Understanding the SIBAM Model for Whole Person Coaching

Jun 12, 2023

To be great, be whole; Exclude nothing, exaggerate nothing that is not you. Be whole in everything. Put all you are Into the smallest thing you do. So, in each lake, the moon shines with splendor Because it blooms up above.

Fernando Pessoa, Poet

When we coach the whole person, we hold space for a client in such a way that they feel fully seen, accepted, and valued. We acknowledge them as complex beings, recognizing that we are all shaped by various internal and external factors, including identity, context, culture, and beliefs. We are curious about their thoughts, feelings, self-expression, perceptions, values, and worldview, understanding that these factors significantly shape clients’ choices and actions.

By exploring these aspects of their subjective experience, we create an opportunity for the client to navigate and make meaning of their situation in more expanded ways. By moving beyond the fixation on their current situations and the urge for quick solutions, clients can develop a deeper awareness of themselves within the context of their experience, often uncovering hidden beliefs that may be influencing their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Despite the importance of acknowledging and exploring the unique qualities of each client, sometimes coaches, feeling under pressure to perform, become attached to the outcome, inadvertently overlooking the person in front of them. Of course, goals are essential to the coaching process. Still, we risk neglecting the ‘Who’ of the client— their unique being — when we only focus on the ‘What,’ of their challenge or ‘problem statement”. Balancing the “Who” and the “What” takes coaching presence, which requires intention and attention, which we’ll look at next.

Coaching Presence

Presence is pivotal to whole-person coaching, but it’s not a passive role. Consider the first ICF PCC maker for presence; Coach acts in response to the whole person of the client (the who). The wording of this marker underscores that we, as coaches, intentionally pay attention to the whole client, not just the words they present to us. And this attentiveness doesn’t just extend to our thoughts while coaching.  Presence requires us to be aware of what is happening within us, either when clients are navigating strong emotions or when we start noticing that we are pulling toward a solution.

The Coacharya SET model (sensations, emotions, thoughts) supports this approach by expanding the exploration beyond cognitive processing to include physical sensations and emotions. In the following section, we will introduce another model to help us further broaden SET, enabling a comprehensive exploration of a client’s inner world and unique relationship with their experiences.


Peter Levine, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and the developer of Somatic Experiencing®, came up with a model that he describes as representing the subjective experience from the perspective of the person experiencing it. This model uses the acronym SIBAM to explore the five components that build a complete experience.


These interconnected components contribute to our overall experience and understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Here is a brief description of each element, with a focus on their relevance to coaching:


Sensations are the physical experiences that we perceive as bodily sensations. They serve as the initial cues that inform us about what is happening within our physical being in response to external or internal stimuli. These encompass a wide range of physical experiences, such as pressure, warmth, tightness, tingling, lightness, or heaviness in different parts of the body. In addition to muscles and soft tissues, sensations include other bodily processes such as heart rate, breathing patterns, blood flow, dizziness, and our awareness of our body and its position in space. Sensations can serve as powerful cues that indicate underlying emotions or patterns of tension and relaxation. By tuning into sensations, clients can gain insights into their physical reactions, expanding their self-awareness and further informing their choices.


Although the name may suggest it, images are not limited to visual images alone but refer to all sense impressions, including sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. These images can take various forms, such as memories, visualizations, or imagination. By exploring imagery, and the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures in the mind’s eye, additional context and information are available to help shape our understanding of our experiences. Powerful metaphors and other symbols can also emerge, which could help evoke awareness at a deeper level.

When exploring images in coaching, we would focus on the here and now rather than the past, exploring what the client is noticing in the present moment as they contemplate a challenge. Moreover, imagery can empower clients to vividly visualize their desired future outcomes.


Behavior involves observable behaviors, habits, patterns, and verbal and non-verbal expressions and responses. In the context of the SIBAM model within coaching, we specifically refer to the observable behavior within the coaching session. This includes the client’s immediate verbal and non-verbal expressions and gestures and any changes in their physical patterns and sensations that the coach may notice in the present moment. For example, the coach might observe the client’s face suddenly flushing, a catch in their breath, or a shift downward in their seat. By noticing these cues and, with the client’s consent, respectfully sharing them with the client, coaches can invite them to explore further, expanding their awareness of their internal state. It’s important to note that the behavior observed in the coaching session is distinct from the behavior clients exhibit outside of the coaching session, which would rely on the client’s memory and fall into the realms of thoughts or meaning-making.


According to the APA, affect is “any experience of feeling or emotion, ranging from suffering to elation, from the simplest to the most complex sensations of feeling… both mood and emotion are considered affective states. Along with cognition and conation, affect is one of the three traditionally identified components of the mind.”

Our affect shapes our overall state of being, which often influences how we respond, internally and externally, to various situations, which governs our interactions with others. Although affect includes a wide range of emotions, it goes beyond simply labeling emotion. It emphasizes the felt sense of our emotional states, which is the nuanced experience of how we feel emotions.  According to Dr. Levine, the felt sense is how we understand all sensations, in essence, capturing our total experience in any given moment.

Want to experience a felt sense of a felt sense? Imagine walking through a forest and suddenly coming across a clearing. Sunlight streams through the leaves, creating a dappled effect on the grass. Butterflies flit around, criss crossing each other, while birds sing and a gentle breeze brushes across your cheeks and nostrils, carrying the scent of meadows and wildflowers. As you continue, you arrive at a serene pond and dip your toes into the refreshingly cool water. Take a moment to reflect on the feelings arising within you. You may experience warmth in your heart space and notice your muscles softening. Maybe a smile forms across your face. Whatever you feel, this overall experience and its impact on you exemplify the felt sense in this example.


This aspect of the model involves the language we use to express the significance and understanding of an experience. It is shaped by the components of the SIBAM model – Sensations, Images, Behavior, and Affect. Meaning is the process through which we comprehend and make sense of life events, relationships, and our sense of self. It involves interpreting the world by constructing meaning from the things and events we encounter and engage with. This process entails attaching narratives and labels to our sensations, images, behaviors, and emotions, which are heavily influenced by our past knowledge and experiences. The meanings we create significantly shape how we perceive and interact with the world.

It is important to recognize that the meanings we generate are not fixed or conclusive; they are open to the possibility of new definitions. When working with clients using the SIBAM framework, for instance, exploring the sensations they experience as they contemplate an upcoming situation and recognizing their impact on their affect and behaviors can facilitate the creation of new, more empowering meanings.

The aspects of SIBAM interrelate and are ideally a fluid and integrated response to present moment experience. They give us information about our environment that is meaningful for mapping out the world “out there” in an adaptive way.

In a coaching context, we can facilitate exploration of these aspects with our clients and mindfully tune into our present-moment responses. As we navigate the coaching conversation, SIBAM can help us be acutely aware of our sensations, the images our mind generates, our behavior, the emotions we’re experiencing, and the meanings we are attributing.

An Example

This situation is a compilation of several coaching sessions, combining elements from different client experiences to respect the confidentiality and privacy of the individuals involved.

A client faces a challenge where she often feels misunderstood during team meetings.  She thinks that others are dismissive when she expresses her point of view. Additionally, she finds it frustrating when she doesn’t receive clear answers to her questions and perceives a lack of support from others when they remain silent. Recently, a colleague mentioned that she appeared aggressive, and her manager pulled her aside to check if everything was alright.  This situation concerns the client as she is actively seeking a promotion and worries that these misunderstandings may hinder her progress. However, she’s also feeling frustrated because she feels like communication, in general, is an issue in her organization and that she is being singled out. As a result, she brings this issue to her next coaching session to explore the factors affecting her communication and develop a plan to move forward.

During the coaching session, the coach proposes an exercise to the client, inquiring if she is willing to visualize her upcoming team meeting, which, like previous meetings, will be conducted on Zoom. Drawing upon the SIBAM framework, the coach invites the client to immerse herself in the visualization, paying attention to how she will sit and even how she and the others will look and sound in the virtual space (Images).

While engaging in the visualization exercise, the coach invites the client to share her observations and reflections. The client reveals that one particular Zoom square stands out to her, appearing more prominent than the other squares. This square belongs to a colleague whom she admires and looks up to. As the client explains her connection to this colleague, the coach notices a tightness in the client’s voice (Behavior). Recognizing this as an opportunity for exploration, the coach shares this observation and asks the client to describe what she is experiencing. The client expresses a feeling of unease (Affect), and the coach invites her to explore how that unease is felt in her body (Sensations). The client reveals that her pulse is racing, and she feels a heaviness in her chest. She also notices that she has been unconsciously making fists with her hands (Behavior).

Through this exploration, the client gains a profound understanding of the underlying dynamics influencing her communication challenges. She realizes that her desire to impress a particular colleague has heightened her sensitivity to perceived criticism and compromised her ability to express herself authentically (New meaning). The client becomes aware of the connection between her physical sensations, and the need for approval, leading to frustration when she falls short of her own expectations.

This newfound insight empowers her to recognize her role in the organizational communication dynamics and take ownership of her next steps. By engaging with the SIBAM framework and delving into the elements of sensations, images, behaviors, affect, and meaning, the client arrives at a deeper understanding of herself and the factors influencing her communication challenges. This understanding allows her to create a new meaning that enables her to proactively address the issues instead of feeling disempowered.

The coach invites the client to reimagine the meeting, this time from a perspective of expressing herself authentically and in the way she wants to be understood. The client visualizes herself confidently and clearly communicating her thoughts and feelings, as well as asking questions in an inviting manner. They also explore strategies that may help her manage any triggers that may arise during the meeting.

Tracy Brown
Tracy Brown


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