Secondary gain – An issue for both client and coach

Secondary gain is problem for not only a Life Coach’s client, but also the Coach.

The clock says its eight fifteen and I know I should have wrapped up this coaching session ages ago. But my client needs all the help they secondary gaincan get and I’ve got no other appointments in my diary for another hour or so. So I may as well continue.

What do you think?

The coach’s logic seems sound and their intentions are good – or are they? I would question their motive. While coaches will often have to not only earn their income, but also their coach mastery stripes, mastering the successful removal of secondary gain will certainly have them succeed on both fronts. After all, secondary gain is typically the one barrier to ensuring coaching success. The problem however, is that psychologists, therapists, councillors AND coaches will sometimes meet their need for significance by perpetuating a client’s problem.

Secondary gain may be a significant perpetuating factor in illness and disability, and it’s also a problem when it comes to coaching clients out of their issues. When the gain on the problem side is greater than on the solution side, no one is going anywhere fast. So how does a practitioner perpetuate a client’s secondary gain? The answer is not obvious.

5 Ways a practitioner supports a client’s secondary gain.

  1. Commiserate and empathise with the client’s problem (too much)
  2. Take more responsibility for your client’s issues and goals, than your client
  3. Value being liked more than being a great Coach
  4. Invest too much time in a single session, it sends the wrong message
  5. Be too quick to help a client out of their pain without establishing the price their paying for their issue

5 Things NOT to do…


1. Don’t commiserate and empathise with the client’s problem (too much)

If a Coach focuses on the problem too much, the problem metaphorically gets bigger than the solution. While it would be equally foolish to dismiss the problem as whimsical. Instead, allow only enough investment to ensure that the client completely relates and understands the price of the problem. This can be simply achieved with the Coaches asking, “How is this a problem for you?”

2. Don’t take more responsibility for your client’s issues and goals than your client

Helping your clients to solve their problems, rise above their issues and even heal can at times have you feeling a little ‘Godlike’ as a Coach. Psychologists have a name for it, though I’ll omit that for now. When a Coach gets a taste of being God for a moment, it can become quite addictive and there is always a downside to every addiction. This one will have us investing more in a client’s problem than the client. After all, God can fix anything – can’t she? There is a good reason God doesn’t fix everything in the world because if he did there would be not a lesson to learn in sight. For this reason, it is usually better to ask questions and help our clients get it, rather than us giving all of the time.

3. Don’t value being liked more than being a great Coach

We’re Coaches, of course we care, it goes without saying. But sometimes we can care too much and not let our clients feel pain. Worse still, the need to be viewed as the ‘caring Coach’ will sometimes have us avoiding asking the hard questions which we may view as too harsh or brutal. If we’re not careful, we may miss every time our client moves from ’cause’ to ‘effect’.

4. Don’t invest too much time in a single session, it sends the wrong message

If we are going way over time in our coaching sessions, then it tells our client that we’re not really sure what to do and we’ll try everything. It also tells our client that we do not value our time and we’re not efficient with it. But how does it play into the client’s secondary gain? It simply says we’ll do all the work and anything we have to to help. It dissuades the client from owning their problem, after all, they have to do something about it too – not just you.

5. Don’t be too quick to help your client out of their pain without establishing the price their paying for their issue

If your client is not fully cognoscente of the full price they are paying for their problem (other than your fee), then they don’t have any real reason to remove it. As silly as this may sound – I once had a client who had little awareness of the price she was paying for a problem that she had since she was eight years old. She was seeing councillor after psychologist after councillor after therapist and getting a great deal of attention. In just one session we did a cost analysis of what the problem had cost her in therapy, in pain, in a diminishing self-esteem, etc., etc. and guess what. She gladly let go of the problem.

Secondary gain is what will stop you from gaining success with your clients folks. Do everything you can in that first session to make sure the client is clear that it is their responsibility, not yours – to remove it. Happy coaching.

If you have never worked with a Life Coach before and think you can benefit from getting one – perhaps consider test-driving a Life Coach with a free session…

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