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Although professional coaches have been helping clients improve their work, health, and personal lives for decades, there have been few large-scale, well-designed research studies on how coaching positively changes behavior.
The newly launched Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, a first-of-its-kind academic center for the profession of coaching, is working to change that through research and education. “Our goal is to provide a solid scientific foundation for coaching based on good science, good research, and good practice,” says institute director Carol Kauffman, PhD, ABPP, a McLean psychologist and executive coach.
Rooted in the theories of positive psychology, coaching is a professional practice designed to optimize human potential by helping individuals achieve personal and professional goals and enhance their quality of life.
Since the institute’s launch in 2009, it has received 14 grant applications and awarded more than $85,000 to fund coaching-related studies in Portugal, Australia and Great Britain. The studies will address such issues as identifying the elements of the coaching process and examining the role coaching plays in leadership and relationships in the workplace.
According to business psychologist Susan David, PhD, a co-director of the institute, reliable research that advances best practices gives coaches and clients confidence that they are using their time together effectively. “Research helps the profession identify what works, why it works, and the best ways to foster interventions that help clients achieve their health, leadership, and life goals,” she says.
According to Kauffman, McLean is a perfect fit for coaching’s academic home. “Thirty years ago, very few people knew anything about cognitive behavior therapy, anorexia nervosa, or the treatment of borderline personality disorder. McLean helped bring knowledge and understanding of these conditions to the fore. It makes good sense then that a scientific institute on coaching should be housed at a world-class research institution like McLean,” she says.
In 2009, the Harnisch Foundation donated $2 million to McLean to launch the Institute of Coaching and fund up to $100,000 in annual research studies. It was Ruth Ann Harnisch, a certified professional coach and trustee of the Harnisch Foundation, who recognized the need to establish an institute dedicated to coaching research and education. Without her vision, these coaching studies and the institute itself would not have been possible.
Harnisch chose to fund coaching research at McLean after listening to the stories of participants at a 2008 international gathering of coaching researchers funded by her foundation. “They talked about challenges they faced as serious academics attempting to do peer-reviewed, respected coaching research,” she says.
“It became clear to me that an academic home for coaching would be a game-changer for the field. I knew that home should be at McLean.”