My Journey with Graphic Coaching

Graphic Coaching

Note from Gina: As a coach and facilitator, I use a number of tools to help folks get from where they are to where they want to be. One of my very, very favorite ways to work is graphically — through PATH and other “big paper” methods as well as in smaller, table-top graphic formats. Who better to explain how this works than the smart lady who graciously taught me how to put it all together? Read on as Christina Merkley explains, in her own words, her role in bringing visuals and coaching together into one pretty powerful package.

My Journey with Graphic Coaching

By Graphic Coaching Pioneer, Christina Merkley

I was interviewed about my Graphic Coaching niche for an American T.V. show earlier in the year … called Meet the Experts (see video to right).

While Arielle Ford and I didn’t have time to go into it, many people ask me how I came to have such an unusual profession … so this article outlines the evolution of Graphic Coaching and the path I took to create this my unique work and how I now teach others to do it too.

Early Background:

For many years I worked in both the United States and Canada as a ‘graphic recorder’ and a ‘graphic facilitator’, in corporate, governmental and not-for-profit settings. In a nutshell, both these roles use visuals to help groups understand each other and make collaborative decisions.

Always interested in personal growth, in 2000 I enrolled in coach training via The Coaches Training Institute and also became an Alchemical Hypnotherapist. While I enjoyed my facilitation work with companies, it required me to travel extensively (leaving little time for anything else) and to sometimes work with organizational mandates I wasn’t fully aligned with. So I was on the lookout for an entrepreneurial venture that I could be morally congruent with and hopefully not travel as much (where people could come to me or we could work online).

Doing Focus Wheel Work With a Client
In coaching and hypnotherapy school I discovered that I was very popular with the other students … they wanted to work with me because of the cool visual notes I took of their sessions instead of just the verbal way that the other coaches worked (as a professional doodler I just couldn’t help but create visual summaries of the insights, ahhas and results that my clients came to).

Spotting a market opportunity, I tried for a while to convince other visual colleagues that they should develop “Graphic Coaching” … as I was too busy to explore it more seriously. However that all changed on the morning of September 11th in 2001 as I awoke in my San Francisco home to the trauma of that infamous day. I was supposed to be in New York that week but a series of synchronicities had kept me away.

Watching lives being forever changed … I made a vow that day to reorganize my life around the things that really mattered to me. To pursue what I was most attracted to, even if it seemed unusual or strange … as life can be short.

Within a year I had moved back to my beautiful hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada … and set about creating a new life and livelihood.

I continued to do graphic recording and graphic facilitation work and concurrently developed Graphic Coaching — developing my signature process and suite of 17 visual tools: The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coaching Process®.

The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coacing Process

There are so many ways that one can work visually with individuals, biz partners and couples — using different processes and formats. In the early days I mostly did strategic planning hybrids … helping people literally SEE where they had been (Life Maps), where they wanted to go (Personal Visions) and how to organize their steps to get there (Action Plans). Later my specialty honed into the area of resistance — what I call “Trouble at the Border”. Pinpointing and flipping the inner blocks, self-sabotage and wonky energy that prevents people from having what they desire.

The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coacing Process
Client Demo in Training Class
The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coacing Process
Young Client in Front of His New Vision

My practice flourished as word got out about my innovations and the results clients were getting (careers, jobs, raises, homes, partners, children, etc). I got emails inquiring about my work — especially from other consultants, facilitators, trainers, coaches, etc who wanted to use my methods and tools themselves. So, after years of contemplating it, in 2010 I launched the first Graphic Coach Certification cohort, with wonderful coaches-in-training from around the world.

Cynthia Miller, Certified Graphic Coach at Her Private Training Learning to Draw Icons.

Certified Graphic Coaches Allison Crow and Jennifer Voss … Developing Visual Skills.

Today Graphic Coaching is growing nicely, aided by the growing ranks of Certified Graphic Coaches. They work in a diversity of environments and specialty areas including: executive coaching, small biz & solopreneurs development, military, grief & bereavement, first nations, autism, eating disorders, relationships, social justice & youth, human trafficking, mind/body and weight loss, abundance, health and wellness, etc.

Each cohort brings a new group of fascinating professionals who are doing great work in the world … and doing it even better by learning how to effectively use visuals to help their clients SHIFT.

While it hasn’t always been easy, I’m proud that I pursued my dream and have successfully SHIFTed my own work. And that I get to help others do the same. Its exciting to see the ripple effect as the work expands internationally.

The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coacing Process
Me in Front of My SHIFT-IT Templates

How to Draw Quick People!

Graphic Coach-in-Training
Melissa Blevins
Author’s Bio: Christina Merkley is The SHIFT-IT Coach. Founder of “Graphic Coaching” … Christina has pioneered the use of interactive- visuals to help individuals, couples and business partners make and manifest clear decisions about their work and lives. Based in charming Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, she maintains a thriving coaching and facilitation practice and trains other helping professionals from around the globe in her innovative ways of working.
For more information visit:
Gina's SHIFT-IT Testimonial

Coaching through Transition: Part V

Over the course of several Tuesdays — Transition Tuesdays — I’m sharing one area of my practice that thrills me more than just about anything — coaching individuals with disabilities and their families as they transition from one life stage to another. Please note that while I’ll be describing a coaching scenario that is very similar to several families that I’ve worked with, it is an amalgamation of those conversations and is not based on any one family.

In Part I, I introduced you to Jon, Kate, and Dan and wrote a little about my approach to coaching families through the transition planning necessary to move students with disabilities from high school into an interdependent, adult life.

In Part II, I shared more about my role in working with Jon, Kate and Dan. I also talked some about what it means to be “humanistic” in coaching.

In Part III, I outlined the process and the steps I’m using to walk Jon and his parents through his transition. These steps form the structure for just about any coaching relationship.

In Part IV, we looked at the person-centered assessments I use during the Data Gathering portion of coaching a family through transition.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at the PATH tool and discuss how delicious pie-in-the-sky dreaming can lead to some pretty delightful real-world results.


Co-Creating Goals

Whether working with an individual, an organization or a family in transition, the role of a coach is similar. However the style may vary.

QuoteIn more personal coaching, the aim is often to help clients flesh out their vision of their ideal existence and then develop and enact steps toward that ideal. But it is not up to the coach to direct the content of that ideal; rather, the coach is there to help the client fully describe it and design steps to take them toward it.

Stober & Grant

One person-centered tool for creating the space for these conversations is the PATH (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope) tool designed by Marsha Forest, Jack Pearpoint, and John O’Brien. The PATH tool was originally used to help folks move from institutional life to community life – not always a move supported by the paperwork and professionals and funding that typically follow this population.

The PATH process involves two extensively-trained individuals graphically facilitating a group through a four-hour conversation encompassing what strategic planners would recognize as a team-based visioning and action-planning session. It also involves a massive sheet of paper (often 4 feet high and nearly 15 feet long!) and colorful markers (I prefer the “smelly” ones). Everyone who gathers is involved in the conversation by one facilitator while a second facilitator draws, scribes, and doodles a record of the discussion billboard style.

I also try to encourage folks to host a meal or snack break in the middle. We all like to eat!

The PATH conversation begins with a vision or the North Star image of what life can look like in a no-holds-barred dream existence. Then the facilitators bring the group back into a “positive and possible” vision of the future. Successive steps involve identifying the realities of now, setting goals for a year down the road, enrolling participants in the next steps and assigning follow up tasks. At each stage the facilitators check in with the group and most especially with the individual in question – in our scenario, Jon – in order to identify how they are feeling, what needs to be adjusted, and that the ideas being captured accurately reflect the goals and hopes of Jon and his circle.

This type of facilitated conversation is steeped in positive psychology. Looking at desired outcomes with “no holds barred” and working back into a “positive and possible” set of stretch goals allow the circle to dream with one foot in reality. Jon and his parents will invite the people who care about Jon – his teachers, friends, church members, pastor, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles – to gather for the PATH. Based on the information that has been gathered through the private sessions with Jon and his parents I have some idea of where the family would like to focus their attention – namely Jon’s transition from high school into adulthood – and the kinds of things that help Jon have good days. During the PATH, I will facilitate the group’s establishing a clear vision of where Jon will be in 5 years – the anticipated length of this transition process – and what it will take to get him there.

Based on our earlier conversations, I anticipate Kate’s hesitation on Jon’s bigger dreams – moving out on his own and getting a job – while recognizing that the dynamics of creating a circle of support will gently shift Kate’s role from that of mother and protector to that of ally and supporter. I also anticipate some hesitation from Dan in joining into the conversation. The typical – though not universal – scenario is that Kate has taken on the default role of advocating for Jon while Dan watches from the sidelines.

The trick to changing this dynamic is to put the focus back on Jon. In similar situations, individuals have declared their mom as their “ex-mom who is my friend” or have thwarted their mom’s intention to have them live in the same home forever by suggesting that they, “live a polite distance away” and have drawn their dad into the conversation by declaring that they want to spend time “doing swimming with Dad because he lets me go deep.” Emboldened by the attention and support of the circle, seeing their words appear on the large paper, and given the space to express what they really want, individuals with disabilities have an amazing ability to cut to what really matters to them and to get folks on board.

My job is to facilitate the pace of the conversation, to prevent any one individual from taking over or becoming the Voice of No, and to maintain a space of respect and positive regard. The whole process requires mindfulness and self-control on the part of the coach. I have strong beliefs regarding the rights of my clients, but must maintain a neutral stance as I guide the circle to their own conclusions.

At the end of the PATH process, we will have a massive 10-15’ long wall chart outlining Jon and his circle’s dream for him, a possible and positive vision of where he will be in 5 years, a snapshot of his current reality, a list of the folks who are willing to enroll in helping him achieve his goals, a set of concrete next steps for getting the whole plan moving forward, and consensus on what will keep this group strong and focused on supporting Jon along the way.


In Part VI we’ll take a look at what happens after the PATH. As you may recall from Part III, now that we have some specific goals in place, the actual coaching begins!

For folks who like to know more, here are the references from this series:

Brouwer, P. J. (1964). The power to see ourselves. Harvard Business Review, 42(6), 156-165.

Helen Sanderson and Associates. (2007). Person centred thinking. Liberty, Missouri: HSA, USA.

Pearpoint, J., O’Brien, J., & Forest, M.  (1993). PATH: Planning possible positive futures. Inclusion Press:  Toronto.

Peterson, D. (1996). Executive coaching at work: The art of one-on-one change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 48(2), 78-86.

Stern, L. (2004). Executive Coaching: A Working Definition. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 56(3), 154-162.

Stober, D. R. & Grant, A. M. (eds.) (2006). Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting the best practices to work for your clients. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Yeah, That Would Be Me…

The one who manages to lose weight over the holidays and is currently weighing in at 147.5 lbs. I wish I could attribute it to methodical exercise and a stellar diet. It is more likely the fact that I have bronchitis and didn’t feel like cooking or eating all of the standard holiday fare.

I will give myself credit, though. I kept myself away from the cases of spiral hams and allowed myself one small piece of pumpkin pie – no whipped cream. The bag of M&Ms; that my wasband left at my house was more than I could manage – and I have managed to down a decent amount of it. So, it needs to go.

Outside of that, things are going along about as well as can be expected. My divorce is final (as of Dec. 21 – it gave a whole new meaning to the solstice) and I am looking to the future.

With 72 hours (or so) left in 2005, I have to admit that it has been a pretty impressive year. Yeah, I lost more than 40 pounds, a husband, and completed a year of school. But more than that, I began the journey of rediscovering myself.

2006 is the year I will either meet the MegaChallenge and complete my 200 workouts – or fall short. It is also the year when I will decide whether to tackle a master’s degree or to head off to a real job or a combination of the two. Lots of growth and changes are in store.

I don’t get into the whole New Year’s Resolutions thing – but I do use the change of the calendar to reassess. My favorite question is: If I could have/do/be anything what would it be? Then I have to ask: What is the first step toward having it? When can I get that step completed? Who will hold me accountable for accomplishing it?

My second favorite question is: What is in my life that I would rather be rid of? Then the same steps apply. It isn’t mindbogglingly difficult to ask, but it can have enormous impact on my life when I bother to actually implement the answers.

  • If I could be anything what would it be? A graphic facilitator/life coach. (See Christina’s site and you will have a pretty decent idea of my bliss.)
  • What is the first step toward being a life coach? Doing an assessment of my current abilities and the areas which need development.
  • When can I get that step completed? By New Year’s.
  • Who will hold me accountable? My blog readers.

And on the other side:

  • If I could get rid of anything what would it be? The clutter in my house.
  • What is the first step toward decluttering? Taking down the holiday decorations.
  • When can I get that step completed? By New Year’s.
  • Who will hold me accountable? My blog readers.

Okay – so before the ball drops in Time’s Square I will have a list of my current talents and training needs as well as all of my decorations put away.

What are you going to do to get 2006 rolling in the right direction?

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