Research Foundations of Embodiment Coaching
Major developments in biology and philosophy in the 20th century have resulted in “ontology,” or “the study of being,” providing a deeply grounded view of human life. This is the basis of a rigorous, substantive, robust, and accessible theoretical framework for the development of professional coaches.
Fernando Flores was a key figure in the formation of the discipline of ontological coaching. It took shape in his multidisciplinary doctoral thesis at Berkeley, “Management and Communication in the Office of the Future.” He consolidated the ideas of Humberto Maturana, Martin Heidegger, and John Searle, among others, to produce a new understanding of language and communication. This work was later taken on and made accessible by his colleague, Julio Olalla, the founder of Newfield Network.
Maturana and “Structural Determinism”
Maturana was a neuro-physiologist who demonstrated through a series of experiments that humans and other living systems were “structurally determined.” This meant that it was their internal structure that determined their reaction to events rather than the events themselves. In one experiment, he surgically rotated the eye of a frog by 180 degrees. When a fly appeared in front of the left side, the frog stuck out his tongue to the right side to try to catch it. This was because the “internal wiring” of the frog was misaligned. To illustrate the principle, when you stick a key in the car ignition, the engine roars to life. However, when you stick the same key in the car door, it swings open. Exactly the same external stimulus produces completely different responses depending on the internal structure of the system being stimulated. In the same way, when someone says, “The exam is making me nervous; the exam is simply activating my circuitry.”
Maturana emphasised that structural determinism did not mean that humans and other living creatures could not change their reactions. He found that neuronal systems have plasticity and can change. As the nervous system changes, so does the way the organism perceives reality, and this changes the actions the organism takes.
The relevance of these key ideas to ontological coaching is that the client is limited by how he is observing his world and that problems, possibilities, and solutions exist in the “eye of the beholder.”
John Searle and Speech Acts
At the same time, a major development was taking place in Western philosophy known as the “linguistic turn,” led by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gustav Bergman, and others – the view that language is not an inert way of describing reality. According to this new theory, language “constitutes reality.” When someone spills ink on himself and thinks, “This is a disaster,” the language of the observation is itself the reality that is created. This had a strong linkage to Maturana’s work because, if language itself was in the “eye of the beholder,” then problems, possibilities, and solutions must lie in the way language is used.
John Searle, a professor of philosophy at Berkeley, synthesised earlier groundbreaking research on language by G.C.J. Midgley, P.F. Strawson, John Rawls, H. Paul Grice, William Alston, and, in particular, John Austin, the professor of moral philosophy at Oxford. Searle wrote the book, Speech Acts, in 1969, which laid down the distinctions in the different ways that language could be used and abused to empowerd or limit the user’s ability to create the results desired. “Speech Acts” was later developed into “Basic Linguistic Acts,” a fundamental model used in ontological coaching.
Martin Heidegger and Being and Time
German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s book, Being and Time, is considered one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century. In it Heidegger explored what it meant to be a “being,” a subject considered so obvious that it had never really been explored. He concluded that a “being” was something that “experienced” or interpreted the world. He also emphasised the importance of moods in our interpretive existence when he said: “The foundation of any interpretation is an act of understanding, which is always accompanied by a state-of-mind, or in other words, which has a mood.” He felt that moods were a “predisposition for action.” The mood one is in determines what actions one can or cannot take. Based on the work of Heidegger and the even more famous philosopher, Nietzche, a model called “Basic Moods of Life” has been developed by Newfield and is used by coaches to help clients develop new ways of interpreting events and generating new, more effective habits.
Julio Olalla and Newfield
Julio Olalla had served in the Chilean government of President Salvador Allende before a coup sprung by the military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, forced him to flee to Argentina. Olalla later moved to America and studied with many great thinkers to develop the theoretical framework for Ontological Coaching. In order to take ontological coaching to the widest possible audience, Julio set up one of the first professional coaching schools in the world, The Newfield Network, where the work has continuously been refined and developed.
Read more on the page History of Coaching.
Youtube, Julio Olalla:
ICF Keynote Speech: Our Unique Observer in the World – Julio Olalla
Find more videos on the page Free Inspiration.