Meet the Coach: Shelley Silas
What attracted you to become a coach?
During the pandemic I had an existential crisis. My work all but stopped, I had no idea what to do or what my life meant any more. I started questioning everything I had done and after much anxiety and thanks to my wife’s suggestion, I took an introductory course in Existential Coaching at the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (NSPC). My wife was training there as an existential psychotherapist, and our conversations were rich and challenging. I don’t come from a philosophy background, so it was all new to me.
I told myself I would not enjoy the workshop and there was no way I could commit to two years and I would definitely never write another essay. I did the workshop, surprisingly, the material all made sense, and it seemed the right approach for where I was in my life.
I knew it would be hard, but I signed up. I have no regrets.
Where did you train?
I am in my final year of an MA in Existential Coaching at the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (accredited by Middlesex University). I also have an MA in Creative Writing (UEA), a BA in English (Birkbeck) and a Drama Diploma (Mountview Theatre School).
What kind of coaching do you offer?
I offer existential coaching, grounded in existential philosophy. I don’t work with a template or set of rules, however, if a client wants help with time management or to assist with a specific issue around finding space, I will work with them on a plan.
I don’t come to the work with a pre-conceived design, but see what the client brings to sessions and work with them, alongside them. My work is non-directive – I don’t tell the client what to do. I believe it’s best for the client to work out their own way forward, with my support and approach. Why would I want to make that lightbulb moment happen, when it is far better, exciting and more empowering for the client to make that connection themselves?
How does existential coaching help people with anxiety, stress, feelings of stuckness?
I have found existential coaching to be a fresh approach when working in a variety of areas, including those I mention above. Often, having someone to listen and a safe space to talk freely, with no interruption, is all it takes. In holding that space, breakthroughs can happen.
We all experience some kind of transition most of the time, whether personal or professional. We grow older and our bodies and minds change, our likes and dislikes alter, our friends come and go, our children leave home or we approach older age childless or childfree, our ageing parents need us, and we often become stuck. What does our life mean? I look at anxiety as a signal for change, time to explore, to do it differently.
It’s not easy. Holding the space and seeing what emerges between the client and coach, holding the experience in that moment forms part of the work. Together we can create a shift and create change. “Talking it out,” is how a client described it, without me trying to fix it (because I can’t) or offering solutions (which I won’t because it’s the client’s life, not mine).
Sitting in discomfort can be hard. It can also open the way forward and be rewarding.
What sort of coaching clients do you usually see?
I offer an introductory session to see whether we are a good fit, and whether we can work together. This is best for the coach and client as we are entering into a relationship which requires trust, safety and confidentiality in what I hope will be a creative journey together.
My interests include diversity, ageing, anxiety, LGBTQ+. I am inclusive, and welcome any clients who are interested in my approach.
While I currently work online, I hope to be able to offer an in person practice in the near future. It’s definitely worthwhile meeting your prospective coach before you say yes, face-to-face online, or in-person if the space is available.
I believe it’s important for the coach to find out what kind of coaching a prospective client wants and then be upfront about whether they are appropriate for the client’s needs. It’s a responsibility I take seriously.
Do you ever suggest books or other materials to clients?
If asked, I might suggest something suitable. It’s not always a good idea, as what works for me might trigger something different in someone else. It’s a delicate area, and one I only offer with a great deal of thought and consideration.
What do you like about being a coach?
There’s not a great deal not to like. I’ve always enjoyed working collaboratively and being a coach is very much a co-creation. I meet interesting people and have had some extraordinary conversations, none of which I can repeat here! When a client makes a breakthrough and I witness it, it’s a moment of great joy. This is why the client has to create their own lightbulb moment, not me.
It’s a constant learning process for me and for the client. I find the amount of trust clients have in me, right from a first session is astonishing. Trust, safety and confidentiality are all imperative to a coaching practice. I come away from sessions with more experience and understanding.
What is less pleasant?
I sometimes feel a client wants a quick fix and when I can’t give that, I worry that my work is inadequate. It’s not like going shopping and emerging with the desired purchase. It takes time for the relationship to build and for changes to take place. We all have imposter syndrome at some point. I recently took on a new client and found myself wondering would I be able to help, what if I forgot all my training, the what ifs just kept coming. I think it’s a sign I’m checking up on myself, ensuring I am on top of it all and never assuming I have the answers. I definitely do not know it all and I welcome not-knowing, being open to finding out with the client.
At other times, when I see a client experiencing a really difficult time and we can’t find a way to ease the situation, that can be hard. I need to sit with it just as they do.
What is one life lesson you try to live by?
Listen to others, the way you want others to listen to you. Hearing, really hearing, what others have to say can make all the difference. Often we don’t need to respond, but to be there, in the room, on the phone, in an online session and listen. Next time you speak to someone see if they are really listening to you without offering solutions.
I realised soon after starting my training that most people do not really listen and I know I have been that person too. Clients often say that they’ve never had anyone listening in the way I do. It’s a huge part of the coaching practice.
What do you wish people knew about coaching?
There are so many different kinds of coaching and so many coaches. It’s best to find the approach and coach who works in a way that is accessible for you. Unlike many therapy practices, coaching can be short-term for a fixed-period or open-ended.
There are executive coaches, life coaches, sports coaches, nutritional coaches, the list goes on. Existential coaching, while closest to life coaching, is not a one-size-fits-all approach and is very different to other methods, because there’s a grey area between existential psychotherapy and existential coaching and sometimes people see coaching as therapy-light. I am not a therapist, but the approach and philosophy I use is based on the same training as the psychotherapy students at the NSPC.
It’s really important for me to be myself, not a glossy version of the woman on the website, because that is generally not me (though I do scrub up well). Being honest and authentic is vital to my practice and my life.
Do you have a favourite client testimonial or particular success story?
No favourites. Here are two testimonials.
“Your unconditional acceptance and no nonsense approach really helped me become less defensive and more open to others. I really value you as a human and I feel lucky to have met you!”
“I’m very happy to have met Shelley, who has challenged me to look at what I am taking on, my self view and why I can’t say no! She also helped me to realise the lack of credit I give myself for the work I do. These challenges enabled me to break down some self-imposed barriers and to take action. I value her experience and knowledge. It has been very useful to discuss where I am, acknowledge it and realise the value of now.”