Coaching Behind Bars: An afternoon with Clare McGregor

Liz Gooster and Helen Duguid
01st June 2016

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Coaching Behind Bars

‘Powerful, brave, passionate and life-changing’. That’s how Liz Gooster and Helen Duguid describe Clare McGregor and her work coaching in prisons. Find out more about Clare’s talk.

Clare McGregor was nothing short of inspirational. The work she does coaching people in prisons came across as bold, challenging and fulfilling in equal measures. The environment of captivity is one that few of us will have experienced – and I imagine there are not many coaches who have been accidentally locked inside a women’s prison, as Clare has! Yet despite the very dissimilar context and the outwardly worlds-apart situations of the clients, what was even more striking than the differences were the synchronicities of what Clare does and what many in the Meyler Campbell community do.

Clare’s approach is coaching at its purest, its most intense and its most effective. She lays out clear boundaries – we’ll meet for three sessions, it’s confidential, it’s not about the crimes you may have committed or the sentences you’ve received, it’s about helping you identify what you want to change and empowering you to change your life. She treats her clients as peers and equals - and in doing so, she acts as a positive disruption by challenging the rigid hierarchies of prisons. She guillotines her way through the chaos of people’s lives and asks them ‘what do you want to change?’ and ‘what’s holding you back?’. Working with clients’ values and strengths, she encourages them to go where their energy is and begin to visualise and plan different futures for themselves. By talking hypothetically, Clare gets the conversation swerving around the very real obstacles that are present for her clients, and through small steps, sets them on a very different path. She approaches her work with breathtaking clarity, focus and belief in the process and we were both struck by the overlap in the methodologies she uses and those we teach on the Meyler Campbell programmes, such as the GROW model, Nancy Kline’s thinking environment, goal-setting, contracting, listening, questioning ...

Clare’s clients are in an extreme situation: they are physically incarcerated. Yet many of our corporate clients are also in a prison of their own making: not in the boardroom, but in their minds. They have created and solidified limiting beliefs and counter-productive habits. By listening hard and asking incisive questions we can help them unearth and unpick their assumptions, enabling them to move towards their goals and create a different future for themselves and their organisations. Similarly, Clare describes her work as not about stopping reoffending but about helping people change what they want. We took away a sense of Clare and her work as powerful, brave, passionate and life-changing. We might not all aspire to work in prisons, but we could all aspire to bring more of those qualities to our own coaching work.

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