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Most skills needed by successful practitioners can be introduced in training but really are learned on the job with the help of a coach.  Coaches not only expand the knowledge and skills taught in training, they also impart craft knowledge (e.g., engagement, ethics, managing work flow, clinical judgment).

Coaching needs to be work based, opportunistic, readily available, and reflective (e.g., debriefing discussions). Spouse (2001) described four main roles of a coach:

  • Supervision
  • Teaching while engaged in practice activities
  • Assessment and feedback
  • Provision of emotional support

After a few decades of research on training teachers, Joyce & Showers (2002) began to think of training and coaching as one continuous set of operations designed to produce actual changes in the classroom behavior of teachers. One without the other is insufficient. Behavior change is difficult for most people (for example, some people hire personal coaches to help them exercise more or change their eating behavior or stop smoking). With newly learned behavior there are several simultaneous problems that must be faced:

  • Newly-learned behavior is crude compared to performance by a master practitioner.
  • Newly-learned behavior is fragile and needs to be supported in the face of reactions from consumers and others in the service setting.
  • Newly-learned behavior is incomplete and will need to be shaped to be most functional in a service setting.

In addition to helping to establish new behavior in the clinical environment, emotional and personal support is another role for a coach (Spouse, 2001). In human services, practitioners are the intervention. Evidence-based practices and programs inform when and how they interact with consumers and stakeholders but it is the person (the practitioner) who delivers the intervention through his or her words and actions. In the transactional interplay between practitioner and consumer, each affects the other in complex ways.

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