years earlier. As she described what the friend was doing it all started to click into place. That was just the sort of thing I knew I'd enjoy doing. That night I rang her and that's how it started.
Q: Looking ahead do you have any predictions about the Work/Life prospects for GPs and any advice for them?
A: As a life coach it isn't my job to offer advice but I can pose some questions and three questions for GPs, looking ahead are:
•What is really important to me?
•How can I honour that?
•What changes do I need to make to achieve this?
Dr Jo Leahy, former full time GP Principal, now a life coach