Grief to Acceptance: How Coaching Empowers Us

Oct 21, 2022

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

-Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler

What is Grief? Dr. Colleen Lightbody, MCC coach, neuroscientist, and Coacharya faculty member put it beautifully in this week’s webinar: “If you love, you’ll grieve.” Many people associate grief with the loss of a loved one but there are many kinds of grief such as loss of hopes and dreams, the loss of a job, or a significant life event such as divorce. When we lose someone or something, we also lose how we pictured ourselves within that context. As Colleen’s co-panelist, Tracy Brown said, even the idea of a future that has changed could create grief. This resonated deeply with me. It’s not just the tangible loss that affects us, it’s also everything else that is no longer the same without that person or that relationship.

Therapy and Coaching: Differences in Approach

Therapy focuses more on the past while coaching is about the ‘here and now.’ Dr. Colleen explained that “In a therapeutic process, the therapist is the expert. In grief coaching, the client is the expert.” As important as it is to understand this distinction, it also highlights one of the basic principles of coaching: client-centricity.

Time is also of the essence here. In the midst of deep pain, it is impossible for a person to think about moving forward or setting goals to counteract it. As Dr. Colleen said, coaching comes in when the client is ready and desires to get on their feet and move forward. Therapy is a more inward-looking process, while coaching is forward-looking. Both have their own value and significance.

Navigating Grief Through Coaching

What role do coaches play in helping a person move through grief?

Coaching is about holding a safe and compassionate space for the client. As Tracy, a PCC coach herself, pointed out, “There are times when these intense emotions show up during the coaching sessions. We have to know how to hold space for them.”

When one of the webinar attendees asked if the loss of one’s identity could also result in grief and how coaches work around it, Dr. Colleen aptly said that grief is a shift in identity. That’s where the role of a coach becomes even more significant. Coaches hold the space to help a person recreate and discover and center into that new identity in an empowered way, as she explained.

What Grief Coaching Is and Isn’t

The ability to think clearly and make tough decisions, or even engage in everyday activities, is naturally affected when a person is grieving. One of the most important aspects of grief coaching is that it doesn’t wish to change what a person feels. In fact, coaches empower clients by holding a space of non-judgment and unconditional positive regard to help them think and move through grief.

When Dr. Colleen cautioned that grief coaching is not about changing the person’s emotional experience, Tracy made a great observation: “If we’re trying to change their experience, we’re not accepting the experience as it is.”

For a person dealing with a loss, for someone already in an overwhelming amount of pain, it can be extremely difficult to say what they feel. Coaches help people navigate tough conversations and to deal with what comes next by being present for them. The coach is not rescuing the client, but as Dr. Collen put it, it is about coaching their thinking and processing, not death or grief.

My Takeaway

The biggest learning for me from this webinar is how, by just being present for someone, coaches walk side by side with a client to help them build a future that seems impossible in the face of a loss. Just as how grieving is different for different people, the approaches used in coaching also differ from person to person. The unique aspect of grief coaching is that it does not use a cut-and-dried technique. Coaches improvise the conversation based on what the client is feeling. Thus, respecting a person’s experience and emotions.

I encourage you to watch this session if you’ve experienced grief, or you’d like to learn a bit about grief coaching.

Webinar: Grief to Acceptance How Coaching Empowers Us

Like to listen instead? We have a podcast!

This session is also available as audio-only on our podcast. Listen below or find Coach to Lead wherever you listen to podcasts.

Yamini Kandpal
Yamini Kandpal


Yamini Kandpal works as a Content Specialist at Coacharya. With a background in writing and editing as part of journalism, she has found her own corner in the stories of the coaching world. While away from work, you can find her traveling or scribbling her musings in a notebook.

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