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What value does the Jungian concept of Individuation add to Executive Coaching?

Abstract

A paradoxical construct from Jungian psychology, individuation is postulated as both an ongoing psychic process and ultimate goal of self-realisation: a journey towards psycho-spiritual growth and expression of unique personal potential. Although this seems very relevant to coaching, there is scant reference to individuation in coaching literature. Founded on a qualitative research study this paper explores the value of individuation theory to executive coaching practice and outcomes. The study suggests that individuation aligns well with prevailing business circumstances, is operable in practice and is especially pertinent to mature executives and a coaching agenda focused on meaning, purpose and fulfilment.

Value of article to readers

Individuation theory offers a conceptual framework to guide explorations and inform interventions in coaching encounters.  A coaching approach incorporating individuation may enrich outcomes. Themes identified in my research were:  personal congruence and authenticity; flexibility and adaptability; personal and collective wisdom; illumination of the organisational context; and purpose, meaning and fulfilment.  

Key words

Self-realisation, meaning, purpose, fulfilment

Introduction

Executive coaching is increasingly informed by approaches from psychology and psychotherapy (Bluckert, 2006; Cox et al., 2010; Palmer & Whybrow, 2007) with a view towards personal and, in turn, business growth. There is, however, scant direct evidence of a Jungian influence beyond psychometrics deriving from typology. This perplexed me because Jung’s concept of individuation: self-realisation - his central proposition, seemed to have obvious relevance to coaching and I wondered whether we, the coaching community, were missing out about the concept of individuation. This paper makes Jungian theory figural and, founded on a small scale qualitative research study, contributes a tentative assessment as to the value of individuation theory to executive coaching practice and outcomes.

Overview of Jungian theory

Sources of inspiration and written output

Jung’s perspectives were the product of a classical education, inspiration from a creative illness (a breakdown/psychosis) and integration of his scientific knowledge, spiritual inclinations and experience as a psychiatrist with observations of people from primitive cultures and study of Gnosticism, alchemy and oriental philosophy. His written output is contained in the extensive multi-volume Collected Works; also of importance are Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1933), his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961), and Man and his Symbols (1964). Jung’s ideas have been furthered by communities of followers. 

Model of the psyche

Jungian psychology is psychodynamic, transpersonal and relational. For Jung the psyche extended downwards to the deepest recesses of the mind and as far outwards into the universe. He conceived a dynamic system, comprising a conscious sphere manifested through the ego and a vast unconscious sphere composed of two realms: the personal unconscious and the deeper collective unconscious. Jung envisioned a fluid interplay of frequently conflicting forces and regarded imagery as the language of the unconscious containing symbolic messages for the conscious self (1964). A brief glossary of Jungian terminology is given in appendix 1.

Individuation

Jung proposed that individuation concerns responding to the cultural, existential and spiritual challenges of the second half of life to attain self-realisation (Jung, 1931/1969). Teleological in characteristic, the self is posited as both orchestrator and goal of individuation. The process is construed as an ongoing series of spiral progressions: integration of the relatively surface features persona and shadow, deeper entry into the psyche via the anima/animus towards increasingly clearer glimpses of the self. The contention is that this is a natural process of expanding conscious awareness, psychic unity and psycho-spiritual growth which can be cultivated through analysis (Jacobi, 1967; Schmidt, 2005; Stein, 1992).

Research aims and objectives

My research objectives were to:

  • assess the feasibility of individuation theory in coaching practice
  • identify broad outcomes that may derive from a coaching approach informed by the concept of individuation
  • establish the relevance and potential enrichment of these outcomes to clients and, in turn, sponsoring organisations

Presupposed was merit in executive coaching as a contributor to personal development and integrity in Jungian psychology, notwithstanding some inconsistencies in Jung’s writing. Acknowledging contradictions Jung’s followers claim that a more profound coherence far outweighs occasional lapses in precision (Stein, 1998). 

Literature Review

Scope of executive

coachingThere is no universally agreed definition of executive coaching and as West and Milan (2001) observe the scope of work-related coaching spans skills based through to performance enhancement and personal development. In a discussion paper related to executive coaching, the AOEC (undated) extend the scope to incorporate existential matters and cite Jungian analysis as relevant to this domain. My research was concerned with psychologically oriented executive coaching in keeping with Bluckert’s (2006) description which advocates "an inside out" learning process and systemic orientation.

Coaching of this nature raises boundary issues in relation to therapy (Palmer & Whybrow, 2007; Peltier, 2001; Spinelli, 2008). This is pertinent to a Jungian informed approach which almost inevitably entails working at depth. Schmidt’s (2005) remark that the ego needs to be strong enough to withstand the coming into awareness of unconscious material flags that sensitivity to emotional frailties of clients is essential. Thus rigorous training, supervision and working within the bounds of own capabilities as a coach, are crucial to guard against inadvertent harm to clients. I am guided personally by the published ethics of the EMCC and by Gillie and Shackelton’s (2009) formulation of the significant constituents of executive coaching: an agenda concerned with the client’s effectiveness at work, identity as a leader, career aspirations etc. along with intent of the coach to establish insights into the client’s current functioning.     

Prevailing business landscape and organisational context

Proliferation of workplace coaching is indicative of alignment with a challenging business landscape, "coaching will remain as the management intervention best suited for the uncertain, ever-changing and dynamic business world we now inhabit" (CIPD, 2008). The psychodynamic aspect of Jungian psychology appears relevant to prevailing business conditions, offering insight into the unconscious forces which drive human behaviour. At a macro level the unconscious at work plays out not only within the individual client, but between coach and client and has a life within the organisation as a whole (Cavicchia, 2009; De Board, 1993; Hirschorn, 1988; Kilburg, 2000; Obholzer & Roberts, 1994; Stein & Hollwitz, 1992). 

The transpersonal aspect touches the spiritual part of being human. Holbeche and Springett’s research (2004) and subsequent studies (Overall, 2009; Karakas, 2010) suggest that spirituality in corporate life is finding acceptance through the zeitgeist of the 21st century. Employers are becoming cognisant of ethical and commercial advantages to reflecting their employees’ needs for a spirituality constructive working environment. The contention that spirituality relates to meaning and purpose at work, along with well-being and expression of potential seems to me complimentary with the prospect of individuation through work.

Individuation through work 

The poet Whyte’s assertion (2001) that "the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing the task" captures the essence of individuation through work. I wholeheartedly agree with Whyte (2001) that "whatever particular horizons drew us as a child are the original patterns and templates of our adult belonging". More questionable, but potentially veracious, notions are that of "an intelligent force" which has a purpose for each and every individual and the prospect of "a calling" guiding our psycho-spiritual growth (Bogart, 1994).

Hillman regarded work as a pleasure, an instinctual gratification: "the hands love to work and in the hands is the mind" (Hillman, 1984, in Moore, 1989). He wrote about the joy of working for its own sake rather than for financial reasons and cautioned that when the instinct to work is compromised by duty or necessity we do not want to work and are therein instinctually "lamed". This resonates with my experience that money can have a demeaning effect on the inherent pleasure of work, confining people in a gilded cage. Hollis (2006) points out the negative effect of remaining on the wrong path, "wherever the soul’s agenda is not served, some pathology will surface in the arena of daily life".

Transferability of Jungian principles to coaching practice

Jungian analysis is typically more intensive than coaching and classically entails working with dreams. Although I have some reservations about the appropriateness of dream analysis in executive coaching, working with imagery to enhance conscious awareness seems far less contentious. The mode of practice advocated by Jung has a modern relational tone. Jung’s adage was "only the wounded physician heals"; he held that in order to be effective to his patients he needed to be affected by them and regarded himself as "instrument" in the analytical process (1961). The importance of relationship is underlined by De Haan (2008) who asserts that Wampold’s (2001) meta-analyis of psychotherapeutic research can be applied to coaching. Wampold found no significant differences between various psychotherapeutic approaches and that the quality of relationship between psychotherapist and client was amongst the most effective active ingredients for efficacy.

Jung’s conception of a "coniunctio" a union that gives birth to new ways of being and moves towards wholeness, struck me as comparable to gestalt notions of polarities and integration.  Samuels’ Jungian stance "opposites that could dialogue with each other and engage in mutual influence might actually do so by transcending their old positions........moving away from either-or to and. The experience of and-ness is central to psychological change"(1985) is complimentary with Zinker’s Gestalt perspective, "behaviour which is highly adaptive spans the full range of responses between formerly experienced polar extremes"(1978). Zinker did not refer to Jung, but he did mention Freud and psychoanalysis, stating that (in his view) much of gestalt therapy operationalizes Freud’s ideas into more effective therapeutic interventions. It is possible that gestalt offers applications that may equally well enliven Jungian theory in executive coaching.

Research Methodology

Research paradigm

My methodology subscribed to "new paradigm research" (Gregory & Tosey, 2007): a recalibration of the pre-eminence of scientific objectivity to incorporate human subjectivity as a means of interpretation. My epistemological position was founded on social constructionism. The critical standpoint of social constructionism towards generally perceived certainties (Burr, 2003) helped guard against reification of Jungian concepts and the relational orientation accorded well with executive coaching and Jung’s notion of reciprocity in the analytical encounter. "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction both are transformed" (1933). 

Qualitative research design

The qualitative research design, comprising semi-structured interviews and a focus group, was informed by Patton (2002) and Ritchie and Lewis (2003). Interviewees and focus group participants took the role of co-researchers. Although this is not perhaps the most direct way of understanding Jungian psychology, that being personal analysis, I took encouragement from Singer’s (1972) conviction that analysis is not the only way, from my academic supervisor who is well versed in transpersonal and psychodynamic psychology and from my own experience that reading, reflecting and applying Jungian principles to personal and world events provides a good sense of Jungian concepts.

Purposive sampling strategy

I sourced a homogeneous group of ten UK based executive coaches, with experience of working in large scale corporations, through my network. Selection criteria were interest in the topic, availability and a psychological orientation to coaching. Prior knowledge of Jungian theory was not a prerequisite as I provided written and verbal briefings.

Method - data gathering

Data were generated through the interviews and focus group meeting. Discussions entailed consideration of facets of the individuation process from the perspective of coach, client and sponsoring organisation, relating theory to personal experiences, anecdotal client material and the practice of coaching. Although focus was primarily on exploration of the research question from an angle of propositional inquiry, at times the lens adjusted quite naturally to immediate experiences such as somatic sensations, body language or jointly contrived imagery. Thus I attended to overt factual matters and opinions as well as underlying dynamics to establish intersubjective viewpoints with respect to the research question. I conducted three rounds of 1-1 semi-structured interviews with four coaches and facilitated a focus group meeting with six others. The interviews, which were audio recorded, followed an individuation pathway: the first focused on Persona and Shadow, the second on Anima/Animus and the third on ego and Self-realisation, taking in typology and notions of life purpose. The intention was to explore key facets of the individuation process as well as the concept of individuation as a whole. Open ended questioning and probing encouraged rich descriptions of salient material. Afterwards, audio recordings were transcribed and field notes compiled, the latter were sent to interviewees for comment, and a few points of clarification were made.

Further to the interviews I facilitated the focus group meeting which was structured along the same individuation pathway. In addition to posing similar questions to those from the interviews, I was able to test out preliminary findings. The lively atmosphere brought a diversity of contributions generating discussion, debate and some moderation of viewpoints, thus yielding more data. The meeting was video recorded and subsequently a transcription was prepared. Afterwards I compiled field notes which were sent to participants for comment. Feedback received was positive and encouraging. An indication of the questions posed in the interviews and focus group is given in appendix 2.

Method - data analysis

This stage entailed an intense phase of reflection, synthesis, interpretation and evaluation and was informed by Braun and Clarke (2006) and Patton (2002). Although at the beginning of the formal analytical phase I had some hunches as to significant findings, my insights were only partly formed. Reading through verbatim transcriptions and summarising this information into field notes had given me a good feel for the data, which I intensified by re-reading my notes and listening to taped recordings several times.  

I took an inductive approach working from the material gathered as opposed to any pre-conceived hypotheses. The actions of condensing, developing descriptive codes and clustering the data were crucial to thematic analysis and ultimate sense making. The process was recursive rather than linear and entailed repeated iterations to highlight and review themes. Eventually I was able to form propositions which I elaborated with reference to additional literature.

Fundamental to my research was forming a position as to the potential value of individuation to executive coaching. I realised that classical research models of evaluation would be a poor fit to the character of my study, whereas the notion of goal-free evaluation proposed by Scriven (cited in Patton, 2002) appeared entirely appropriate. I compiled the following criteria to give a broad sense of what constitutes value:

  • Relevance: congruence of the concept of individuation with issues facing coaches, clients and organisations.
  • Enrichment:  potential enhancement to outcomes derived from executive coaching through coach awareness of the theory of individuation.
  • Utility:  feasibility and desirability in applying Jungian theory to the practice of executive coaching.

Together these informed interview and focus group discussions as well as grounding my analysis, in that I was able to assess outcomes from the research against pre-determined value criteria. 

I endeavoured to make my reasoning explicit, declaring the basis for my extrapolations and interpretations. To further ensure rigor I adopted the technique of triangulation, deploying data triangulation through comparative analysis of the verbatim accounts of different people and methodological triangulation using more than one approach for gathering data (interviews and a focus group). Feedback on findings was sought from co-researchers and everyone responded affirmatively. I acknowledge that findings have been "value mediated" (Snape & Spencer, 2003) by me and that my interpretations will have been influenced by personal paradigms.

Ethical considerations

The research was approved by the Metanoia Institute Research Ethics Committee. Co-researcher briefings sought to ensure informed consent and were supported by assurances of confidentiality, letters of invitation and consent forms.

Presentation of findings

Findings are presented along the broad structure followed for gathering data, focusing on persona, shadow and anima/animus, touching on expression of ego (through typology) and taking an overview of self-realisation in relation to the research question. My commentary is illustrated with verbatim quotations (shown in italics). These give thick description as advocated by Denzin (cited in Patton, 2002) of findings which are presented in two parts:

  1. Individuation in relation to coach, client and organisational issues.
  2. Utility of individuation theory in practice.

Individuation in relation to coach, client and organisational issues

Ego and psychological types

Jung saw the ego as orientating the psyche through predisposed opposing attitudes and functions which he clustered into types. The prevailing view of co-researchers was that value in type identification lies in the recognition of inherently different modes of perceiving and evaluating data. Knowing one’s innate preference was felt to be personally informative. Likewise awareness that others process information differently was felt to have a positive impact on team working allowing diversity to be harnessed.

Persona

Co-researchers and I conceived of a multiplicity of distinctive personae within any given individual each characterised by varying assumptions, motivations and modes of relating.  Raised awareness of a diverse spectrum of personae was felt to create agency and to enhance adaptability and flexibility.

"I think of it almost as having a repertoire of roles. I have this concept that somewhere in my mind is what I call the costume manager and he has a wardrobe or a warehouse full of different masks and costumes that we wear".

However the notion of personal congruence was also deemed crucial to credible functioning."There’s got to be congruence there and very often there’s not because very often what I'm seeing is people who are behaving in a very different way from the way that they want to be perceived and in a very different way from the way that they feel inside".

Shadow

Several co-researchers responded negatively to the term shadow. A change in demeanour was apparent in two interviewees and a focus group participant shifted their chair back in withdrawal when we explored shadow. Co-researchers acknowledged difficulty in confronting the shadow; however being able to do so was considered enhancing of self-awareness and authenticity. All co-researchers responded positively to shadow as untapped potential and saw flexibility to be gained in owning projections and assimilating shadow features.

"I think it is about work with polarities where you have the parts of the self that we like to own and the parts of self that we don't like to own, but by owning them all we become more flexible".  

Expression of a collective shadow within organisations was observed: manifested in the form of bullying, making scapegoats and prejudice. People and organisations can become in the grip of shadow, in or out of awareness, to the point of contagion. The toxic culture of some banks was evidenced: "one of the things that I've heard in investment banking is a number of people wear JFDI (Just F...... Do It) cufflinks".

"I think as well it (the shadow) probably plays out .........in a team or an organisation........you get it in departments or whole organisations and the whole thing just amplifies".

Anima/Animus

Co-researchers and I did not subscribe to the stereotypical gender perspectives on which anima/animus were conceived by Jung. It is not possible to establish a definitive set of gender attributes from the four perspectives of biology, social constructionist, psychological and evolutionary. Instead we took a reformed classical position (Harwood, 2004): Yin (receptivity-feeling/intuition/loving) and Yang (rationality-thinking/logic/assertiveness) contrasting energies. Overall we felt that people may be oriented more to yin or yang, but not necessarily in accordance with gender. However, the topic of gender was nevertheless considered relevant, particularly in relation to women working in traditionally male dominated environments.

Self-realisation

Practical considerations e.g. the financial imperative to earn a living, were considered obstacles to the perhaps privileged position of self-realisation through work. The personal cost that can ensue when alienation from work is long term or extreme was, however, also recognised.   

 "........people that are stuck in careers and you talk to them and it's like ‘Well I've never really liked it, I've been doing it for 20 years; I'm quite successful’ ......but underneath it, they’re kind of crumbling apart because they're completely dissatisfied".

Discussions in relation to the spiritual aspects of individuation focussed primarily on meaning and purpose. For some co-researchers the prospect of spirituality in relation to coaching was non-contentious.

"I would feel quite comfortable with that (spirituality)...........you get into things like perhaps someone talks about legacy, perhaps someone talks about purpose, definitely, yeah, yes, definitely"

Whereas for others the word conjured up unwelcome religious connotations and the notion of a vocation or calling "was a real no-no".

There was uncertainty and mixed views regarding the existential questions of meaning and purpose to life which underlie the concept of individuation. Viewpoints as to a discernible thread in career were variable.

"It’s like some sort of magnetic attraction, some pull saying, ‘This is where you’re going, this is what you’re here for’. I think yes, if you try and waiver from that it’s like trying to get away from a magnet".

"I think I could rationalise the thread if you wanted me to quite happily and make lots of connections, but do I really think there's a direction to it? I'm not so sure actually".

Utility of individuation theory in practice

Technical feasibility

Co-researchers identified a range of techniques to make individuation theory operable in practice such as approaches from Gestalt (e.g. Zinker, 1978), paradoxical theory of change (Beisser, 1970) and working with imagery (Hillman in Butler, 2007). The concept of individuation was considered valuable as a lightly held conceptual map or framework to guide exploration and inform interventions. Component features of the individuation process (i.e. facets of the Jungian psyche) were felt to add to coaches’ personal awareness and to thereby potentially enhance the coaching relationship.

Organisational desirability

The general view was that organisations stand to gain from the sophisticated thinking of progressively individuating people; however it was felt that circumstances must be receptive to higher level capabilities for business value to ensue.

"The greater the conscious awareness of clients the more they’re able to look at things from multiple perspectives and that helps with any sort of problem solving".

Discussion of Findings

Findings arising from the interviews and focus group meeting suggested that a coaching approach informed by the concept of individuation may result in certain personal developmental outcomes for clients: personal congruence and authenticity; flexibility and adaptability; and personal and collective wisdom; as well as illuminating the organisational context. Flowing from this was a meta-theme of purpose, meaning and fulfilment. Importantly the concept of individuation appears operable in practice.

Proposed outcomes from a coaching approach informed by individuation

Personal congruence and authenticity

Personal congruence and authenticity may emerge from a coaching approach incorporating the concepts of persona and shadow.  Removal or thinning of various masks comprising the metaphorical persona   may reveal a more congruent self, whilst confronting of shadow is likely to bring more realistic self-perception. Heightened self-awareness and greater consistency between inner senses of self and that which is given expression are conducive to authentic relating.

Goffee and Jones (2006) endorse the importance of authenticity. Drawing on research, consulting work and their own leadership experience they claim that great leaders, who inspire followership, display their true selves, highlighting own strengths and revealing personal foibles. Authenticity was the short answer to their question, "why should anyone be led by you"?

Co-researchers referred to conflicting pressures in achieving the personal congruence that arises in moving towards self-realisation. In keeping with Jungian theory my inquiry suggested that this pull may become stronger during transition into mid-life and beyond. Notably Jung said: "The elements of the psyche undergo in the course of life a very marked change, so much so, that we may distinguish between a psychology of the morning of life and a psychology of its afternoon" and "we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of one’s morning"(1933).

Flexibility and adaptability

Related outcomes surmised from the data were flexibility and adaptability, based on a reformed classical position (Harwood, 2004) which considers anima/animus as energies and a view of persona as not only maladaptive, but also supportive of healthy adaptation. "An elastic persona that ‘fits well’ belongs to the psychic wardrobe of the adult man" (Jacobi, 1967).

A recurring feature of the data was work/ non-work split personae particularly related to maladaptation of some women to male dominated work environments. However, difficulties in adapting to particular organisation cultures were not seen as confined to females. Male executives can also find themselves at odds with a predominant organisational energy and as Cavicchia (2009) contends, certain features of an organisation can dominate and disavow features of the opposite polarity. Coaching which highlights a client’s favoured energy in relation to that of the work context may help both the individual and the organisation to become more flexible.

Flexibility is the other essential attribute Goffee and Jones (2006) cite for compelling leadership, asserting that leadership requires both truthful self-presentation and flexibility to respond to various different business circumstances.

Personal and collective wisdom

Coaching which facilitates integration of polarities is likely to produce more sophisticated thinking: adoption of different and sometimes contradictory perspectives such that paradox is embraced and a higher level of wisdom attained. Torbert’s (2004) exposition of progressive action logics, associated with stages in leadership development, describes upper levels of leadership capability indicative of higher order wisdom. It seems significant to me that Torbert chose the term "alchemist" to describe a higher end level of leadership capability as alchemy was such a powerful inspiration for Jung.

Familiarity with typology may result in tolerance for different ways of processing information, translating through to more productive team working. The positive impact of positivity and connectivity on the performance of business teams is affirmed in a study by Losada and Heaphy (2004). Similarly recognition and respect for different energies (anima and animus) within teams encourages consideration of issues from alternative perspectives, thereby generating collective wisdom.

The more dynamic environmental contexts in which corporations are now situated call for imaginative insights to surface innovative, competitive and socially responsible ways forward. It may be advantageous to intuit messages from imagery to create a compelling and well differentiated corporate vision and to develop a felt sense of ethical value so that business practice is respectful of people and the environment.

These imperatives are founded on wisdom beyond that predicated purely on cognition, wisdom consistent with that arising from flourishing individuation. Zohar and Marshall (2000) advance a case for spiritual intelligence (SQ) which they define as that which addresses issues of meaning, value and morality integrating all our intelligences. Citing the neurologist Singer’s (1990) work showing "unifying neural oscillations", Zohar and Marshall relate these findings to Jung’s transpersonal self. 

Illumination of the organisational context

The concept of individuation may illuminate organisational context, particularly through awareness of shadow aspects. As Colman (1992) remarks the collective unconscious operates in and through groups and organisations, as well as in and through individuals and the two are connected. The finding that shadow dynamics may be enacted in organisations is supported by Stein’s (1992) observation that individuals or departments are sometimes made scapegoats: a receptacle into which the group shadow is poured, then attacked and driven away in order to release the shadow burden from the whole group.

Kusy and Holloway’s (2009) research shows the hidden costs of bullying attack: higher labour turnover, unfavourable attitudes to the employer and psychological distress.  Conducting business in this way strikes me as unsustainable and prejudicial to the fulfilment of long term financial targets. In support of my view I cite the implosion of several banks and scandals which have, or will, result in fines and compensation payments negatively impacting profits.

I am aware that the picture presented above is mostly negative and do not wish to imply that organisational life is necessarily this dark. An executive coaching approach incorporating systemic perspectives may help to diffuse a malevolent organisational shadow; however in extremely toxic environments coaching may be an impotent intervention. Nevertheless elucidation of underlying organisational dynamics is germane to executive coaching and my study points to organisational receptiveness as a factor likely to influence the benefit a corporation derives from coaching.

Purpose, meaning and fulfilment

The above themes culminate in a meta-theme of purpose, meaning and fulfilment. This study captured the mixed views reflective of society, and probably the executive coaching community, concerning whether there is meaning to life and a purpose to be fulfilled. My analysis crystallised a distinction between coaching to determine direction congruent with innate client talents and coaching to guide a way forward founded on a fuller more spiritual sense of self. The data suggests that for coaches and clients so inclined self-realisation through work may be nurtured by a coaching approach incorporating individuation theory. The surmised ensuing growth is postulated as conducive to fulfilment of personal potential, and in turn, through more individuated people, to fulfilment of business potential. However further research is needed to substantiate these hypotheses.

Conclusions 

It can be inferred from my research that individuation has relevance to organisational and client issues, is feasible in practice and may enrich coaching outcomes. The concept appears especially pertinent to mature executives and to a coaching agenda concerning meaning, purpose and fulfilment. For me studying individuation has brought value akin to the philosophical gold of alchemy: vertical learning, growth in inner wisdom and a move forward on the continuing spiral path towards self-realisation. In terms of my coaching practice I am now more inclined to attend to intuitions, visual imagery and synchronistic events and seek meaning therein.

Implications for practice

The desire to work deeply with clients and perceived credibility of Jungian philosophies, particularly those related to existential life questions, are likely to influence uptake by any given executive coach. Similarly it is probable that individuation theory will be inappropriate to a coaching contract wherein the client’s needs are primarily transactional. 

Developmental coaching which heightens wisdom may create expectations on the part of executives about making a greater contribution at work; if this is not satisfied by the organisation frustration may ensue. There is also risk that an approach incorporating discussions about meaning, purpose and fulfilment may result in clients deciding to leave their employers. Given the operational and financial burden this places on business enterprises it seems ethical to address these possibilities up front with the sponsor as part of a multi-pointed contracting process.

Limitations of this research

The study design means that the conclusions reached cannot be taken as absolute. The aim of my inquiry had not been to provide an unequivocal answer to the question posed, but to generate a depth and richness of material which would inform the research topic. A further limitation is that coaches were asked to consider the perspectives of clients and sponsoring organisations which they can only assume. Findings are also constrained by the degree to which co-researchers and I have travelled towards our own individuation.
 
Suggestions for future research

Future research investigating distinct facets of Jung’s model of the psyche, in relation to personal and/or organisational development may be beneficial to the discipline of coaching.  For example a collaborative inquiry concerning the shadow motivation of coaches for our chosen career might be very interesting. Further consideration of the concept of individuation in relation to coaching could be garnered through heuristic inquiry. The advantage of such an approach would be that the phenomenological aspects of individuation could be explored more fully than was possible given my methodology and chosen direction of study.
 
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APPENDIX 1. Glossary of Jungian terminology (adapted from Jung, 1961)

                                                                                                  Personal unconscious: Layer of the psyche out of current awareness: hosting thoughts, feelings and complexes. 

Collective unconscious: A deeper layer of the psyche, host to the numinous archetypes.

Archetypes: Numinous instinctual forms governing human functioningPersona: The mask(s) portrayed to society in terms of perceived best interests.

Shadow: Repressed characteristics perceived as undesirable or abhorrent and potentially positive unrealised attributes. 

Anima and animus: For men anima is a female figure and for women animus a male. Stereotypical external masculine attributes oppose stereotypical feminine internal ones, and vice versa, providing psychic equilibrium.  A reformed classical position (Harwood, 2004) relates anima/animus to Yin and Yang energies.

Ego: The ‘I’ or ‘me’ that organises thoughts and makes meaning: expression of conscious identity.Self: The most profound archetype connecting the human psyche with the universe, the self is not fully knowable in conscious awareness.

APPENDIX 2. Semi-Structured Interview and Focus Group Questions                               

What strikes you about Persona, Shadow, Anima-Animus?

In what respects, if any, do you think that the Persona/Shadow/Anima-Animus have value to executive coaching?  Please consider from the perspective of coach, client and sponsoring organisation

How might you help a client become more aware of their own Persona, Shadow, Anima-Animus?

In what ways, if any, might this be of value?

For what reasons, if any, might this be undesirable?

Jung regarded the ego as orientating the psyche through predisposed types. What is your view about the value of typology to executive coaching?

What is your view about notions of life purpose and self-realisation?What might be the implications for the corporate sponsor when a client reaches a higher level of self-realisation as a result of Executive Coaching?

How can we as Executive Coaches make operative the Jungian concept of individuation in our work?

How might a client’s enhanced individuation be apparent to you as coach? 

In what ways does your work as an Executive Coach contribute to your own individuation? How is this manifest?

About the author

Maria Crudge has over 25 years in-house corporate experience across several business sectors, including 10 years at board level as HR Director for a pharmaceutical company. A Chartered Fellow of the CIPD, Maria holds a MA in Psychological Coaching awarded by the Metanoia Institute and has practised as a freelance Executive Coach since 2008.  Her clients comprise leaders and aspiring leaders from a range of professions working in commercial corporations and professional services firms.

E-Mail: mcrudge(at)gmail(dot)com