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Abstract

Since its introduction to clinical psychology regulation in 1969, formula-tion has become a defining skill of applied psychology. Different forms of pro-fessional psychology define the term in dif-ferent ways, and the extent to which formulation has a scientific basis and is drawn directly from psychological theory varies between disciplines (see Lane & Corrie, 2006). Nonetheless, there is fairly broad agreement that the ability to construct formulations is central to applied psychology practice (British Psychological Society, 2005; Corrie & Lane, 2006; Johnstone & Dallos, 2006) and much time, during initial training and subsequent professional development, will be spent in the service of acquiring and refining this complex skill. However, the role that formulation should play in the emerging discipline and profession of coaching psychology is yet to be adequately considered. In this paper, we argue for the centrality of formulation in coaching psychology and propose that the quality of coaching practice can be signifi-cantly enhanced by elevating formulation to the heart of the coach-client partnership. In order to contextualise our argument, we begin with an overview of the way in which formulation has been conceptualised in the literature more broadly, and consider some of the debates concerning its role in practice. We then examine some of the fac-tors that may have led this to being a rela-tively neglected topic in coaching psychology and consider ways in which elevating formu-lation to the heart of coaching psychology might contribute to the development of high quality practice. Finally, we propose an approach to formulation that can help coaches achieve a more rigorous and system-atic approach regardless of their theoretical preferences. This approach is, we believe, relevant regardless of whether the coaching journey is undertaken with an individual seeking personal guidance, a team seeking higher levels of performance, or an organi-sation seeking a strategic change of direc-tion. Coaching is very broadly based and the formulation process happens at different
INCE ITS INTRODUCTION to clinical
psychology regulation in 1969, formula-
tion has become a defining skill of
applied psychology. Different forms of pro-
fessional psychology define the term in dif-
ferent ways, and the extent to which
formulation has a scientific basis and is
drawn directly from psychological theory
varies between disciplines (see Lane &
Corrie, 2006). Nonetheless, there is fairly
broad agreement that the ability to construct
formulations is central to applied psychology
practice (British Psychological Society, 2005;
Corrie & Lane, 2006; Johnstone & Dallos,
2006) and much time, during initial training
and subsequent professional development,
will be spent in the service of acquiring and
refining this complex skill.
However, the role that formulation
should play in the emerging discipline and
profession of coaching psychology is yet to
be adequately considered. In this paper, we
argue for the centrality of formulation in
coaching psychology and propose that the
quality of coaching practice can be signifi-
cantly enhanced by elevating formulation to
the heart of the coach-client partnership.
In order to contextualise our argument,
we begin with an overview of the way in
which formulation has been conceptualised
in the literature more broadly, and consider
some of the debates concerning its role in
practice. We then examine some of the fac-
tors that may have led this to being a rela-
tively neglected topic in coaching psychology
and consider ways in which elevating formu-
lation to the heart of coaching psychology
might contribute to the development of high
quality practice. Finally, we propose an
approach to formulation that can help
coaches achieve a more rigorous and system-
atic approach regardless of their theoretical
preferences. This approach is, we believe,
relevant regardless of whether the coaching
journey is undertaken with an individual
seeking personal guidance, a team seeking
higher levels of performance, or an organi-
sation seeking a strategic change of direc-
tion. Coaching is very broadly based and the
formulation process happens at different
International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009 193
© The British Psychological Society – ISSN: 1750-2764
Does coaching psychology need the
concept of formulation?
David A. Lane & Sarah Corrie
The aim of this paper is to raise awareness of some of the debates and controversies surrounding
formulation, and to highlight ways of navigating these debates more successfully for the benefits of
ourselves, our clients and the future development of our profession. The concept of formulation, that is an
explanatory account of the issues affecting a client, is widely used in sister disciplines such as clinical,
counselling, forensic psychology and psychotherapy. Its purpose is to provide a descriptive and explanatory
narrative that the client and practitioner can use to plan interventions. While coaching psychology has
used many ideas from its sister disciplines this concept has not appeared as a feature of much in the
coaching psychology literature (with a few exceptions). The reasons why this might be so are explored. The
paper provides an overview of the role of formulation in psychology and some of the arguments for and
against its use. The position of formulation in coaching psychology is discussed with reference to the
purposes of coaching and some boundary issues between this and related fields. A framework for using
formulation in coaching psychology is outlined through consideration of purpose, perspective and process.
Such a framework it is argued provides a format to enable coaching psychologists whatever their theoretical
orientation to use the concept of formulation to assist client change.
Keywords: formulation, coaching, psychology, client partnership, narrative, boundaries.
S
scales (dyad, triad, group, organisation,
etc.). Consequently there are multiple stake-
holders. We argue that formulation must
encompass or reflect these nested contexts.
Hence formulation is not a single moment in
time but an iterative process. Formulations
are co-created sometimes in the coaching
dyad but at other times may represent in an
organisational context both coach and
coachee’s evolving apprehension of the
stakeholder situation.
Formulation and its role in
psychological practice: A brief review
of the literature
When the coaching psychologist sits along-
side a client what is their first duty, as a pro-
fessional? Arguably, it is one of ensuring that
the client feels heard, and that their story is
understood and accepted. However, the
client is also seeking assistance from the psy-
chologist to identify a way forward. The
client is, therefore, assuming that a psycho-
logical perspective is potentially relevant and
helpful. The coach becomes a partner in the
client’s story, contributing ideas derived
from theory, research and prior professional
experience to help formulate a coherent
explanation of the puzzle, problem or con-
cern that the client is facing.
In general terms, formulation can be
understood as an explanatory account of the
issues with which a client is presenting
(including predisposing, precipitating and
maintaining factors) that can form the basis
of a shared framework of understanding and
which has implications for change. It is rea-
sonable to assume that this explanatory
account will draw upon a wide range of data
including psychological theory, general sci-
entific principles, research from the wider
literature and professional experience, in
addition to being informed by the nuances
of the client’s self-told story. The stories that
clients tell in coaching are often the way in
to a rich narrative (Drake, 2009).
Formulation is believed to serve a variety
of functions. These include (although are by
no means limited to) facilitating an
informed understanding of the client’s
needs; prioritising client concerns for the
purposes of goal setting; identifying
hypotheses worthy of further investigation,
selecting intervention strategies and guiding
systematic thinking about lack of progress
(see Bieling & Kuyken, 2003; Butler, 1998;
Corrie & Lane, 2010). Formulation has also
been described as an aid to engagement,
particularly in those instances where a
client’s actions may challenge the practi-
tioner’s empathic ability (as, for example, in
the case of sexual offending; see Haarbosch
& Newey, 2006; Sheath, 2010).
However, the empirical literature on for-
mulation would appear to challenge its
status as a cornerstone of effective practice.
Most notably, there is a lack of consensual
definition (Corrie & Lane, 2010); poor inter-
rater reliability, particularly in relation to the
explanatory components of cases where
greater inference is required (Bieling &
Kuyken, 2003) and an equivocal relationship
to outcome (Shulte et al., 1992). Moreover, a
number of clients appear to find formula-
tions of their needs unhelpful (Chadwick,
Williams & Mackenzie, 2003; Evans & Parry,
1996).
One question arising from these
ambiguous findings is that of who should
‘own’ the formulation and thus, who is enti-
tled to devise, change or discard it. Crellin
(1998) for example, has noted how formula-
tion tends to take the form of translating
clients’ experiences into testable hypotheses.
However, she argues that whilst this may
render complex client experiences more
manageable for practitioners, such reduc-
tionism prevents us from grasping the very
experiences we seek to understand. A similar
concern has been expressed by Duncan and
Miller (2000), as well as Worrell (2010), who
warn that our theoretically- and empirically-
derived formulations all too easily become
professional expositions imposed on clients,
rather than useful ideas that might form the
basis of new possibilities.
The evidence-base for formulation raises
a question about whether our faith in for-
194 International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009
David A. Lane & Sarah Corrie
mulation as the route to effective practice is
misplaced. Moreover, we must consider the
implications of these debates for coaching
psychology itself. In light of this literature, to
what extent should coaching psychology
adhere to the established view that formula-
tion is a central component of effective
practice? Is a formulation always essential for
effective, ethical coaching or are there times
when it is unnecessary? What questions
might an understanding of the role of for-
mulation generate that assists coaching psy-
chology in its task of helping clients
re-author their stories? These questions are
considered next.
Does coaching psychology need the
concept of formulation?
In recent texts reviewing the field (for
example, Palmer & Whybrow, 2007) it is
apparent that the concept of formulation is
largely absent (see Palmer & Szymanska,
2007, for an exception). This is despite the
fact that many coaching models ‘borrow’
constructs and approaches from clinical psy-
chology, counselling psychology and psy-
chotherapy.
There are a number of reasons why for-
mulation may be a neglected topic. First, it
may relate to the purpose of coaching. For-
mulation may not be necessary for all forms
of coaching, particularly where there is a
clear goal and action plan and where a new
understanding of causal or maintenance fac-
tors does not appear to be required. Grant
and Cavanagh (2004) identify three generic
levels of engagement within the coaching
agenda that range from skills coaching (typ-
ically of short duration where the focus is on
specific behaviours) and performance
coaching (where the focus is on the process
by which the coachee can set goals, manage
obstacles and monitor their performance) to
developmental coaching (which takes a
more holistic view and addresses personal
and professional questions in the context of
a ‘reflective space’). Formulation is unlikely
to be required to the same degree across all
three levels. Thus, where horizontal change
is involved (for example, where the client
aims to extend what they already know and
can do and where the focus is essentially one
of skills coaching), formulation may be less
relevant. However, where vertical change is
involved (for example, where the client will
need to fundamentally alter the way they
perceive a situation and acquire new ways of
thinking and doing) the need to challenge
how they see and apply new learning
becomes more critical. As Olson (2008)
points out although we arrive at our per-
spectives on our worlds in different ways, if
we want to understand we have to make our
assumptions explicit. Formulation, we would
contend, is a useful part of such a process of
explication.
A second reason for the relative absence
of formulation in the coaching literature
may lie in the roles played in coaching by
client and coach and the existence of three-,
four- (or more) cornered contracts which
imply that multiple stories have to be
addressed or integrated. For example, in a
study of transfer of gains Stewart et al. (2008)
found that the multiple interactions typical
of coaching contracts in organisations
required an understanding of a complex
interplay of factors beyond the idea of the
coach-coachee relationship. They suggested
that organisations must adopt a holistic
guardianship of their coaching provision.
A third reason for the relative neglect of
formulation in the coaching psychology lit-
erature may relate to the domain in which
client concerns have traditionally been
located. In her review of the literature,
Butler (1998) highlights how approaches to
formulation have tended to focus on predis-
posing, precipitating and maintaining fac-
tors that are concerned primarily with
individual, internal or intrapyschic factors.
At the same time, social, cultural and histor-
ical factors have suffered relative neglect.
A similar argument has been made by
Lazarus (1973) whose multimodal model has
come to be known through the acronym
‘BASIC ID’ where each letter stands for a
particular sensory modality (biology, affect,
International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009 195
Does coaching psychology need the concept of formulation?
sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal
factors and the need for drugs or pharmaco-
logical intervention). Palmer (2008) has
explored these arguments in coaching.
Although the neglect of the social, cul-
tural, economic and political domains is a
criticism that has been levied against applied
psychology (see Smail, 1993, 1996; Masson,
1990), there may have been compelling rea-
sons for practitioners’ pursuit of internal fac-
tors. In their analysis of what they term ‘the
zeitgeist of internal causation’, Martell,
Addis and Jacobson (2001) highlight how
Western culture tends to blame individuals
for difficulties that society attributes to
‘deviant behaviour’. (They illustrate this cul-
ture of blame through reference to the social
discourse surrounding HIV and AIDS where
those affected have been labelled either as
‘innocent victims’ or ‘those who got what
they deserved’.) In contrast, by attributing
difficulties to internal factors over which the
individual has no direct control (e.g. an
imbalance in brain chemistry or genetic fea-
tures) the difficulty is redefined as one of ill-
ness, with the burden of stigma concurrently
reduced. The focus on internal factors has,
therefore, served the function of legitimising
distress in a culture that is highly judge-
mental of human dilemmas.
However, as a direct consequence,
coaching psychologists may now find them-
selves faced with an array of theories and
models that are inadequate for the contexts
in which they work. In coaching psychology
practice, multiple stories are involved. The
traditional over-reliance on internal factors
while engaged in a process which is essen-
tially, because of the multiple relationships
involved, inter-relational has been raised by
Spinelli (2008). He argues the need for a
broader exploration and quality of relation-
ship. We are in what Spinelli (quoting
Jopling, 2007) calls ‘fuzzy space’ where mul-
tiple relationships and perspectives need to
be addressed.
This may also generate the fourth pos-
sible reason. Many coaches have become
concerned about boundary issues between
coaching and therapy. As it is often associ-
ated with clinical case conceptualisation, it
may be that formulation seems too close to
the boundary of therapy to feel safe. Thus,
while some concepts from therapy are
embraced others are not and there are issues
over the uses of such theory (Lane, 2006)
and the range to which it is applied. The
issue of boundaries has greatly exercised
many in the field. (See, for example, debates
in Bachkirova, 2007; Spinelli, 2008; Lane,
Stelter & Stout-Rostron, 2009.)
A fifth potential reason for the relative
neglect of formulation in the coaching psy-
chology literature is its equivocal relation-
ship to outcome. The empirical status of the
construct of formulation, as well as some of
the well-documented biases in decision-
making that underpin it, has led some (e.g.
Wilson, 1996, 1997; Meehl, 1954, 1986) to
argue that individual formulations should be
by-passed in favour of manual-based, empiri-
cally-validated interventions wherever pos-
sible. There is certainly a pressure towards
manual-based coaching interventions where
a simple process can be taught in a short
training programme and will supposedly
deliver consistent results (Lane, 2009).
However, despite some of the challenges,
abandoning formulation in coaching psy-
chology may be premature. As noted previ-
ously, formulation has continued to be
regarded as a central skill of applied psy-
chologists despite a growth in manualised
interventions (British Psychological Society,
2005). Moreover, the many functions that
formulation serve relate to the content,
process, planning and evaluation of psycho-
logical interventions: this implies a highly
sophisticated skill which relies on a range of
higher order skills in both problem solving
and design – some of which may be more
amenable to empirical examination than
others. For example, practitioners bring to
their enquiries theoretical knowledge and
prior professional experience that shape
how they listen, respond to and understand
their clients’ concerns from the earliest
stages of engaging with a client. Hence, they
196 International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009
David A. Lane & Sarah Corrie
operate using covert formulations that direct
the process of the enquiry from the outset
(Butler, 1998).
Additionally, as noted by Dowie and
Elstein (1988), professional judgements are
not isolated cognitive events and can be
understood only in relation to a particular
task in a specific context. They are judge-
ments about situations and experiences that
are constantly evolving, rather than static
events that lend themselves well to statistical
analyses of accuracy (Hogarth, 1981). Is
coaching psychology fundamentally dif-
ferent in this respect? We believe not. As
Butler (1998) proposes, the aim of a formu-
lation is not to provide answers but rather to
generate a rich source of questions and ideas
that add value to the work. Interpreted in
this light, investigating the effectiveness of
formulation should perhaps focus on the
properties of powerful questions and how
those questions can be used to create
leverage for change (Adams, 2004).
Kuyken et al. (2009) have also proposed
that the reason formulations are not always
positively received by clients is that they tend
to focus on unilaterally derived, practitioner-
determined accounts presented to clients
rather than constructed in partnership. This
emphasis on partnership is critical to
devising explanations that are both accept-
able to all those involved and useful in their
implications. The issue of partnership and
the forms it takes has featured centrally in
much of the coaching literature
(Bachkirova, 2007; Spinelli, 2008). Hence if
formulation is to take its place within
coaching psychology, building appropriate
relationships in which the multiple purposes
served and stories heard, constructed, de-
constructed and re-constructed will be nec-
essary.
In consequence, we argue that:
1. Formulation has a potentially crucial role
to play in the development of coaching
psychology, despite the ambiguities in
the literature. It may not be necessary for
all levels of engagement (particularly
where the focus is on skills coaching) but
will be crucial in working with clients at
the levels of performance and
developmental coaching, as well as work
involving any degree of complexity.
2. Formulation can serve many functions
ranging from the identification of
relevant issues and goals, to enhancing
coach empathy and collaboration.
3. There is currently insufficient knowledge
of the factors that make our formulations
optimally useful for coaches and their
clients.
We might also conclude that if formulation is
to prove ‘fit for purpose’ for coaching psy-
chologists and their clients, it will be neces-
sary to:
1. Develop a model or framework that is
consistent with a client partnership
framework in which it is possible to
incorporate a variety of stakeholder
positions.
2. Develop a model or framework that can
take account of a broader range of
factors than the individual and internal
(that is, an approach that is not restricted
by the ‘zeitgeist of internal causation’).
3. Develop a model or framework of
formulation that has relevance to all
contexts, regardless of the goals chosen,
theoretical position adopted or
techniques for change used (that is, the
framework or approach to formulation
must be replicable across time, place and
contract).
In the next section we consider how, in the
light of the criteria identified, it might be
possible to develop a systematic approach to
formulation, regardless of the theoretical
perspective taken.
Towards a model of formulation for
Coaching Psychology: Introducing the
Purpose, Perspective, Process model as
a framework for formulation
In previous (Corrie & Lane, 2006; Lane &
Corrie, 2006) as well as current (Corrie &
Lane, 2010) work and drawing on empirical
findings establishing the effectiveness of this
approach (Lane, 1990), we have defined for-
International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009 197
Does coaching psychology need the concept of formulation?
mulation as the co-construction of a narra-
tive which provides a specific focus for a
learning journey. This learning journey takes
the client from where they are now to where
they want to be, based on a process of nego-
tiating appropriate goals. The task of formu-
lating centres on the creation of a shared
framework of understanding that has impli-
cations for change. This shared framework
centres on the three core themes of Purpose,
Perspective and Process as follows:
1. What Purpose is the formulation designed
to serve? For example, is the Purpose to
help the client construct a meaningful
narrative that enables them to make
sense of their situation? Or is it to ease
communication with professional
colleagues? Unless we understand that
Purpose, it is difficult to make any
decision to apply a psychological
approach to its resolution. Making a
decision with the client about whether
coaching is appropriate is part of our
responsibility in the initial encounter. It
may, for example, be the case that a
management consultancy, or
organisational design approach has more
to offer.
2. What Perspective informs the development
of the formulation? The Purpose of any
enquiry will influence its direction. The
intentions of the different stakeholders,
their beliefs and views on human
experience and the nature of the
evidence that needs to underpin any
psychological intervention will all inform
the journey taken. In working
psychologically there are many
Perspectives upon which we might draw.
Some of these are the client’s, some our
own, some belong to other authors and
some are prescribed or proscribed by the
context in which the work takes place.
Those Perspectives help us to make sense
of the Purpose we have agreed as the
‘shared concern’.
3. Given the Purpose and Perspective, what
Process is needed? Based on your
understanding and the context in which
you have defined your Purpose and
identified your Perspective, what
intervention strategies, approaches,
methods or tools do you select? In
undertaking that work, we follow a
Process determined partly by how we
have defined the Purpose of the enquiry
and partly by the Perspectives that
underpin our approach.
We argue that as a generic framework, the
Purpose, Perspective, Process model meets
the criteria outlined in the previous section
and can usefully guide practitioners in
understanding the issues relevant to each
stage of a client enquiry. We now consider
each of the components of the Purpose, Per-
spective, Process model in turn.
1. Purpose (Where we are going and why?)
In undertaking any enquiry within coaching
psychology, it is vital to be clear about its fun-
damental purpose. The shape that your
enquiry takes and the stories you tell about
that enquiry will follow logically from there.
Thus, the shared journey begins as you
define the Purpose of your work together.
Critical questions in this regard include:
What is the Purpose in working with the
client? Where are you going with this client?
What do they want to achieve? Where do
they want to go in their overall journey with
you as their guide? Who are the stakeholders
and what do they want? This is more than
defining a contract for work it is defining the
purpose of the enterprise.
Defining the Purpose of the work com-
prises four essential elements:
1. Understanding the question you wish to
explore.
2. Understanding the expectations of key
stakeholders.
3. Clarifying the role that each party wishes
to play.
4. Appreciating the wider context that gives
meaning to the Purpose and the way in
which it has come to be defined.
198 International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009
David A. Lane & Sarah Corrie
1. Understanding the question to which you seek
an answer or wish to explore
Establishing the core question that you and
the client will explore provides the basis for
deciding where the work is headed. This may
start with the client’s sense of dissatisfaction
with the current situation and a desire to
move to a new preferred state, but it must
also include an agreement that the journey
itself is worthwhile. Questioning why it is
important to undertake the work is critical in
this regard, the reasons for which may
include arriving at a new understanding of
something that has hitherto seemed incom-
prehensible, anticipated improvements in
current circumstances or the pursuit of a
new vision (Lane, 1973). In developing this
understanding we recommend considering
the following questions:
Is a generic intent to explore an area
sufficient to justify the journey – that is,
an open enquiry which may lead to an
unknown destination?
Does the question need a fixed point
resolution – is there a problem to be
solved, an issue to be unravelled or a
solution to be achieved that is recognised
as appropriate by key stakeholders?
Is it possible in advance to know what an
appropriate resolution will look like –
that is, might performance criteria be
devised?
Is it impossible (or at least unlikely) to
know in advance what an appropriate
resolution might look like? For example,
something entirely unexpected might
emerge as a resolution. Are the principal
stakeholders prepared to allow for such a
disruptive learning experience?
Is the question to be explored agreed
between stakeholders? Alternatively, do
you need to work to obtain such an
agreement, or at least partial agreement,
sufficient to begin the journey?
2. Understanding the expectations of key
stakeholders
This entails achieving a sense of clarity about
what you, the client and others involved
expect to achieve from having undertaken
the journey. The objectives of relatives, other
professionals, managers, or sponsors who
have an investment in the outcome must be
considered, as must the extent to which
those objectives are congruent with what the
client wishes to achieve. Anticipated outputs
or results in terms of what the client will
experience as different and any behavioural
change the client and others will recognise
(e.g. an increased sales turnover following
the more effective use of delegation) are
critical to establish as are the anticipated
learnings from engaging in the process of
change. Thus, in understanding the expecta-
tions of key stakeholders, we would recom-
mend the need to identify the following:
The intention behind this enquiry (i.e.
what the practitioner, client and others
involved intend as the aim of the
engagement).
The key stakeholders and the objectives
of each party.
The anticipated outputs or results and
how these relate to the objectives of each
party.
What will be different as a consequence
of achieving these outputs or results.
The new learning that it is hoped will
occur as a result of undertaking the
journey.
The areas in which the stakeholders
share the concern or take divergent
positions.
3. Clarifying the role that each party wishes
to play
Given the main objectives and anticipated
results, it is important to establish the role
that each invested party will play. Will the
Purpose be defined in such a way that the
journey occurs solely between practitioner
and client? Or will multiple stakeholders con-
tribute to the way in which the journey
unfolds? In some examples of psychological
practice, it will be sufficient to focus the
enquiry around the practitioner-client dyad
(as is often the case in executive coaching).
In other forms of practice, several parties will
International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009 199
Does coaching psychology need the concept of formulation?
wish or be required to contribute (e.g. when
working with a team). In clarifying the role of
each stakeholder, it is important to identify:
Those who should play a role in
identifying key hypotheses and data
gathering.
The role that each party will play.
The investment that each party will be
expected to make in terms of time,
energy and resources, and their
willingness and ability to do so.
The way in which each party will be
initiated into the enquiry to ensure that a
sense of ownership is achieved.
4. Appreciating the wider context that gives
meaning to the Purpose and the way in which it
has come to be defined
Once the practitioner has clarified the ques-
tion to be explored, the expectations of key
stakeholders and the role that each party
wishes to play, they are able to make an ini-
tial decision to engage on the journey with
the client. However, deciding if they are the
right person to undertake that journey raises
a further set of considerations. In essence,
these focus on the context in which the
journey will happen and the practitioner’s
competencies to facilitate that journey.
Critical questions here include:
What does the client need to make it
possible for them to tell their story and
feel heard? Can you meet that need?
What type of client Purpose is best served
by your service context? Do you have a
match or mismatch in this particular case?
What boundaries do you place on the
Purpose of the work that would require
you to refer the client elsewhere? Should
the client be referred?
With whom would you not work and
where is the margin of that boundary?
Have you been able to define a shared
concern that fits within the identified
boundaries and is best served by working
with you rather than another
professional or profession?
Have you identified and understood the
position of other key stakeholders who
might be beneficiaries (or victims,
Checkland, 1989) of the intervention?
Once you have defined the Purpose of your
service you are in a position to explore the
Perspective which will inform the journey.
2. Perspective (What will inform our journey?)
As part of an agreed Purpose it is important
to be able to define what you bring to the
encounter. The Perspective component of
the Purpose, Perspective, Process model is
concerned with trying to understand those
factors that influence the expectations of,
and inform the journey for, both practi-
tioner and client. This includes the range of
explanations with which your professional
knowledge equips you (e.g. explanations
grounded within diagnostic and theoretical
Perspectives) as well as your beliefs about
that knowledge, your sense of what you do
well in relation to that knowledge and the
limits of your competence. However, clients
bring Perspectives of their own which will
inform the work and which must, therefore,
be given equal consideration in the enquiry
that follows. Engaging with these Perspec-
tives gives rise to questions such as:
What Perspectives are informing your
approach to the enquiry?
What Perspectives are informing the
client’s approach to the enquiry?
What are the beliefs (and prejudices)
that you each bring to the encounter?
Some journeys prescribe and proscribe
certain routes of investigation and
intervention. How do you ensure
coherence between your journey and the
journey of the client?
What do you do to ensure that the client
is able to explore their beliefs, knowledge
and competencies within the encounter?
Clarity about the Perspectives that underpin
our work and the ways in which we attempt
to engage our clients is vital. It enables us to
scrutinise those ideologies, assumptions
about human nature and beliefs relating to
the nature of evidence that are dominant in
the current climate and which also infiltrate
our work (with or without our knowledge).
200 International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009
David A. Lane & Sarah Corrie
From our reading of the literature, contem-
porary approaches to formulation within the
psychological professions are typically
informed by at least one of five key Perspec-
tives. These are as follows:
1. Formulation derived from diagnostic
classification
Formulation derived from, and built around,
a particular diagnosis is an approach that has
a long history in psychology. The most
obvious current influence lies with DSM and
ICD from which particular formulations of
distinct diagnostic profiles can then be con-
structed. The challenge facing those who use
these ‘medical models’ to classify disorders
and formulate intervention is to identify how
the client’s idiosyncratic story can be incor-
porated. However, in coaching psychology
we are frequently faced with diagnosis of
client issues based on psychometrics not of
their choosing in which managers or spon-
sors determine what is wrong or needs to be
fixed (what Jarvis, Lane & Fillery-Travis,
2006, call fixed agenda coaching).
2. The formulation of the scientist-practitioner
The formulation is viewed as an essentially
‘scientific’ or empirical enterprise and works
from the assumption that we can identify,
define and test hypotheses to arrive at an
accurate and useful explanation of the fac-
tors which are influencing the client’s
behaviour. The practitioner using this
approach must consider how it is possible to
use data from multiple sources to co-con-
struct formulations, and avoid the tempta-
tion to determine in advance what frame will
fit the client (see Cavanagh & Grant, 2006).
3. Formulation as a theoretically-driven story
Practitioners approaching formulation from
a distinct theoretical perspective, whichever
theory they prefer, need to identify how their
prior assumptions inform the task of formu-
lation. A significant challenge concerns how
our professionally sanctioned theories deter-
mine where the focus of change is located.
The issue of how our theories cause us to
notice and overlook particular aspects of the
client’s story has to be addressed. We can see
the benefits that the coherent use of a par-
ticular theory may bring (see, for example,
ICPR Special Issue on Positive Psychology, 2007)
but need to be aware of the narrowing
impact of any one stance (e.g. House &
Loewenthal, 2008).
4. Strategic formulation
A number of psychologists have adopted
‘forward looking’ approaches such as design,
systemic and solution-focused models which
challenge traditional models oriented
towards problems and analysing the influ-
encing process. While this is often seen as a
departure point between coaching and
therapy the distinction is far from clear
(Spinelli, 2008). The strategic approach
looks at the future and the strengths people
bring to achieve desired states. Here, ques-
tions arise about the justifications for, and
implications of, using this framework for for-
mulation. What, for example, is left out of
the client’s account, and what knowledge of
potential value held by the client and practi-
tioner is unavailable to use?
5. Formulation and its role as a means of social
control
Critiques of psychological approaches have
pointed to their role as a means of social
control in educational, clinical, forensic and
occupational settings. This debate which
ranges from the control of ethnic minorities
to the control of dangerous people presents
a critical challenge to the impact of our work
on the individual and society. To what extent
are we taking into account how our
approach to formulation reflects more
subtle belief systems and prejudices that pen-
etrate the professions in which we operate
and to what extent as coaches do we operate
for the benefit of the powerful (see for
example, Guilfoyle, 2008)?
Each of the five Perspectives listed above
favours an approach which provides a
rationale for choosing between interventions
International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009 201
Does coaching psychology need the concept of formulation?
and through which practitioners are able (at
least in principle) to demonstrate that strate-
gies based upon their formulations bring
about change. To give just one example, the
diagnostic Perspective assumes that diag-
nosis (or some forms of psychometrics or
360 evaluations) is a representation of some
‘real’ quality that can be measured.
We believe it is reasonable to assert that
regardless of the approach taken, it is impor-
tant to avoid squeezing the client into the
Perspective you prefer. The risk is that you
lose the essence of the person or context
within which your work together is hap-
pening. All practitioners, even where special-
ising in a single model (Perspective) applied
to a specific goal must have a means for
deciding whether their offer of service
makes sense for a particular client. Of course
there can, on occasion, be good reason for
specialising in offering a service from the
Perspective of one particular theory. As
research evidence highlights the contribu-
tion of specific ways of working to particular
kinds of difficulties, it makes sense that cer-
tain models will be used in preference to
others and that the process of exploration
may be shortened for very good reasons.
However, the critical issue is do we know
when and why we are foreshortening explo-
ration? Are we aware of what we are not
attending to as a result of framing an enquiry
in one way rather than another and the
implications of this for our clients?
3. Process (How will we get there?)
Once you have been able to define the Pur-
pose of your work and the Perspectives that
underpin it, then it is possible to structure a
process for the work that you and your client
intend to undertake. Without the Purpose
and Perspective defined, the Process
becomes a technical application uninformed
by psychology. Manualised interventions can
be effective and have provided substantial
benefit to many clients. However, we would
argue that they are based less on the client’s
own story, told in their own words, than they
are on one view of evidence and one view of
science which may lack the means to grasp
the innovative. Indeed, the context in which
practitioners work is often one which favours
improvement over innovation. For example,
many current initiatives in public health,
education and social service sectors quite
specifically seek to reduce complexity in pur-
suit of conformance with a protocol in the
belief that this is an indication of quality. Is
the same pressure appearing in coaching?
Quality systems in industry appeal to those
who want a reliable product or service rather
than an outstanding one (Lane, 2002).
Recent years have witnessed a consider-
able increase in this type of intervention in
both clinical and occupational work where a
product, skills training or 360 degree feed-
back is offered without understanding the
features of the learning journey of the client
(Lane, 1993). In such cases, a given proce-
dure is applied to a client based on a min-
imal definition of some aspect of their
behaviour (e.g. the linking of a 360 feedback
result to a specific intervention). Arguably,
the client as a person is absent, as is the psy-
chological investigation necessary to deter-
mine what is happening in the client’s life
that leads them to the point of change. In
this context, the key question becomes:
What Process (including any method or
tool) is necessary to ensure that the Purpose
is met within the constraints of the Perspec-
tives available to us?
Process is what happens as you work. It
refers to what an outsider, the client or the
sponsor could observe. Process is not of itself
a model, although often wrongly described as
such and thus a Process for working is con-
fused with the Perspectives which underpin it.
There are many step-based frameworks
available in the literature which provide a
structure to work with clients and a series of
questions to take clients through the steps.
In the clinical arena, these have appeared in
numerous treatment protocols as well as the
notion of ‘stepped care’ (see Bower &
Gilbody, 2005, for a review). In the coaching
arena Stout Rostron (2009) has identified a
series of generic question frameworks
202 International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009
David A. Lane & Sarah Corrie
ranging from two to 10 steps. The same
abundance can be found in step frameworks
for medical, clinical, forensic and occupa-
tional arenas, amongst others. Stout Ros-
tron, whose own research distinguishes
frameworks (architecture for the process)
and models (analogies about the world), has
identified a range of what she terms ‘stage
frameworks’ which can be useful for consid-
ering the architectural design of our own
approach to Process.
These frameworks represent a mere por-
tion of the stage and question frameworks
available in one small area of practice. How-
ever, although each framework (including
those based on protocols) has the potential
to add value, significant limitations to
thinking and action occur when they are
used as a short cut to formulation without
reference to the Perspective that sits behind
it and the Purpose for which it has been
developed. If we substitute the idea of
coaching as a stepwise process for one
involving individual formulation we gain a
great deal.
The Purpose, Perspective, Process
model: Implications for the future
It has been noted elsewhere that coaching
research, although increasing, does not yet
match the growth in coaching practice
(Linley, 2006). There remains a lack of well-
defined theory on which coaches base their
work (Global Convention on Coaching,
2008) and also a lack of consensus on the dis-
tinct skill-set of coaching psychologists (Ben-
nett, 2006). Although its role in coaching
psychology is yet to be fully determined, we
would argue that greater attention to formu-
lation will be a vital contributor to devel-
oping systematic approaches to practice in a
field that is highly diverse.
In the absence of a full discussion of the
benefits and limitations of a formulation-
driven approach, the aims of this paper have
been to raise awareness of some of the
debates and controversies surrounding for-
mulation, and to highlight ways of navigating
these debates more successfully for the ben-
efits of ourselves, our clients and the future
development of our profession. It is our view
that however we approach the task of
making sense of psychological puzzles, we
should be able to articulate the choices we
are making and to recognise the advantages
and disadvantages of choosing one approach
over another. Equally, the processes we use at
each stage of a psychological enquiry need to
be defined, or at least be capable of defini-
tion. Formulation helps us achieve this par-
ticular brand of rigour and should,
therefore, feature more clearly in the
teaching and practice of coaching psy-
chology, as part of our professional duty of
care. We argue that it is important to under-
stand the Perspective and Purpose that
underpin a powerful change Process if you
are offering yourself as a facilitator of
change.
However, in order to add something of
substantive value, formulation can and must
be consistent with a client partnership frame-
work into which it is possible to incorporate a
variety of theoretical positions and the dif-
ferent scales within which the coaching rela-
tionship happens. The Purpose (where are
we going and why?), Perspective (what will
inform our journey?) Process (how will we
get there?) model (Corrie & Lane, 2010) is
presented as one of a number of possible
approaches that might enable us to co-con-
struct more elegant, thought-provoking and
empowering psychological explanations that
can accommodate both the available evi-
dence-base and the client’s personal story.
However, it is only one of a number of
possible approaches so this leaves us with a
number of questions:
If formulation is to feature more widely
in the teaching and practice of coaching
psychology (which we suggest it should),
what other frameworks can be used to
enhance the distinct role that coaching
psychology might bring.
In the coaching context what questions
that remain unanswered from the
broader literate (such as utility as
opposed to accuracy) are important for
International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009 203
Does coaching psychology need the concept of formulation?
coaching psychology – are they the same
questions or will quire different issues
emerge.
Where might we look for alternative
frameworks especially as coaching
psychologists often grow their practice
from other disciplines, should those
disciplines provide starting points for the
debate? For example, occupational
psychologists often use the consultancy
cycle (identification of clients’ needs,
analysis, and formulation of solution,
implementation and evaluation) and
educational psychologists an assessment
cycle (see Lane & Corrie, 2006).
We invite readers to contribute to the debate
any other outstanding questions that the
wider use of the concept of formulation in
coaching psychology might generate.
Correspondence
David A. Lane
Professional Development Foundation,
21 Limehouse Cut,
46 Morris Road,
London E14 6NQ.
E-mail David.Lane@pdf.net
(corresponding author)
Sarah Corrie
Professional Development Foundation,
Deputy Programme Director,
Postgraduate Training Programmes in
Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy,
Central and North West London
NHS Foundation Trust,
Royal Holloway University of London.
E-mail: sarah.corrie@nhs.net
204 International Coaching Psychology Review Vol. 4 No. 2 September 2009
David A. Lane & Sarah Corrie
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