I don’t like the sun

***As a coaching psychologist, I am sometimes paid to coach an employee on sick leave. This post describes a session where I had also invited a HR representative of the employer. I witnessed a tense conversation between her and my coachee, reflecting a conflict of interest. At first I tried to stay in the shadows, to just observe. After thinking about it for a while, I supported my coachee.***

Even though it was the middle of the day, there was little light in the large back room. It had a cozy atmosphere, quiet, with dark wood on the floor and lower part of the walls. My coachee sat in the middle of the leather couch, her feet barely touching the floor. She had the pleasant round face of a woman of color who may have been extroverted and cheerful, but didn’t show it now. We both looked through the sliding doors of the front room and saw the sunlight and a patch of blue sky in the tall windows overlooking the canal. ‘I don’t like the sun’, she said, ‘but you already know that, don’t you?’.

Maybe I was like her because mostly I prefer to be in the background, in the shadows you might say. She looked me in the eye and thanked me for sticking up for her two months ago. She referred to a three-person session, also in this room, in which a representative from her employer participated. Who also paid me as a coaching psychologist for a burnout recovery treatment for my coachee. The challenge was that everyone in the room knew my coachee probably didn’t want to go back to her job and the company didn’t really want her back either. However, it was not easy to be honest about this.

There was a conflict of interest between employer and employee about the duration of the sick leave. When would my coachee feel healthy enough to terminate the employment contract? The representative said she had my coachee’s best interests at heart. My coachee said she was doing better, but boldly added that she needed more time to recover. And not necessarily to return to her old job, although she did not rule that out (for strategic reasons). I sat back and observed how the experienced representative tried to influence my coachee.

My coachee dropped her shoulders and turned her feet inwards. I watched and remembered her stories about how her stubborn mother used to treat her. How she stopped the quiet, obedient 10-year-old girl from choosing a life path that suited her nature. Meanwhile, her employer’s representative pushed for an earlier termination date. She said it was in my coachee’s best interest to move on with her life. When I kept my mouth shut at that moment, my face started to glow. As I waited a little longer, I felt like I was holding on to a branch with both hands, knowing I had to let go and drop myself into what was beginning to look like a battlefield. When I landed in my role as a pro, I interrupted and took charge. Both looked at me as I restored balance by siding with the weaker person at the time, my coachee.

My coachee showed her strong adult side again and the three-way conversation returned to the informative and polite exchange it usually is. Somehow this event turned out to be a turning point, in the weeks that followed my coachee started to stand up for herself more. She remembered the lessons she had once learned from her cheerful father. Her dormant ability to connect with her intuition began to show itself again in our sessions. And step by step she regained hope for her future and said goodbye to her old and now useless survival strategies.

During the sessions I sometimes engaged in self-mockery as a role model for accepting my own limitations. At those moments she really started to laugh, almost rolled off the couch onto the floor and looked at me with big, bright eyes. Then she really showed the life energy, daring and fun side of herself, perhaps comparable to her adored extroverted father.

Weeks later I thought of the last words of her written review, perhaps her new mantra, inspired by her memory of her father. “I have more confidence to blaze my own path instead of walking the path of others or walking the path other people think is safer.” I pictured her sitting on the couch in my practice, happy, enjoying herself, looking through the high window at the sunlight glistening on the canal and the merry tourists passing by.

1 thought on “I don’t like the sun”

  1. Interesting, and beautifully described. Seems like a tough spot to find yourself in, paid by one party but knowing and feeling you have to stand up for the other at that time.
    And I love how she finally feels like she can blaze her own trail!


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