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Integrative Health Coaching: An Art and a Science

July 26, 2017

By Janet Stolp, RN, Duke Certified Integrative Health Coach

Last month I was asked to give a talk on health coaching to the Duke – Johnson & Johnson Nurse Leadership Program. As I spent hours and hours crafting my talk and slides, I found it to be entirely too long. I started to question myself. “Janet, what is it you want to say?” As a singer songwriter, I found myself driven to creatively put my thoughts into verse. The poem included in this blog post is the result. When I read the poem at the end of my talk at the nurse leadership workshop, the poem seemed to resonate the most with my audience. It felt like hitting a home run.

My poem is an attempt to put into words, not only the posture and character of a good coach, but also to bring out the emotion that is often evoked during a session. It occurred to me that this emotion is often the glue that makes integrative health coaching so powerful. It is my belief that coaching is as much an art as it is a science.

I wrote the poem very quickly while serving as a nurse volunteer with a group of disabled adults. As I watched their caregivers offer their presence with kindness and love while allowing for autonomy and independence, they embodied our role as coaches. It is all about partnering with our clients.  For me, the poem is the result of allowing my inner creative voice to speak. This seems to come easier for me.

The metaphor of going through a tunnel is drawn from my experience during a past cycling adventure with friends on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The tunnel curves at one point so no light is present, making one feel precarious and insecure. The drips from the ceiling echoed through the darkness and the temperature was chilly. We all slowed and then stopped. We silently stood still at one point, then moved carefully, listening and feeling our way through the darkness. Even while with others, I felt very alone.

As I now read the poem from a coaches’ lens it is my hope that the coaching relationship will come through showing a mindful presencing partnership, as well as the characteristics of curiosity, observation, noticing, and deep respect. And hopefully it also exposes some aspects of the process such as vision and values as well.

What if we go together?

It is dark. cold.
Through sobs and tears you tell me there is no… way… out.
I cannot see your face, but your desperation washes over me: slowing my own breath.
May I sit beside you?
What is this dank place that echoes hollow,… and moist?
How long… have you been here… alone,… in the dark?
May I hold your hand?

Just our breath….   in….out…
Drips from the ceiling.
What are you thinking? Feeling?
Where is it you want to go?
What does it look like? Feel like?
I hear you speak… of bright sunlight,
warm breezes,
and rest.

Your voice has changed… clarity,… calm.
I see your legs uncross.
How would it feel if we walked together?
How should we begin?
Would it help to wrap arms…
and rise…..catch our breath….
take a step…
take our time?

Is that a breeze? Do you notice it too?
Ahhhh …a very small light.
Our feet in rhythm….steady,…together.
A new smell… a new scent.
Smiling… laughter,…
What are you noticing?

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Janet Stolp, RN

Duke Certified Integrative Health Coach

Janet Stolp is originally from Charlotte where she attended UNCC School of Nursing. She began working in the Carolinas Medical Center Emergency Department as a new graduate for the first 8 years of her career. For the last 20+ years she has been on the Duke Live For Life Health Check team as a health coach instructor, and also involved in the Pathways to Change program which specifically addresses issues such as weight loss, diabetes, cholesterol, stress and blood pressure for all Duke employees. It was there she became more curious about change modalities and decided to further her education by attending both the Foundations and Certification portions of the Duke Integrative Health Coach Professional Training Program where she now often mentors. She now divides her time as a nurse clinician in the Department of Advanced Clinical Practice on the stress management consultant team working with Duke inpatients as well as seeing clients privately after opening her own LLC.


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