Skip to main content

Psychological Safety in Coaching – Melissa Lapides

Psychological Safety in Coaching


In recent years, the coaching industry has experienced significant expansion, with more and more  individuals and organisations seeking coaches to help them achieve their personal and professional goals.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), which did the largest study on the industry, reports the coaching industry is the second-fastest growing sector in the world and was predicated to reach a value of $20B by 2022.

Experts predict this will grow with an average yearly growth rate of 6.7% and this trend was proven. In 2019, the coaching market size was estimated at $15B and about half, $7.5B, of that market value was within the United States.

There is clearly a huge opportunity for coaches to create massive impact and income right from the comfort of their homes in this fast-growing field and these offer exciting financial projections for both the industry and for coaches growing their businesses, but, as we navigate the challenges of an ever-changing world, it has become increasingly clear that emotional and mental well-being are also crucial components of success. 

This means conscious coaches are looking to take extra care to create an environment that fosters psychological safety for their clients.

The question is, as the industry grows, how do we ensure it stays as psychologically safe as possible?

The coaching industry has enormous potential to positively influence the collective mental health and personal growth of individuals.

Many individuals seek out coaches to focus on a variety of topics, including finances, business, life, and relationships, with the primary goal of assisting individuals in finding their own strengths and abilities to overcome areas where they feel stuck, thereby helping them progress toward their goals. By leveraging their expertise, coaches can empower individuals to achieve their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

While coaches play a critical role in helping their clients achieve their goals, move through challenges, and improve their overall well-being, a high number of people seeking coaching services have experienced trauma at some point in their lives, whether it be from abuse, neglect or other challenging experiences.

As a result, extending the level of care and ethics around trauma-informed coaching in coaching is a key element for success for clients and coaches alike.

Why is this necessary in coaching?

Most people will, at some point, reveal or exhibit the source of some of their pain. Whilst this may not be what’s on the agenda to work with, it equips coaches with the necessary understanding and skills to navigate trauma-related issues safely and effectively. They will be meeting these symptoms of trauma and although they won’t be working with them directly, by recognising the signs of trauma, creating a supportive environment, and assessing their own scope of practice, coaches can ensure the well-being of their clients and provide appropriate referrals for mental health support when needed. This approach promotes healing, and professional collaboration, empowers clients, and fosters a sense of safety and trust in the coaching relationship.

What is trauma-informed coaching?

Trauma-informed coaching is a way of working with individuals that recognises the ways trauma can impact their lives and seeks to create a safe and supportive environment for them where the coach takes into account the individual’s unique experiences and needs. This means they can work in a truly collaborative way with their client to develop strategies and tools that suit the needs of the individual and be equipped to to recognise the symptoms of trauma and how that may show up in the clients’ life or business.

Being trauma-informed also means recognising scope of practice and knowing why, when and how  to refer out safely to another professional. Trained coaches who follow their code of ethics from awarding bodies are aware of this scope but as an unregulated industry, there are many who are not and perpetuate harm as a result.

Creating a safe environment

As already mentioned, one the most crucial aspects of trauma-informed coaching is being able to create a safe and supportive environment. This means having awareness around triggers and potential trauma-related issues that their clients may experience; not just for the clients but even more importantly, for triggers and trauma-related issues the coach may experience in the space.

Understanding about transference and counter-transference is key to understanding what can happen between client and coach and why and working to create a space that is free from judgment, criticism, or pressure means that a safe space is always held.

Trauma-informed coaches are able to attune to their client’s needs and be responsive to them, providing validation, empathy and support as needed. 

Another critical aspect of trauma-informed coaching is the importance of informed consent; explaining to their clients what trauma-informed coaching entails and discussing how best to support them during the coaching process.

 It’s another essential element to ensure that clients know they have the agency and autonomy to decide what feels safe and comfortable for them and to make that explicit so that the boundaries are clear on both sides and the relationship can progress in a healthy and respectful manner.

Trauma-informed coaches are trained to understand how trauma can impact an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical health, as well as their ability to form and maintain healthy relationships, including a coaching relationship. They are also able to recognise the more subtle signs and symptoms of trauma-related issues and be equipped to address them as they arise.

How trauma can show up with clients


Avoidance, Resistance or Emotional Numbness: Trauma may manifest in a coaching client as avoidance, denial or resistance to certain topics, questions or explorations. They may avoid discussing or exploring particular areas of their life which are relevant but may be associated with the trauma they have experienced- or anything that may trigger memories of it. This can be challenging for a non-trauma-informed coach to know how to approach the client in a way that won’t create more harm. It’s important to never “push” clients through avoidance or resistance.

Hyperarousal: Trauma may also show up in a coaching client as hyperarousal, which means they may be anxious, alert and constantly on edge. They may have difficulty taking in the information and guidance and that may make them even more anxious. This can affect their ability to move forward as their nervous system is indicating the need to be regulated before they can retain the information and take any new action around it. A trauma-informed coach is able to help the client to regulate, allow the space and time needed for the client to be fully coachable as well as working on any regulation of self that may be needed.

Emotional Dysregulation: Trauma can also lead to emotional dysregulation, where a coaching client may experience intense and unpredictable emotions or reactions in or outside of the coaching space. They may have difficulty managing their emotions, which may lead to outbursts of anger, sadness, or anxiety. This can affect their relationships, work, businesses, and overall well-being. It can also make it challenging for them to focus on their goals and stay motivated.

Physical Symptoms: Trauma can manifest in physical symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, or gastrointestinal issues. These symptoms may be related to the trauma itself, or they may be a result of the client’s attempts to cope with the trauma. Take any possibility of implicit unprocessed trauma into consideration when working with a client who is experiencing many physical symptoms. 

Lack of Trust: Trauma can cause a coaching client to struggle with trusting others, including their coach. They may have difficulty opening up and being vulnerable. This can link into the resistance mentioned as they may also be hesitant to receive and allow support even though they are asking for it – and paying for it. This can make it challenging for both client and coach and trauma-informed coach will be equipped to understand how to establish a deeper rapport with the client to create the safe and supportive coaching environment the client needs.

Finally, coaches need to follow a strong ethical framework to guides their work with clients. Professionally trained coaches do have these guidelines from their awarding bodies and will follow them. Many conscious and responsible coaches will be keen to add trauma-informed training to their skillset, but many who are untrained don’t have any guidelines and do not consider these areas to be of much importance.

This is where the danger lurks for the clients and this can look like unethical coaching practice, unsafe conversations, harmful or manipulative sales and marketing methods and a lack of professional boundaries and inclusivity.

A client’s best interests are always the primary focus and a trauma-informed approach offers transparency about qualifications, prices and experience, as well as being clear about approaches to working with clients who have experienced trauma.  

In conclusion, trauma-informed coaching is essential for coaches who work with individuals whether trauma knowledge is explicit or not so that coaches can help their clients to heal, succeed and achieve their goals in a safe, empowering way.

Ultimately, trauma-informed coaching can have a profoundly positive impact on the lives of those who have experienced trauma, providing them with the tools and support they need to move forward and thrive.

SafeSpace™ Institute is passionate about sharing the tools of therapeutic approaches and offers a comprehensive experiential year-long Trauma-Informed Coaching Certification that equips coaches with the knowledge and tools to understand the unique needs of their client’s mental health.