We met the very inspirational coach Aga Kehinde at the recent Coaching at Work Conference. Here she gives a candid insight into her extraordinary work of coaching cancer patients and working with fellow medical professionals.
Having originally embarked on a career in nursing, what led you to training to become a coach?
My motivation came from a combination of my extensive professional and personal experience of what makes a difference to people’s lives at time of profound change. With 20 year’s nursing experience, I have always felt I was interested in people’s stories and by the different strategies people use to approach difficult times in their life.
I wanted to replicate this ability for other patients, and likewise to enable people to gain confidence in themselves. When people feel like they are being told what to do all the time – which can happen particularly to patients, as well as non-patients alike – they can lose these strategies to manage the difficult times
With this desire, I noticed also signs of burnout for me – feeling a lack of control and frustration with a system I was struggling to work in myself. I took charge of this by supporting myself both in and outside of work, and a key strategy to this was having coaching myself. After just one session I was able to reconnect to my personal and professional values and I knew this was transformational and wanted to learn more for myself then share it with others.
Can you give us a quick overview of the coaching you offer and tell us about some of the issues you coach people around?
I provide coaching to people affected by a medical condition and specialise within cancer. I might work with a patient, their family or a healthcare professional in the cancer field. I’m really excited about this since it is still a very unique area to be working in – there aren’t many coaches in this specialty which of course we want to change, but it also means I’m working at the forefront of an emerging area – combining coaching with medical conditions and I’m privileged to be able to shape how it looks and works as a service nationally.
My coaching approach with patients, survivors and families may involve developing strategies to manage health issues whilst someone is experiencing them or support them after the event. In cancer, these issues are often termed survivorship. However, many people are now living with cancer as a long-term condition. I help to build resilience, confidence and acceptance of their situation. I support them to regain focus and control and reduce stress. Support impacts many aspects of their lives such as around their career, enhancing relationships, developing productive partnerships with healthcare providers. Essentially help someone design a 'new reality' and a plan to achieve it.
My coaching approach with healthcare providers may cover some of the above and specifically look at their resilience and ability to manage their emotions in a stressful and demanding environment. This is always done with a gentle and encouraging approach and the feedback I get from clients feels brilliant.
You work with cancer patients as part of your practice. How are patients and their families gaining access to this type of coaching service?
I am part of the professional coaching programme within the Fountain Centre at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Surrey. There are eight professional coaches who combine their experiences, training and passion to support people with medical conditions.
Patients and families access our support through the Fountain Centre which is based within the grounds of the Royal Surrey County Hospital and supports St Luke’s Cancer Centre. It is a well-known charity within the South East with great partnerships to refer patients and families into for our help.
Coaches volunteer their time and the service is funded through charitable donations to the Fountain Centre. The coaches work closely together and are focused on developing guidelines and professional standards for coaching in this important area. Recently, Health Education England and the University of Portsmouth have expressed an interest to support the development of independent standards which we hope can be used nationally and internationally as a gold standard for coaching individuals with medical conditions, including cancer.
I also provide private coaching to people with medical conditions which they can access locally and online, which is a great option to get over the barrier of not being local or not being able to travel far on a day they’d like support. I network to build my professional profile and enjoy collaborating with other professionals to raise awareness of this emerging coaching speciality.
Can you tell us a little more about the coaching models you use to support their recovery?
My approach combines the GROW model and behavioural, energetic and humanistic approaches. I use a combination of NLP, EFT and mentoring tools. My role is to help facilitate awareness to focus on what they can do, develop their resources and build on their strengths. My clients gain the courage to face their situation without feeling forced to be positive about it all – I help them manage their range of emotions and work through them at the pace they need.
They leave transformed and with an energy and vitality for living their best life. To see their transition is a fulfilling and rewarding experience that we want to see more of.
You work with your own ‘road to recovery’ tool. What does this entail?
The ‘’road to recovery’’ is a model I have developed based on empowering my clients to take ownership of their life in the face of a life changing condition. It’s an amalgamation of the tools and exercises I use within my sessions, put into a framework which is easy to understand and work through.
Our journey usually starts from raising an awareness that, whatever is happening now is natural and normal. This usually leads to opening the possibility of creating the plan around it. This is vital because cancer patients are often under pressure to feel positive or to be inspirational and I know from experience they can feel anything but, so enabling them to be heard and accepted in all their emotions is really important.
We then work on what we call a healing plan; connecting body and mind; working with preserving their energy which is stress reducing. A further step is around exploration of values and beliefs. I have found that working with clients alongside their cancer journey is all about empowering, reconnecting to the body and mind and reaching peace within so that we don’t have to rely so much on our external circumstances, however stressful they might be.
What sort of impact is coaching having on the individuals you are working with?
As a result of my coaching my clients report a huge sense of relief at being heard for what they’re really feeling, and a release of guilt for feeling whatever they do. They often report a reduction in physical symptoms they might be experiencing which we put down to them feeling more able to cope with difficult moments and days and managing them easier than before. They often find more focus – either for big life goals or the smallest of daily tasks and they usually report that their family and friends notice a difference in them and their reactions which is an amazing thing to hear – to know others see a change in our patients is advocating for this work. Most importantly through the client reports feeling different – and that’s what matters.
We’re not trying to solve their cancer; we’re not telling them what do to and when to do it – they finally feel more empowered to make great choices about their day to day and face the situation differently.
Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that had an impact on you?
Every single client I work with has a huge impact on me.
In one situation, a client’s partner came to me with issue regarding the course of treatment that was very strongly against her beliefs. She felt that she was not being heard and it was having a huge impact on her physically – she felt sick, very upset and angry. We spent some time to think through her beliefs and assumptions and how they impacted behaviour. We were able to work through some of the negative emotions with EFT and reframe with NLP techniques to help with this.
This case made me reflect on how much emotion is attached to a medical condition especially cancer. working with patients and anyone who may be impacted by their condition is paramount to my coaching approach.
In another case, for a client who was at the beginning of her cancer treatment we worked on building resilience and supporting the development of coping strategies to create a positive environment and mindset. This enabled her to manage her thoughts throughout treatment. As she successfully progressed through the treatment stages, she entered the next stage of living beyond cancer. What she realised was that there was an external expectation that she felt, to celebrate her being ‘’cancer free’’ and ‘’winning of the battle’’ was making her increasingly anxious and stressed. She knew that time of recovery is not only about ‘’not having cancer’’, but cancer has long-lasting side effects that impact body, thoughts and emotions. Having gone through the coaching process it allowed her to reflect and see the potential consequences of living under this pressure.
Despite feeling anxious and scared at times we discovered that working on her sense of self and thoughts was incredibly helpful to her to manage the times that she felt worse. She gained lots of confidence and was able to communicate better about her recovery plans, both in her personal and professional life.
Can you give us an insight into your work as a registered coach with the NHS Kent, Surrey and Sussex Leadership collaborative?
There are two areas to this collaboration. First, I provide coaching services to NHS leaders as a part of their coaching directory. Secondly, the collaboration focuses on equipping NHS mentors to provide the best support to people affected by cancer who are returning to work after long term absence.
How would you like to see this service grow?
I would like to see coaching in a cancer setting be the norm and not exceptional, and accessible for many more people from younger adults through to senior citizens. To be able to deliver this, we need standards that other organisations and collaboratives can use. I’m proud to say that this is something I’m working on.
We also need more evidence to show that coaching works. From my experience, coaches and their clients know it works through qualitative valuable feedback and their outcomes. We need to record this so it shows statistically the difference that coaching can make. Ultimately so that these services can be funded and rolled out to scale.
How do you think the use of coaching will develop in the medical profession over the next few years?
With the living with and beyond cancer agenda, coaching will become an important element of post treatment care. The need for people to make sustained behavioural and lifestyle changes can greatly impact people’s ability to live with and beyond their illness.
Coaching is an extremely useful tool in helping people to ensure they make these changes and as a result I see medical professionals working more and more with coaches to help patients make these changes. In this environment both the patient and the NHS benefit. The patient remains well for longer and the NHS reduces its costs.
What support is available to you as a coach in this particular environment?
I have regular supervision in and outside of the Fountain Centre. Supervision is an essential part of providing a safe and good quality service as it provides the opportunity to review and continually develop both emotional health and professional development. It also provides me with a forum for self-reflection, support and challenge, therefore monitors the general health, wellbeing and development of the me as a practitioner.
What has coaching taught you about yourself and other people?
Coaching fulfils my purpose and passion, gives me the ability to live my values, serving others to truly understand themselves and be their best, in what are sometimes challenging circumstances in life.
I have rediscovered myself through coaching, moving from a space of giving advice to one of holding space and empowering. I have learnt that we are so very capable of living full lives even with restrictions and also the power of the mind body connection.
What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about your work as a professional coach?
The most challenging is time limitations. I still work as a Cancer Educator in the hospital, I volunteer at the Fountain Centre, and work as a coach with a number of projects and collaborations to build my own business. All these activities demand time and effort. Of course, I love what I do and want to be dedicated to them all the same!
I have learnt to manage my time well with focus and planning and to know that this is a long-term vision that we are building.
A huge thank you to Aga for sharing her inspirational work with us.