The Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness during Group Coaching Events (Jessica Talley-Haynes)

by | Sep 21, 2020

Understanding Ethical Responsibilities as a Coach; Weighing Emotional and Financial Benefits and Risks as a Participant The relationship itself is at the heart of healing…And ethics and integrity are at the heart of any healing relationship. (Taylor, 2017, p. 36)   The purpose of group coaching events is to build relationships, and fortunately, many coaches offering these opportunities received training in ethics and sincerely have the participants’ best interests in mind.

Some are board-certified and held to high standards of ethical behavior. There are a variety of areas of focus for coaching (e.g., life, business, leadership, health, and wellness, etc.), and two examples of programs with board standards for coaches include the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches (NB-HWC) and Board Certified Coach (BCC).

Board-certified coaches, similar to licensed therapists, require training in ethics and supervision to establish best practices and to promote client safety. Board-certified coaches are also needed to procure Continuing Education Units (CEU) or Continuing Education Credits (CEC) to ensure the continuance in training and professional development.

In contrast to professional, ethical standards, coaches, and group leaders exist who are not guided by integrity and ethical-driven behavior and operate without formal obligation or requirements. As a result, they may not develop a regular and earnest practice of self-reflection of values related to their motivation and intention.

These coaches are often inadequately trained, have not received sufficient supervision, and are not regulated by a governing board. They can take advantage of the same opportunities to influence participants through group events, often using untested methods and unregulated programs.

These coaches lack professional accountability. Unfortunately, if participants are harmed due to attending an event or participating in an affiliate program, there are no clear avenues established to support self-advocacy or filing an ethical grievance for the participants.

Additionally, securing retribution for the offending coach/group leader is often very difficult because many high-profile “leaders” have the financial and legal resources to protect themselves from almost any responsibility toward the participants.

As one explores options for self-development, there seems to be an increasing overlap in counseling and coaching practices, particularly in online and web-based programs. Therefore the issue of ethics becomes even more critical. Although many people have strong opinions regarding this issue of overlap, it is not the focus of this paper.

There are scores of articles and blogs written about ethics in counseling and coaching, but few focus on issues that could arise when a client enters into a non- ordinary state of consciousness (NOSC).

Although several resources on NOSC are highlighted in this paper, they are directed toward NOSC in therapy as opposed to group coaching events. Defining NOSC In an interview with Walter Mead and Stan Grof, Grof, a leader in the field of non-ordinary states, described NOSC as the following: “NOSC is characterized by dramatic perceptual changes, intense and often unusual emotions, profound alterations in the thought processes and behavior, and by a variety of psychosomatic manifestations” (Grof & Mead, 2015, para. 2). Grof explains that NOSC has always been a part of human and sacred traditions and was considered extraordinarily relevant and esteemed in spiritual and ritual practices, rites of passage, and as a diagnostic and healing practice in all cultures dating back to antiquity.

Grof additionally revealed that the lack of recognition regarding the importance of NOSC is occurring for the first time in human history in our current Western industrial society. Grof affirmed that many positive benefits could happen with the proper understanding and use of NOSC, including emotional and psychosomatic healing, personal transformation, and the evolution of consciousness (Grof & Mead,2015).

Kyle Taylor is the author of The Ethics of Caring: Honoring the Web of Life in Our Professional Healing Relationships, a remarkable book on the subject of ethics-related explicitly to NOSC. She broadly states that “non-ordinary states of consciousness (. . .) includes any state of consciousness characterized by a heightened sensitivity and awareness” (Taylor, 1995, p. 13).

She explains that our sense of connection to people and our environment increases when we enter into a non-ordinary state, and this broader sense of awareness can help us to find deeper meaning in our lives.

Taylor suggested that these moments in NOSC allow us to become more in touch with our emotions and intuition and help us understand our energetic and spiritual natures (Taylor, 1995). Taylor also described how the power in group rituals or meditations often grows as the energy from individuals in the group seeks out to connect with the energy of others, activating emotions or energetic shifts within the group.

The secure connections amplified during a NOSC experience can affect an individual’s level of vulnerability and susceptibility to persuasiveness and seduction, which is why understanding the ethics of using NOSC within a counseling or coaching relationship is essential (Taylor, 1995).

Many influential coaches and other professionals who provide workshops, seminars, and different types of group gatherings may understand the power of igniting group energy when they intentionally create opportunities for the attendees to “drop-in.” Yet, they may not truly understand (or perhaps care about) and take necessary action related to the ethical considerations of avoiding the dangers and pitfalls for those entering into non-ordinary states of consciousness.

One of the most potentially destructive elements of the group setting is the increased vulnerability to persuasion by the group or group leader. For example, the group or leader can reap significant financial gains when enticing participants to purchase products or services that they do not need or cannot afford.

Moreover, the group setting may inflate the influence and authority of a charismatic group leader and inspire a vulnerable assemblage of devoted and dedicated followers. Some of the more theatrical group leaders may know precisely how to use this energy and increased vulnerability to entice attendees to sign up for whatever they are selling, typically with the incentive of a highly discounted price if purchased during the event by using high pressured sales tactics.

Defining NOSC In an interview with Walter Mead and Stan Grof, Grof, a leader in the field of non-ordinary states, described NOSC as the following: “NOSC is characterized by dramatic perceptual changes, intense and often unusual emotions, profound alterations in the thought processes and behavior, and by a variety of psychosomatic manifestations” (Grof & Mead, 2015, para. 2).

Grof explains that NOSC has always been a part of human and sacred traditions and was considered extraordinarily relevant and esteemed in spiritual and ritual practices, rites of passage, and as a diagnostic and healing practice in all cultures dating back to antiquity.

Grof additionally revealed that the lack of recognition regarding the importance of NOSC is occurring for the first time in human history in our current Western industrial society. Grof affirmed that many positive benefits could happen with the proper understanding and use of NOSC, including emotional and psychosomatic healing, personal transformation, and the evolution of consciousness (Grof & Mead, 2015).

Kyle Taylor is the author of The Ethics of Caring: Honoring the Web of Life in Our Professional Healing Relationships, a remarkable book on the subject of ethics-related explicitly to NOSC. She broadly states that “non-ordinary states of consciousness (. . .) includes any state of consciousness characterized by a heightened sensitivity and awareness” (Taylor, 1995, p. 13).

She explains that our sense of connection to people and our environment increases when we enter into a non-ordinary state, and this broader sense of awareness can help us to find deeper meaning in our lives.

Taylor suggested that these moments in NOSC allow us to become more in touch with our emotions and intuition and help us understand our energetic and spiritual natures (Taylor, 1995). Taylor also described how the power in group rituals or meditations often grows as the energy from individuals in the group seeks out to connect with the energy of others, activating emotions or energetic shifts within the group.

The secure connections amplified during a NOSC experience can affect an individual’s level of vulnerability and susceptibility to persuasiveness and seduction, which is why understanding the ethics of using NOSC within a counseling or coaching relationship is essential (Taylor, 1995).

Many influential coaches and other professionals who provide workshops, seminars, and different types of group gatherings may understand the power of igniting group energy when they intentionally create opportunities for the attendees to “drop in,” yet they may not truly understand (or perhaps care about) and take necessary action related to the ethical considerations of avoiding the dangers and pitfalls for those entering into non- ordinary states of consciousness.

One of the most potentially destructive elements of the group setting is the increased vulnerability to persuasion by the group or group leader. For example, the group or leader can reap significant financial gains when enticing participants to purchase products or services that they do not need or cannot afford.

Moreover, the group setting may inflate the influence and authority of a charismatic group leader and inspire a vulnerable assemblage of devoted and dedicated followers. Some of the more theatrical group leaders may know precisely how to use this energy and increased vulnerability to entice attendees to sign up for whatever they are selling, typically with the incentive of a highly discounted price if purchased during the event by using high pressured sales tactics.

There is nothing inherently wrong with inducing NOSC, as the experience can be a very beneficial and positive, but the individuals exposed to this technique should be informed about the expectations, benefits, and dangers, and they should not be encouraged to make crucial decisions or to sign any legally binding contracts while in this altered state.

I work with NOSC in a therapeutic setting and have received years of training to increase my awareness and understanding of the benefits and risks associated with this work. Unfortunately, there are untrained entrepreneurial coaches also using NOSC to amplify the energy during their events to increase the likelihood of the participants signing up for their programs, courses, or products, with no regard for the emotional safety or financial position of the participants.

Although these seductive sales pitches are as old as snake oil medicine itself, coaches and future coaches need to understand what they are doing, and for participants to understand the potential for being seduced by a high sales pitch when in an altered state of consciousness.

Therapeutic NOSC Entering NOSC can be very common in some therapies when the client is encouraged to set the thinking mind aside and to allow him/herself to drop into a deeper state of awareness. In a non- ordinary experience, the client is aware of what is happening around him/her, but also has a broader recognition of self and the world, and potentially has a connection with what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious, where we may store our mythical and archetypal imagery.

Therapeutic experiences in NOSC can be precious in helping clients gain new perspectives when they are blocked or stuck when they rely too heavily on their logical, rational mind, or when they have a traumatic history.

For these vulnerable clients, this work needs to be done with a well-trained practitioner who can safely facilitate a NOSC technique such as The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, Holotropic Breathwork, EMDR, mindfulness, Re-birthing, drumming and rhythmic dancing, biofeedback, fasting, or meditation.

There are also psychedelic therapy techniques that provide opportunities for NOSC, but these techniques are not a focus of this article. In an article tithe tled Altered  States  of  Consciousness by Christa Smith, Psy.D. posted in 2015 on the Psychology Today website; Smith discussed the benefits of entering into altered states when clients are caught up in the trap of self- analyzing themselves into a corner.

She asserted that they rely only on their intellect for healing when perhaps a different state of consciousness could provide more insight and awareness. She stated that “Thinking through our problems is an important part of healing, but we may end up viewing the problems we face solely with the same mind that helped create them” (Smith, 2015, para. 7).

Smith defended altered states as sacred and powerful places that take us beyond words and challenge us to explore our deeper selves and to experience transformational healing opportunities (Smith, 2015). Sometimes we need to bypass our specific problems to get to what is at the root of the issue.

We often have this opportunity when we get out of our heads and into our emotions. Everyday NOSC We may unintentionally enter into non-ordinary states throughout our lives without realizing it. This can happen when we drop into a state of flow, such as when we are daydreaming, practicing yoga, meditating or chanting, giving birth, painting or sculpting, or when we are deeply involved in something that takes us out of our ordinary, logical frame of mind.

Less commonly, it can happen when we are sleep deprived or have a high fever. Have you ever been so intently involved in a project that many hours had gone by, and you were shocked when you finally noticed the time? During these moments, we are aware of what is happening around us, though we are often slightly disconnected from it, and we are aware of a more profound sense of being and knowing at the same time as we become completely immersed in the activity.

It can be a beautiful, often productive experience. Informed Consent and Safety with NOSC Kylea Taylor’s book on ethics includes essential information regarding informed consent and safety while using NOSC with clients. She stated that good candidates for this type of work should have healthy ego development and should be able to function adequately in everyday life.

Informed consent is provided by the facilitator to inform the client or participant of what she will be doing and how the process may impact her, and this is extremely important when encouraging a client or participant to enter into non-ordinary reality.

Regarding safety, Taylor warns that transference (which is often explained as an unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another) can potentially be an issue due to increased desires for nurturing, personal contact, and spiritual connection that often occurs during NOSC (Taylor, 1995).

It becomes easy to see how participants in NOSC can be more vulnerable to persuasion and manipulation if those directing the process have not been trained in the ethics of using NOSC, or worse if they allow financial gains to take precedence over ethical considerations. Taylor emphasizes the moral responsibility of the therapist (or coach, as it relates to this article) to prepare clients before they enter into a non- ordinary state because it can sometimes lead to unusual or peculiar feelings.

She adds that it can also increase the potential for cognitive dissonance, which could result in a somatic or psychospiritual crisis (which can be described as an identity crisis related to intense changes in beliefs about body-oriented or spiritual perceptions).

Taylor is firm in her assertion that the facilitator should also assist clients in returning to ordinary consciousness before concluding with the session (Taylor, 1995). This ensures that they are grounded before returning to daily life activities such as driving or making important life decisions. When charismatic group leaders create conditions for participants to enter into NOSC directly preceding a sales pitch, it may be wise to question their integrity and ethical standards.

The conditions for NOSC can be very beneficial in bringing participants together and for inspiring courage, creativity, and perspective. Still, it is ethically irresponsible to create NOSC to take advantage of or to manipulate participants, or for financially- motivated coercion. It is particularly disheartening when leaders in the self-help genre take advantage of participants from vulnerable populations who are seeking support or help with managing their lives.

Dangerous Pitfalls for Facilitators of NOSC Most facilitators of NOSC who have been trained in NOSC maintain strong ethical standards with their clients and participants. The concern comes from rogue group leaders who are charismatic and influential, but have no formal training in or do not adhere to the responsibilities for working with clients or participants in these states. In The Ethics of Caring, Kylea Taylor cautions us to consider that facilitators who are creating their therapeutic techniques are not typically in a position where they look for or receive peer feedback and supervision (Taylor, 1995).

The lack of checks and balances can potentially put these leaders at a higher risk for questionable or corrupt behavior. According to Taylor (1995), additional pitfalls include the potential for therapists to follow a therapeutic model that excites the therapist but is not working for the client, or when boundaries become blurred due to extraordinary experiences in NOSC shared between client and therapist (Taylor, 1995).

What should therapists or facilitators do to prevent some of these pitfalls? Taylor explains that “Because of this tendency of energy to affect energy, a caregiver working with clients in profound states needs, more than any other single attribute, her own extensive experience doing her work as a client in non-ordinary states of consciousness.” She also believes that those who have not received considerable training, personal experience, and supervision in these processes may be hurting the clients they are practicing (Taylor, 1995).

The potential consequences for the unethical exploitation of participants can be far-reaching, mainly if the participant is in a vulnerable position, to begin with. If the participant signs a legally binding contract for a program he or she cannot follow through on or cannot afford, he or she may experience additional compounding stress due to potential impacts to his or her credit, pressure from debt collectors, loss of home or resources, and the humiliation of “failing”…especially when participants are assured that the program is fail-safe for everyone who the puts in the effort.

In consideration of these potential consequences, any offer presented by a group coach/leader should be made only when the client is in a healthy, rational state of mind, can think clearly, and can decide if the purchase is a viable decision at this time in her life.

Conclusion and Suggestions when working with NOSC NOSC can be very advantageous experiences that can often have significant and sometimes transformational outcomes for those who are provided a safe opportunity to expand their minds and their understanding of the world around and within them. As a practitioner of the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music and Fellow by the Association of Music and Imagery (FAMI), I have been trained in NOSC and in the ethics of working in NOSC with clients. I have learned not to underestimate the power of non-ordinary states, or the potential dangers if misused.

I am hopeful that the reader will pay more attention to everyday NOSC and to take advantage of the potential benefits of these states. I am also optimistic that more people will begin to take a stand against those using these techniques for their own financial, political, or personal gain.

The more we are educated, the more aware we will be when the potential for NOSC arises, and the less likely we will be taken advantage of when we are pressured to make decisions that may leave us feeling manipulated or mislead.

If you have participated in a group experience where you believe that non-ordinary states were facilitated, I would love to hear about your experiences. I am sure that many people have had very positive encounters that may have impacted their lives significantly, and I want to encourage people to continue with these healthy endeavors. This article was inspired by my own experience witnessing unethical use of NOSC in a group setting for financial gain.

Because my training in the ethics related to NOSC was so offended by this occurrence, I felt the ethical obligation to help educate those who have not had training in this discipline. I hope that you will take this information into account when attending group experiences or if you have the opportunity to experience NOSC in a therapeutic setting with a trained facilitator.

References:

Taylor, K. (1995). The Ethics of Caring: Honoring the Web of Life in Our Professional Healing Relationships. Santa Cruz, CA: Hanford Mead. Taylor, K. (2017). The Ethics of Caring: Finding Right Relationship with Clients. Santa Cruz, CA: Hanford Mead. Interview, Grof, S. & Mead, W. (2015). The Healing Potential of Non-ordinary States of Consciousness (Walter Mead interviewing Stan Grof). Retrieved from http:// www.stanislavgrof.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Healing-Potential-of-NOS_Grof.pdf Smith, C. (2015). Altered States of Consciousness, Why We Need Them, Psychology Today. Posted, August 24, 2015. Retrieved from https:// www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shift/201508/ altered-states-consciousness Center for Credentialing and Education: Board Certified Coach (BCC). Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.cce-global.org/Credentialing/ Ethics/BCC National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NB-HWC). Retrieved from https://nbhwc.org/nb- hwc/ Abstract The purpose of this article is to increase awareness for coaches and their participants who take part in significant group events that may generate (consciously or unconsciously) non-ordinary states of consciousness (NOSC). Definitions of NOSC are discussed as well as the benefits, which include increased participant sensitivity and awareness. Coaches need to understand how NOSC occurs, and that negative implications exist. Ethical implications (i.e., informed consent and safety) to protect coaches and participants are also discussed.

All Posts

Nurturing a Legacy: The Enduring Influence of Fatherhood

Nurturing a Legacy: The Enduring Influence of Fatherhood

Fathers often play an unsung yet crucial role in shaping the lives of their children. While mothers receive rightful praise for their nurturing roles, fathers contribute significantly to their children's development, leaving a lasting legacy through their actions and...

More from Life Coaching Today