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Coaching psychology and the role of the Educational Psychologist

As a distinct sub-discipline of academic and applied psychology, coaching psychology certainly seems to have become a part of the fabric of modern psychology practice; but why should educational psychologists be interested?

Coaching psychology focuses on enhancement of performance, development and wellbeing in the broader population (Palmer & Whybrow, 2007). Originating in Australia and the UK in the early 2000s, coaching psychology has since developed into an international discipline with societies and interest groups in 14 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Australasia and South Africa (see The Coaching Psychology Congress).

Evidence of the impact of coaching in schools

While the evidence regarding the application of coaching in education is arguably in its emergent stages, a number of studies have illustrated the positive impact of coaching in schools.  For example:

  • Green, Grant & Rynsaardt (2010) examined the impact of a 20-week coaching programme for high school teachers in Australia.  Through a randomised controlled trial, they found that participation in coaching was associated with increased goal attainment, reduced stress, enhanced workplace wellbeing & resilience, and improved leadership style.
  • Lee (2013) explored the benefits of peer coaching in Bristol secondary schools, with CPD co-ordinators and coachees reporting a positive impact on teachers’ wellbeing, teachers’ daily practice, and collaboration across the school.
  • In a randomised controlled experimental design, Grant, Green & Rynsaardt (2007) found that personal coaching for female senior high school students (mean age 16 years) from trained teacher coaches led to significant increases in levels of cognitive hardiness and hope, and significant decreases in levels of depression.
  • A case study has illustrated the impact solution-focused coaching can have on leadership and management performance and wellbeing (Adams, 2016).

The fact that coaching psychology can be applied to enhance the performance and wellbeing of individuals from non-clinical populations means that the benefits of applied psychology can be experienced by a much broader client base.  EPs may therefore be interested in expanding their practice in this way.

A diverse range of applications

van Nieuwerburgh, Campbell & Knight (2015) propose a framework of ‘portals’ for the application of coaching in education, as follows:

The application of coaching in education

The application of coaching in education

Within each of these portals, specific applications might include:

  • Direct coaching work with young people (Grant, Green & Rynsaardt, ibid; Pritchard & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016; Robson-Kelly & van Nieuwerburgh, 2016).
  • Coaching to support the development of teachers’ classroom practice (Adams, 2015).
  • Coaching to support practitioner and leadership performance and wellbeing (Green, Grant & Rynsaardt, ibid; Adams, 2015).
  • Training young people in coaching skills (van Nieuwerburgh & Tong, 2013).

Coaching is therefore a versatile methodology with a range of possible applications in school settings.

Professional enjoyment and satisfaction

Personally, I find that the practice of coaching enhances my sense of professional satisfaction, since it is a clear vehicle for the application of psychology in the service of positive change.  The practice of coaching is informed by, for example:

  • Person-centred approaches
  • Solution-focused brief therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioural psychology
  • Self-Efficacy Theory
  • Self-Determination Theory
  • Theories about how we learn
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • An understanding of the stages of change
  • How we can work with resistance
  • Research into factors that contribute to successful outcomes in helping relationships.

Coaching is therefore one of the professional activities I undertake where I am very conscious of the psychology in my work.  The practice of coaching, or supporting others to develop coaching proficiency, also has the benefit of introducing greater variety to the working week.

Professional development

Coaching can have benefits in terms of professional development for psychologists.  Membership of the British Psychological Society’s Special Group in Coaching Psychology (SGCP) provides subscribers with two peer-reviewed journals (The Coaching Psychologist and International Coaching Psychology Review). Furthermore, membership of the SGCP also enables access to cross-divisional learning opportunities; for example, in some parts of the country there are coaching psychology peer practice groups for SGCP members, while the annual SGCP conference brings together practitioners from a variety of backgrounds (this year’s conference takes place at the Holiday Inn, London Bloomsbury, on Thursday 8th-Friday 9th December 2016)

Since the practice of coaching psychology in education is a developing field, EPs might also seek to shape the development of the discipline itself.

The bottom line

Finally, there is the bottom line to consider.  In this world of ever-increasing traded services, being able to offer coaching is another reason why schools or other commissioners might choose to procure your services. As an evidence-informed intervention with a variety of possible applications to enhance performance and wellbeing, coaching could represent a valuable component of your individual or service offer.

Summary and conclusions

Coaching psychology is a distinct sub-discipline of academic and applied psychology that may be of interest to the educational psychology community.  A growing body of evidence is beginning to emerge regarding the impact of coaching in schools, while the methodology is versatile enough to have applications across a range of client groups and contexts.  As well as making a positive difference to our clients, and perhaps enhancing professional development and satisfaction, coaching can enrich the range of psychology-informed services we are able to offer to clients with the aim of achieving positive change.  I therefore invite other EPs to consider the relevance of coaching psychology to their practice.

Read Mark’s latest article in Educational Psychology in Practice 


Adams, M.  (2015).  Coaching Psychology in Schools: Enhancing Performance, Development and Wellbeing. Abingdon: Routledge.

Adams, M.  (2016).  Coaching psychology: An approach to practice for educational psychologists.  Educational Psychology in Practice, 32 (3), pp. 231-244.

Grant, A. M., Green, L. S., & Rynsaardt, J.  (2010).  Developmental coaching for high school teachers: Executive coaching goes to school.  Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 62 (3), pp. 151-168.

Green, L. S., Grant, A. M. & Rynsaardt, J.  (2007).  Evidence-based life coaching for senior high school students: Building hardiness and hope.  International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(1), pp. 24-32.

Lee, J.  (2013).  Coaching in secondary schools: An exploration of the benefits for individuals and school improvement through professional learning communities.  Unpublished doctoral thesis.  University of Bristol.

Palmer, S. & Whybrow, A.  (Eds), (2007).  Handbook of Coaching Psychology: A Guide for Practitioners.  Hove: Routledge.

Pritchard, M. & van Nieuwerburgh, C.  (2016).  The perceptual changes in life experience of at-risk young girls subsequent to an appreciative coaching and positive psychology interventions group programme: An interpretative phenomenological analysis.  International Coaching Psychology Review, 11 (1), pp. 57-74.

Robson-Kelly, E. & van Nieuwerburgh, C.  (2016).  What does coaching have to offer young people at risk of developing mental health problems?  A grounded theory study.  International Coaching Psychology Review, 11 (1), pp. 75-92.

van Nieuwerburgh, C., Campbell, J. & Knight, J.  (2015).  Lesson in progress.  Coaching at Work, 10 (3), pp. 35-37.

van Nieuwerburgh, C. & Tong, C. (2013). Exploring the benefits of being a student coach in educational settings: A mixed methods study. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 6(1), pp. 5-24.

Mark Adams

About Mark Adams

Mark Adams is an Educational & Coaching Psychologist and the Director of Adams Psychology Services, Bristol. He is the author of Coaching Psychology in Schools, published by Routledge in November 2015. Mark also writes his own blog

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4 Comments so far:

  1. Craig Bridge says:

    Nice to read a little more about coaching. I also enjoyed your article in EPiP.
    Here in Lincolnshire a small group of us have been bringing together MI, training and coaching to support groups who have been on numerous training sessions and are still trying to manage difficult situations. We did our work with foster carers. This synthesis of approaches has been piloted twice and we have submitted a chapter in Eddie MacNamara forthcoming third book on MI. We have called the approach Adaptive Coaching (AC). The approach considers what people want to develop further, introduce some new and relevant ideas and increase the probability that they will apply the experiences/new learning (this is where the MI fits in). We would enjoy talking with others about what they are doing too.

    • Mark Adams says:

      Hi Craig, thanks for sharing your experience. So if I understand correctly, Adaptive Coaching is a coaching/MI-informed training-style approach for groups, which aims to enhance the likelihood that they will embed ideas/techniques (either previously-learned or newly-introduced) into their practice… Is that correct? Mark

      • Craig Bridge says:

        That’s it in a nut-shell. You summarised it nicely!

        • Mark Adams says:

          Sounds really interesting Craig. Coaching is certainly a useful vehicle for helping people to bridge the gap between training and their day-to-day practice/reality. All the best with the book chapter – I look forward to reading more about it.

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