Coach Interview Series: Barbara Rubel

by Brandon

Barbara Rubel

Coach, Speaker, and Author

Our main objective here at the National Coach Academy is to enable aspiring coaches to reach their full professional potential. One of the most effective ways to educate students about the world of coaching is by offering them a window into the world of real, practicing coaches and showing them all the different ways coaches make a difference in the lives of their clients.

We hope today’s interview adds another insightful glimpse into the dynamic world of coaching.

Today we are interviewing Barbara Rubel. Barbara is a speaker, best-selling author, and coach who focuses on preventing job burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, resiliency, and grief.

NCA: Can you describe your coaching practice and the kinds of clients you typically work with?

Barbara: First, thank you for inviting me to speak today. I really am looking forward to this call because so many new coaches are excited and enthusiastic about their career. And then what happens is they slowly but surely burn out and they don’t understand why they are burning out.

Many are making money and have clients, but something’s not right. What I had found in helping new coaches and coaches who are more established is that they’re very frustrated with the fact that their clients don’t move through their program, so they don’t do the work or they’re not achieving the goals they’ve set in their coaching program because they are grieving. Many people are traumatized or have experienced non-death-related losses like friends that have moved away or they’re getting older and retired or divorced. I help coaches understand those individuals that they’re helping who are grieving, who are traumatized, who are frustrating the coach.

My specialty is loss. My father died by suicide when I was in the hospital awaiting the birth of my triplets — three little babies, healthy little boys. But when they were born, my father shot myself in his head and it absolutely changed the trajectory of my life. How can my dad end his life when he’s about to become a grandpa?

I moved into the field of thanatology, which is the study of death and dying, and I help clients who have experienced suicide and homicide and serious, serious illnesses like cancer. And what I found in my career is that many professionals are not trained in what I know. They’re not trained in death and dying and bereavement and mourning and grief.

When a coach is working with a client, they need to be mindful that the client might have experienced a non-death-related loss, an anticipatory loss, or a sudden or maybe even violent loss. They’re working with people who could be grieving and traumatized and they have to understand how to work with someone who’s experiencing losses in life.

So that’s what I do. I sit with coaches and explore Grief 101 and give them the tools and strategies to do just that. Because life is hard. It’s hard. And there are so many losses that we experience in life.

NCA: What are the most effective techniques and strategies that you found that help coaches in their own work?

Barbara: Coaches are really effective listeners. They are well-trained in how to listen and how to question and how to explore a person’s story. What they’re not well-versed on is loss narrative and meaning-making. How does a coach listen to a story — say my father’s suicide or a mother who loses a child after a homicide or a businessman who just lost his wife from cancer — and help that individual find meaning in what happened?

It’s moving more to the loss narrative and being comfortable talking about death and dying and what happened. How do they find meaning? Did they find meaning by saying, well, the world is a terrible place and I’m just going to shrivel up and not even go to work? Or did they find meaning by — like in my own case — write a book or talk to professionals about healing? How do you take something so terrible, something so sad and make meaning out of it?

[Working through grief] is an entire language. But in our society, it’s a language that people do not want to speak. They want you over it. They want you to move on. They don’t understand that grief is a lifetime process.

Anyone who’s reading, I’d like them to think about their own loss and how they made meaning out of it. Very often, those touched by tragedy move into places of helping those who are hurting and need healing. It is crucial to have the skillset and it’s not something that we just say “Okay, do this and that and the other thing.”

It’s about understanding the tasks of grief, the phrases of grief, understanding mourning and meaning-making through mourning. It’s about knowing the ritual that one does to get through the day when they’re grieving. What faith and what power do they have within themselves or around them that sustains them when life gets to be too much? And there’s a real skill set for that and it takes a very special person to listen to someone who has experienced a great loss in life.

As a suicidologist, I listen to those who have experienced family members and friends who have died by suicide and it’s almost impossible to try to figure it out. We can’t figure it out. It comes to a place where sometimes the answers are never found. However, what we hope to find is someone who will listen, who will be present and who will be there to help us build our resilience, to help us achieve personal growth or post-traumatic growth. To be a kind, considerate and loving person who listens to a loss narrative is a very, very special coach, but they do need the skills.

NCA: If I’m understanding it right, it sounds like working through grief with a client is not just a matter of having certain skills or techniques, certain ways of speaking — it’s an entire language, it sounds like, that you need to learn.

Barbara: It is an entire language. But in our society, it’s a language that people do not want to speak. They want you over it. They want you to move on. They don’t understand that grief is a lifetime process and it’s so hard, especially moving into the holiday season — it is such a difficult time of year for coaches and grieving clients alike.

NCA: What training or degree or certifications did you complete prior to and during your coaching career to get you to where you are today?

Barbara: I have a Bachelor of Science degree and a Masters degree in Community Health with a concentration in thanatology, both from Brooklyn College. My specialty, all my papers and research were in the field of thanatology, which is the study of death, dying and bereavement. I am a Board Certified Expert in traumatic stress and a Diplomate with the American Academy of Experts of Traumatic Stress.

As coaches, what we are also experiencing is what’s called compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is made up of both burnout and secondary traumatic stress. A coach might say, “I am burned out by the people I’m working with, by the amount of paperwork, by traveling, and doing all the things I have to do as a coach.” However, you also have to consider that a coach who is working with a client who’s experiencing grief or trauma, may experience secondary traumatic stress. The client is experiencing primary traumatic stress but somehow, they absorbed what the client is experiencing and then they experience compassion fatigue which is made up of both job burnout and secondary traumatic stress.

Besides compassion fatigue, they may also experience vicarious trauma. Imagine you are working with a client and they are sharing the story of a suicide, homicide, a child’s death or several people were killed — a horrific story, traumatizing story. You are vicariously traumatized by that individual who you’re working with by their story, their loss narrative.

Ask yourself, “why am I burned out? Why am I experiencing compassion fatigue? Why am I experiencing vicarious trauma? Perhaps it’s because you are compassionate and empathetic. You care about our clients. You listen to them with both ears wide open but your heart is open as well. And the empathy — really, truly wanting to help someone and sometimes not being able to achieve that goal — it weighs heavily on the heart. That’s an issue. It’s why many coaches give up. Even new coaches who say, “How can I be burned out when I only just started?” It’s because they have a good and open heart.

I am honored to have spoken to many wonderful coaches through the years who are doing really great work who did not realize that what they experienced was compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. They just need to learn more about vicarious trauma.

Go online and read. There’s a lot of articles out there. Just read. Type the words, vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue into the search bar. Gain the knowledge so you can listen to the stories of loss and gain the skills to listen with an open heart and not have a heart who aches because of it. Stories affect coaches emotionally, physically, cognitively, behaviorally, and spiritually. Loss narratives can change the way they look at the world.

Why am I experiencing vicarious trauma? Perhaps it’s because you are compassionate and empathetic. You care about our clients. You listen to them with both ears wide open but your heart is open as well. And the empathy — really, truly wanting to help someone and sometimes not being able to achieve that goal — it weighs heavily on the heart.

NCA: How do you advise coaches to avoid that being the end result while still maintaining the empathy required to coach their clients effectively?

Barbara: I created The FABULOUS Principle and offer keynote addresses, full day trainins, and webinars on it.

F is about cognitive Flexibility.
A is for Attitude.
B is about keeping your Boundaries.
U is Understanding job satisfaction and why you love being a coach.
L is Laughter, keeping joy in your life.
O is Optimism.
U is being United, whether it’s a friend, family member, your faith, or even your dog.
S is Self-compassion.

I go through this FABULOUS Principle exploring all of the elements. I teach coaches how to look deeply for their greatest strength.

Let’s say they take the letter F in FABULOUS, right? That’s flexibility. I’ll ask them, “What strength do you use to maintain cognitive flexibility so you could rethink situations, so you could keep an open mind, so you’re not a rigid thinker? How do you do that?” They may say, “Well, my greatest strength is love of learning.” Then I ask, “How do you put that strength into practice to remain flexible?” They may reply by talking about books they are reading, courses that they are taking, or webinars and podcasts that they are watching. Focus on the strength, how you put it into practice that help you keep an open mind as a coach? That’s the F.

A is about attitude. What strengths help you keep a positive attitude? You may respond by saying your strength of wisdom helps you maintain a positive attitude. By being wise, I understand where my biases come from. Where my attitude stems from. Why I have this bad, good, or biased attitude about a particular person or thing. I help coaches explore each of the eight elements of the FABULOUS principle. Coaches explore their strengths, their strongest strengths as many may not know what their strengths are.

So right now, Brandon, what would you say your greatest strengths are?

NCA: I would have to say empathy.

Barbara: Empathy is phenomenal, and we all need to be empathetic in this world. If we were moving through FABULOUS and let’s say we’re up to the B, in boundaries, if empathy was your greatest strength, then that’s a great strength. I would ask you, “How do you put it into practice?” Well, you listen to people. You’re compassionate. However, empathy can become a weakness. What happens if you are too empathetic? We need to be mindful of both elements, cognitive flexibility and boundaries and the other strength we use for each element of the FABULOUS principles. Okay, I’m empathetic, but I can’t give too much of myself away. I have to be mindful to maintain my boundaries so I stay healthy.

That’s the problem with too many people who are empathetic. As one who is empathetic, I am sometimes challenged and give too much time. I give too much love. Perhaps as I listen to a grieving client, I cry with them — which is a good thing sometimes — but I don’t want to take the stories home with me. How do you, as an empathetic coach, let the stories go when you go home?

What other strengths do you think you have?

NCA: Curiosity, I’d say that’s a big one for me.

Barbara: Oh, that’s huge! Do you know that curiosity is a common strength of the coaches who I have worked with? In order to sit with a client and listen to that person, you need to be curious, perhaps open-minded and positive. It’s a positivity kind of tool — to be curious about someone’s life and where they are in their journey.

S in the FABULOUS Principle is Self-compassion. It focuses on being kind to our self. It’s just loving yourself and not giving all that love away. And when you are curious, also focus on how your curiosity affected you personally. What are you curious about: I’m curious about how my client’s story made me think, made me feel. What am I going to do to heal myself after listening to that serious situation my client shared with me?

Curiosity has to move from being inquisitive about your client and yourself, in response to what your client has shared with you.

NCA: What is one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who knows that coaching is for them, they know that this is the path they want to go down but they’re not quite sure how to start — what would you advise somebody in that situation?

Barbara: Just do it. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Don’t wait to create the right website. Don’t wait to read one more book. Don’t wait to speak to one more professional. Just do it. Even if you start small, you have to be in it to win it, as they say. In order to win something, you have to play the game. Enjoy the journey.

Your readers can reach out to me if they want more information about being FABULOUS at Perhaps I can give them some suggestions. 2020 is around the corner. We’re going to start a brand-new year, so this is the time to say, “I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it now.” And just stand up in that. Just face it and go for it.

My third edition of my book is coming out January 6th. It’s called But I Didn’t Say Goodbye: Helping Families After a Suicide. I have spoken on the phone with women who have said, “I cannot breathe. My child just killed himself. I can’t get out of bed to go to work.” If a mom who loses a child can get out of bed and breathe and go to work, then a coach could say, “I can do this. I’m going to get out of bed, get in my car and meet someone and start my business and do it today. I’ll just do it. I’ll face my fears and breathe.”

Coaches have shared with me, “I have my business cards, a website, my things are in order, now what?” Now just make your calls! Get on the radio. Let people know you are a coach. Join organizations. There are organizations in your own neighborhood. Maybe the Chamber of Commerce. Get out there and share your story, your own loss narrative if it has propelled you into your coaching career.

If I work with someone, I’ll tell them that I’m a suicide loss survivor. I’ll share my story with them. I invite the person who’s reading this to ask themselves, “Am I okay in sharing my story? Will my doing so enhance the relationship that I share with my client who has experienced a loss?” Why not share both our losses and our blessings? It makes us human.

Become a coach, continue being a coach and have a wonderful 2020!

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