The ADAPT practicum, as the word practicum implies, put more emphasis on experiential learning. Where the pre-practicum equipped us with foundational knowledge, the practicum was designed to put that knowledge into practice.
One of the most important skills for a health coach to develop is the ability to attract clients. This is especially important for a new health coach, who does not yet have a base of word-of-mouth referrals to draw from.
From the start of the practicum, we were left pretty much on our own to find practice clients with no stipulation as to whether or not we should charge money or offer free sessions. I initially planned to charge a modest sum of $20 per session, but when faced with the difficulties of finding clients, I decided to offer my sessions free of charge.
It was really difficult to find practice clients. Which is something that I remain concerned about as I transition into establishing a paid coaching practice.
Nevertheless, I did manage to keep a schedule of at least five practice clients per week throughout the practicum. Of the thirteen clients I coached, three were referrals from fellow ADAPT students, one was referred by a practice client, four responded to LinkedIn posts, two responded to Facebook posts, one responded to an Instagram post, and two contacted me through my website.
One thing that was interesting to me was that all but one of my clients matched up to some degree with my niche market (ancestral health for the spiritual path), meaning they either already had some kind of meditative practice or were interested in adopting one.
Two of my practice clients were recovering vegans – a population I’m especially interested in working with. One made a successful transition to a full-on Paleo diet. The other added eggs, fish, and bone broth to her diet and learned to prioritize protein at breakfast. Both were happy with the results.
By the time I received certification I had logged 120 sessions with 13 different practice clients and got a good taste of the challenges involved in marketing a health coaching business.
I think I became a pretty good coach, too.
The Functional Health Track
One of my favorite things about the practicum was expanded Teacher Assistant sessions. Throughout the pre-practicum, TA sessions were 60 minutes every other week. During the practicum, we still met every other week, but for 90 minutes.
The best thing about these longer sessions was that they involved case studies. In the week preceding the session, we’d receive a case study taken from a real client scenario. Case studies consisted of a report from a functional medicine doctor outlining the patient’s diagnosis accompanied by a set of recommended protocols. For example, the client may be diabetic, or hypertensive, or suffering digestive distress, or thyroid disorders, etc.
We’d take the case study and discuss with our TA the reasoning behind the doctor’s recommendations and how we might go about coaching the client. These sessions were great learning experiences both in terms of understanding functional medicine protocols and in giving us a taste of what working in collaboration with a medical doctor might look like.
I did most of my TA sessions with Jenn Gibbons, one of the three teacher assistants on staff. All three staff TAs were really knowledgable and each brought something unique to the table.
Tracey Long, the lead TA, is a registered dietician who did graduate studies under Loren Cordain (early pioneer of the Paleo diet) and is a certified Bredeson Protocol to End Alzheimer’s Practitioner. She has a wealth of functional medicine knowledge along with plenty of clinical experience. Most of my pre-practicum TA sessions were with Tracey.
Laura Leite is the founder of Ancestral Health Center of California. One of her specialties is working with recovering vegans and committed vegetarians. I did a couple of TA sessions with Laura during the pre-practicum and had the opportunity to ask a lot of questions about using an ancestral approach with vegetarian populations. I would have signed up for more of Laura’s sessions but nearly all of them were in the middle of the night Singapore time.
As it turned out, I did most of my practicum TA sessions with Jenn Gibbons, primarily because her sessions were the only ones that matched up with my time zone. I’m really glad I did.
Like Chris Kresser, Jenn Gibbons has a background in Chinese Medicine and integrates that knowledge base with a functional medicine approach. Since early in my adulthood, I’ve turned to Chinese Medicine doctors when faced with health concerns. I’m familiar with the approach. I really appreciated that Jenn’s answers to my many questions often cross-referenced both Chinese Medicine and Functional Health principles.
My only complaint about the Functional Health Track is that we didn’t have TA sessions every week, especially during the practicum. So much learning takes place during TA sessions. I feel that I would have retained much more of the pre-practicum material with more frequent and longer TA sessions. I also would have relished the opportunity to unpack more cases studies during the practicum.
The Art & Practice of Coaching Track
One of the main differences between the pre-practicum and practicum was that Mentor Coach sessions were reduced from every week to every other week, presumably to free our time up for work with practice clients.
There were three milestones in the practicum: the PSD1 (practical skills development); the PSD2; and the PSA (practical skills assessment).
Sign-ups for the PSD1 opened in week 30 and we needed to complete our session by week 33. PSD1 sessions consisted of three students and one mentor coach. Each student coached another for 20 minutes followed by approximately 10 minutes of feedback from the mentor coach.
Submissions for the PSD2 opened in week 38 with a review session deadline by week 42. For the PSD2 we submitted a recording and transcript of a 20-minute session with one of our practice clients, after which we were randomly assigned a review session with a mentor coach. The mentor coach scored our session according to the ADAPT rubric and during the feedback session gave us an idea of what skills we needed to further develop in order to pass our PSA.
Both the PSD1 and PSD2 were for developmental purposes only and designed as preparation for the PSA, which would be evaluated as a pass or fail. I’ll talk more about the PSA at the bottom of this post.
If you’ve read my review of the pre-practicum, you’ll know that I was expecting Robert Biswas-Diener to be a prominent part of the practicum. To my disappointment, he wasn’t.
We had no recorded content lessons from Robert (as we did in the pre-practicum) and only three instructor sessions. The instructor sessions we did have were tremendous learning experiences, but I had somehow assumed that Robert would be as prominent a part of the practicum curriculum as Ken Kraybill was a part of the pre-practicum.
Robert devoted plenty of time in his instructor sessions to answering questions as well as doing short demo sessions with student volunteers. What impressed me most about Robert in these demos was his ability to establish instant rapport, his deftness with powerful questions, and an uncanny radar for identifying client strengths.
I also like that he is a bit of an iconoclast. He is always looking to challenge conventional coaching wisdom and is not afraid to push the envelope – both with clients and in Q&A conversations.
More than any other person associated with the ADAPT program, I feel that I learned the most about coaching from Robert Biswas-Diener. That’s why it was such a disappointment that he was only a small part of the practicum.
Instead we got a heavy dose of John Kinyon.
John Kinyon is a nonviolent communication trainer and the author of several books, including Choosing Peace, which is one of the books assigned in the ADAPT curriculum. Some of the principles he brings to the table are useful for aspiring coaches to consider, but one could argue, only indirectly.
Nonviolent communication is primarily a tool for conflict resolution, which theoretically could come up in coaching scenarios, but probably not very often. John Kinyon’s approach emphasizes empathic listening and the importance of drawing distinctions between (clear) observation and (subjective) interpretation, the idea being that misinterpretation is a root cause of interpersonal conflict. An important principle to understand.
John Kinyon’s view is that unmet needs are the primary driver of conflict and miscommunication – a viewpoint I disagree with. I would counter that un-owned feelings are the driver of interpersonal conflict and that the source of feelings is only sometimes the result of “needs.” But my intention here is not to belabor that point.
My problem with the Kinyon material had less to do with the value of its content and much more to do with the ridiculous amount of time devoted to it. We had long video lessons from John Kinyon almost every single week of the practicum and a whopping seven instructor sessions. That’s a whole lot of time to devote to material that is only indirectly applicable to coaching. The Kinyon material could have easily been covered in three or four weeks of video content and at most two instructor sessions.
Let me be blunt. If I had known to what extent John Kinyon was going to be featured in the ADAPT course, I might not have enrolled. It was that much of an issue for me.
The Kinyon material was not well-presented. It was long-winded, circular, and, frankly, exceedingly boring. A lot of valuable time was wasted on it.
Wasted time is a big problem for me when I’m paying a premium price for a training.
Update 6/1/2021: Since writing this, I’ve had several students from other cohorts tell me (unsolicited) how much they disliked the John Kinyon material. The Kresser Institute really needs to listen to student feedback and address what is a major drawback to an otherwise stellar program.
In weeks 38 and 39 Julian Redwood presented a four-part short course on facilitating groups. He also did two instructor sessions to reinforce the learning.
The Redwood material was succinct and very well presented and a great resource for those of us who decide at any point to do some group coaching.
Not to beat a dead horse, but the way the Julian Redwood material was rolled out was a perfect model for how the John Kinyon material could have been presented. Four parts, two weeks, two instructor sessions. It was just right.
Much more time was devoted to professional development during the practicum than in the pre-practicum. Video lessons from Keith Rhys (with supplemental worksheets) were rolled out weekly through week 41.
We also had six instructor sessions with Keith during which he answered questions and very generously took the time to look at and review some of our websites. Keith reviewed my website twice, which I very much appreciated.
Keith’s course is based on authority marketing, the idea being to identify the niche that we are best suited for and then work to establish ourselves as an authority in that market. Keith’s strategy for doing so is to consistently produce quality content – in blog posts or videos. It’s somewhat of a long range strategy – it realistically takes at least a couple of years to establish authority – but what I like about Keith’s approach is that it emphasizes quality (evergreen content) over quantity.
Through most of the pre-practicum, I had my eye on working with recovering vegans and vegetarians as a niche market. Through my work with Keith’s materials, I decided to expand that to “ancestral health for the spiritual path.”
With my years of experience with traditional sitting meditation and other practices, I feel like a legitimate authority in the spiritual domain. And I think that coupling that authority with my knowledge of ancestral health principles makes my niche unique.
I think in the short term I will need to develop a strategy for finding paid clients. But I feel good about the tools the Professional Development track has equipped me with for the long haul.
I feel clear about the uniqueness of my coaching offerings and the possibilities for the niche I’ve chosen. Keith Rhys helped me get there.
The PSA and Certification Process
When all is said and done, the practicum is all about the PSA, which is in effect a final exam. The best advice I can give current or prospective ADAPT students is to plan your practicum studies around it.
For the PSA, one has to submit a recording and transcript of a 30-minute coaching session with a practice client. In that 30-minute session, one needs to demonstrate 17 coaching competencies. It’s far from an easy bar to clear.
I underestimated the difficulty of passing the PSA and to my shock and horror failed on my first submission. I not only had to come up with a better plan for getting a PSA-worthy recording, I was also required to pay a $300 re-testing fee.
From the date of submitting a passing PSA recording, one can start logging the requisite 25 practice sessions for certification. Failing at my first try at the PSA set back my certification date by two months – the course finished on June 5th and I received certification on August 5th.
When I signed up for the ADAPT course, I assumed that if I completed all the coursework on schedule, I would receive certification when the course ended. That was the case for some students who submitted their PSAs early in the process, but those people turned out to be exceptions. As I write this on September 1st, nearly three months after the course ended, I personally know of several students who have yet to be certified.
Students have six months from the end date of the course to submit a passing PSA recording, and from there another three months to log 25 practice sessions. It’s not at all uncommon for students to still be working toward certification months after the course has ended.
As I’ve already said, hitting all 17 of the required coaching competencies in a single 30-minute session is not at all easy. Most good coaching sessions, even great coaching sessions, will not demonstrate each competency. One could indeed argue that the PSA session is an artificial construct. It takes a very conscious intention and a good plan to record a PSA worthy session.
In the end, I submitted a PSA recording that I was proud of. I thought it was damn good. Maybe the best coaching session I’ve done. But I had to work for it.
In my next post, I will share the plan I constructed for passing the PSA. If you are a current ADAPT student, I think you will find it useful.