The best advice I can give to current ADAPT health coaching students is to make passing the PSA the central focus of the practicum, from the beginning. That means:
- Recruiting a sufficient number of practice clients
- Knowing who your practice clients are (more on that later)
- Making a plan
I succeeded at recruiting a sufficient number of practice clients. I knew from which of these clients I might get a PSA-quality recording. But I neglected making a clear plan. As a result, I failed upon my first attempt at passing the PSA.
Failing was a bitter pill to swallow but I learned a lot from the experience. With this blog post I’m passing what I learned on to you.
Knowing your clients is key
There are two types of clients: processors and planners. They actually exist on a spectrum – all clients are at least a little of both – but most will lean one way or the other.
Processors need to go deep. They have issues to resolve or things to consider deeply before moving. Their behavior change tends to result from resolving inner conflict. Behavior change may in fact not even be their motivation to seek coaching. They may find more value in processing itself.
Processors typically need longer sessions – 45 minutes to an hour. They can be very interesting and rewarding to work with but you’re not likely to get a PSA-worthy recording from them. And it will serve neither you nor them to bother trying.
Planners too have issues to resolve – everybody does – but they tend to be more action oriented. They have a need to formulate a plan and put that plan into motion. They are concerned with changing specific behaviors. They are motivated by results. They thrive on the positive reinforcement from succeeding at tangible action steps. They come to coaching primarily seeking support in following through with their plans.
I recommend having a combination of processors and planners as practice clients. You will learn a lot about coaching from both. But planners are the clients you should target for your PSA. You can do a lot of work with a planner in a 30-minute session.
A special note: Once you’ve completed the initial visioning process with your clients who are planners, I recommend putting them on 30-minute follow-up sessions so that you are both used to working within that timeframe by the time you start recording for your PSA.
How I failed on my first try
The first mistake I made was being impatient. I had my eye on the opening date for PSA submissions and was hell-bent on submitting a recording, logging the requisite 25 sessions, and being eligible for certification the day the course ended.
My ambitions were thwarted a couple of times. First, I recorded a session that I thought went well, but on further review I realized that it didn’t include competency L (anticipate, plan for, and help the client navigate challenges). It was frustrating because competency L is easy to meet. All I had to do was ask a simple question during the planning sequence, like, “What obstacles do you see getting in the way?” But I had my mind too much on the clock. I knew the session was PSA worthy and I wanted to make sure I wrapped it up at the 30-minute mark. In my haste I simply forgot about competency L.
I watched the recording over and over, trying to determine if I’d met competency L elsewhere in the session. There were a couple of moments where I thought it might have happened but it was iffy. I put that session in the archives thinking I could submit it in the end if I couldn’t come up with anything better.
A couple of weeks later I had a session with the same client. It went well. I was sure to hit competency L during the planning sequence. When I closed the session I took off my headset and breathed a sigh of relief. I was sure this was the one.
But when I sat down to watch the replay, I realized to my horror that I’d forgotten to put the recording on gallery view (I’d left it on speaker view) and there was nothing I could do to change that – I couldn’t submit a recording on speaker view.
By this time we were a few weeks past the opening date for PSA submissions and I was feeling frustrated.
Then a few days later I recorded a new session with a different client. It wasn’t my best session. It was a little choppy, a little meandering at times. But when I played it back I was able to identify all 17 competencies. I watched it again. And again. I watched it a total of 16 times and was sure that all the competencies were there. So I sent it in. Good enough is good enough, right?
I not only received a grade of “no pass,” but according to the reviewer I failed to meet six competencies. Six competencies! I was livid.
To appeal or not to appeal
I watched the recording again, numerous times, and was as convinced as ever that it hit all 17 competencies. What the hell was going on?
Upon closer study of the reviewer’s scoring rubric, I realized that her understanding of the client’s chosen agenda for the session was different than what I understood it to be. And because of that, she didn’t see that all 17 competencies were indeed there. She just saw me repeatedly neglecting to address the client’s agenda.
I decided to appeal. I spent hours poring over the recording, detailing each time I demonstrated a competency. I wrote a detailed explanation of what I knew the client’s chosen agenda to be, also detailing how and why I thought the reviewer misconstrued it, and how an acknowledgment of that fact would change everything.
I arrived for the feedback session armed and ready to present my case. We went back and forth. She heard me out. I heard her out. We went around and around about the client’s chosen agenda. And by the end I had to admit that the client’s chosen agenda being unclear to the reviewer was a problem. I had to take responsibility for my failure to make it clear. The session was simply not good enough.
I still harbored attachment to the idea that I could win an appeal but finally decided that winning an appeal was not the way I wanted things to end. I wanted to leave behind a PSA recording that I could be proud of. A recording that the ADAPT faculty could be proud of.
The importance of having a PSA roadmap
My reviewer made only one suggestion during my feedback session: to make a PSA roadmap. That’s what I did and it turned out to make all the difference.
One of my peer practice partners shared with me a list of questions that she’d compiled to prepare for her own PSA sessions. She’d listed the questions by what point in the session she might use them and tagged them with what competencies they addressed, keeping in mind that some lines of questioning could potentially meet more than one competency.
I took that list of questions, pared it down to a couple of key questions for key competencies, rephrased most of them to suit my own coaching style, and arranged them in a map that mimicked the structure of a typical session. Below is what what my PSA roadmap looked like:
Key Questions for Key Competencies
How did your action step/plan/goals go this week? (P, Q)
What did you learn that can help you moving forward? (P, Q )
Focusing & Agenda Setting
What would you like to focus on today? (E)
What about this is important to you? (D, E, K)
What would you like to take away from our session? (D, E)
How does this tie in with your long-term goals and vision? (F, G)
In what way will thinking about this support your broader vision and goals? (F, G)
What will it mean to you to be able to make this change? (K)
What is your larger purpose in wanting this? (K)
On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it for you to make this change? (K)
If you could wave a magic wand, what would you make happen? (M)
What feels possible? (M)
If you imagine yourself 6 months from now, what would you say to your present self? (M)
What would this relaxed/stress-free (client’s name) look like? (M, P)
What’s good about the way things are at the moment? (P)
What strengths or skills can you draw on to support you in reaching this goal? (Q)
What has worked in the past? (Q)
Planning & Support Structure
Are you ready to make a plan? (H)
What is a specific step you could take this week? (H)
On a scale of 1 to 10, how doable does this feel? (H, L)
What obstacles do you see getting in the way? (L)
What strategies (or strengths) could you use to overcome these obstacles? (L)
What support do you need in carrying out this plan? (L)
How would you like to monitor your progress (or hold yourself accountable)? (O)
How will you know that you’re successful? (O)
What are you taking away from this session? (P)
How has talking about this today brought you closer to your broader vision and goals? (P, F, G)
How I used my PSA roadmap
The last thing I wanted was for my coaching to feel scripted. So I never read from my list of questions or even referred to it during sessions. Instead, I studied it between sessions and kept it on my desk beside my computer. Just knowing that it was there, that I had some go-to questions to draw from, was reassuring.
For me, working competencies F and G into my sessions early was key. So as soon as my client had articulated their chosen agenda, I’d open the evoking process with a question about how it tied in with their vision and goals. For this to even be possible, of course, I needed to have done at least one visioning session with that client prior. For this reason, I think it’s crucial to make visioning work one of the first things you do with practice clients.
Because of my experience failing my first PSA attempt, I made sure to really nail down the client’s chosen focus and agenda. To that end, I used all three of my roadmap questions in the order listed: What would you like to focus on today? What about this is important to you? What would you like to take away from our session? This is the closest I got to following a script. I can’t stress enough how important it is to really nail this part of the session. Making the client’s agenda crystal clear – for the client, for yourself, for the reviewer – more than any other factor will set the stage for everything else to fall into place.
Competencies K, Q, and M are all three elusive to me, especially M. By elusive I mean that it’s not always clear when they are being demonstrated in a session. To that end, I made sure to have a few questions in my arsenal that I felt confident would meet them. When I finally passed my PSA session, the reviewer gave me credit for using a “meta view” when demonstrating competency M (If you imagine yourself 6 months from now, what advice would you give to your present self?). Cool!
Competencies O and L were also problematic for me. Some of my practice clients were very self-directed and it often didn’t feel necessary to troubleshoot their action steps. That’s where having a roadmap made a huge difference. I had the questions on hand to make sure I met O and L, and made it part of my coaching routine to use them.
As for competencies A, B, C, I, and J, I suggest that you not worry about them. They will automatically be demonstrated with good coaching. You do not need to dedicate the first minutes of your session, for example, to establishing rapport. If you are coaching as you’ve been trained, you will be establishing (and re-establishing) rapport continually, throughout the session. I opened my passing PSA session with, “How did it go with your acceptance experiment this week?” and we got right into it. There is no need to waste precious minutes talking about the weather.
What I learned from failing
All my life I’ve excelled at test taking. I took it quite hard when I failed my first PSA attempt. What if I fail again on the second try, I wondered. Would I have to do the practicum again, forking over tons of extra money, delaying my certification by at least six months? Or would I just say the hell with it and attempt to start a coaching practice without certification? Or give up on coaching altogether? My emotions were all over the place. My mind was running wild. It was nothing short of a crisis!
In retrospect, however, I’ve realized that, as cliche as it may sound, failing was truly a blessing in disguise. It forced me to look deeper at each of the competencies and really consider what it means to demonstrate them. I feel that it took my learning to another level. I now feel like an expert on the competencies.
Constructing a PSA roadmap and basing my sessions on it did more than help me pass my PSA. It made me a better coach. The lessons I learned about focusing and agenda setting are lessons I believe will serve me throughout my coaching career.
In the end I submitted a PSA recording that I am quite proud of. I think without a doubt I nailed every single one of the competencies in exemplary fashion. I think it was the very best piece of coaching I’ve done.
PSA Review Services
If you have a session recording that you are not quite sure about submitting, I’d be happy to have a look at it if you supply me with three things:
- The session recording
- A transcript with timestamps
- A copy of the ADAPT scoring rubric being used for your cohort
I will watch your recording and score it the way I think an ADAPT reviewer would score it. Then we will set up a 40-minute feedback session during which we can talk about the strengths and weaknesses of your session.
I can’t guarantee that your reviewer will score your session exactly the same as me. But having gone through the PSA process twice, I think I have a pretty clear sense of what the reviewers are looking for. If you have a borderline decision to make, I can coach you through the process.
My PSA review services are 85 US dollars. Shoot me a message to let me know that you’re interested.
Still have PSA-related questions? I’ll do my best to address them in the comments.
Great summary of your PSA journey!
Thank you for sharing…. it’s such a blessing to have our beautiful, generous and spirited cohort to keep us fueled and growing towards being more.
Thanks, Christina! Looking forward to hearing good news on your own PSA submission.
Johnny, thank you so much for sharing this invaluable information. I have printed it and I am going to learn those questions until they just pour out of me automatically.
I shall definitely use your services when I have produced a decent enough recording.
Thank you again for your generosity and caring for your fellow ADAPTers .
Hi Deborah. I’m glad you found the article useful and hope you are enjoying the ADAPT course. I look forward to working with you.
Johnny, first and foremost, Congrats! What an accomplishment and your resilience and perseverance through your challenges and finding the path that felt right for you. How did you celebrate this??
I want to thank you so much for both your courage to tell your story as well as this great tool heading into my PSA.
I would really enjoy the opportunity to connect with you more and hear how your journey is going since becoming a A-CFHC.
Congrats again!!! A. Burr current Cohort 4 student.
Thanks, Andrew and good luck with your own PSA. I hang out in the Functional Medicine Health Coaches Facebook group, which is open to all ADAPT cohorts (by invitation only). Find me on Facebook and I’ll send you an invite.
Johnny, Your Blog article on your experience with the PSA is so helpful! I thank you so much! You are very clear and articulate about how it all unfolded for you. My hat is off to you! I am also in Cohort 4 with A Burr who turned me onto your article and resource!
Cool. I appreciate the feedback. Enjoy the ride!
Lindsey here from Cohort 4 (one of the few Brits on the course ) and fellow peer of Andrew and Jennifer. I just revisited your PSA article and wanted to thank you for writing this. It’s so helpful to hear your story, learnings and tips for how to have success. It’s a challenging process for sure. For me patience and practice are the key (I’ve come to realise that I am not as patient as I once thought so a bit of a battle for me!) and of course the other P; planning! I may well return to lean on your PSA review service, given your excellent experience of the process. Hoping things are going well for you on your journey as a coach. Thanks again!
Hi Lindsey. I appreciate your comments. It’s great to hear that my article has helped you. Good luck nailing that PSA!
Johnny, sharing as you have your experience and learning has been a tremendous help and encouragement to the many that have read your blog. You are owed a major thank you from all of us.
Thank you, Harvey. I’m glad it’s appreciated.
Thank you for sharing this blog. I’m in Cohort 5…about to embark on the PSA submission and reading your words have been very helpful.
You’re very welcome. Good luck on your PSA journey.
Hey Johnny! How long does it take to get the PASS/FAIL email? Just out of curiosity! I am in cohort 6 and the submission window just opened a few weeks ago.
It depends on the reviewer and how busy they are. Could be less than a week or as long as three weeks. That’s how it was in cohort 2. I imagine it would be about the same for cohort 6.
Hi Johnny, thanks for sharing your experience – it’s so helpful! I’m in C7 and working toward a PSA now. I am wondering about this question on your list: “Are you ready to make a plan? (H)” What’s the thought process with using a closed question there? I know a few closed questions are ok in coaching, as long as it’s not a majority by any means… but I’m curious why you intentionally chose a closed Q for your road map. Would love to hear your thoughts!
Hi Beth. That’s a fair question.
I think it’s appropriate to use a closed question there because I am seeking agreement from the client to move on to planning. An open-ended question such as “How would you feel about making a plan” might serve the same purpose, but could also lead to more exploration, which I would not want at that point in the session. Of course, the timing is crucial – you would not want to ask if they are ready to make a plan until you sense that they are indeed ready. If they are ready, the question serves as an invitation. So what might look like a closed question in this case is actually an invitation to move further.
Good luck with your PSA!