The Dark Side of Coaching

The 2021 Study

In 2021 we are focussing on the concept of compassion satisfaction and compassion fatigue, which is closely related to burnout. The research will be carried out until August and results will be presented here. Other than in 2020, the findings will be available for a broader audience.

Please bookmark the page, if you would like to get further information. 

Brief description of the Concept of Compassion Satisfaction 

Compassion is an important trait in occupations where you are – or should be – empathic with others, especially when they experience a challenging time in their life. In a way, you co-suffer with them, when you interact with them. This is often true in care occupations and for therapists, working with their patients.

However, not only clients of therapists or people in therapeutic treatment experience difficult situations. As a coach, you might already have witnessed this yourself, when working with a coachee. Compassion also seems to be relevant for us as coaches, when we make ourselves available in the coaching process.

To be able to be compassionate, you need to be sensitive to the emotions and feelings of others, which might help you to “feel with them” (and I am consciously ignoring ourselves here, for a moment). Coachees touch you emotionally and you might be in sync with them, which can be experienced as highly supportive, by the other person, especially if you know how to use yourself as a resonance body.

However, the more you are in sync with a person, the more you might be at risk to experience a similar emotional pain.

So, it is a two-edged sword, that either is your (or "a") superpower as a coach – when all goes well, you experience compassion satisfaction. Or it can have the opposite effect, leading to pressure and compassion that fades away, to defend your own psychological safety, which might make you less helpful as a coach, in some situations.

It might also lead to compassion fatigue, up to the point where you are having difficulties to connect to others, because you are emotionally exhausted. In an even worse scenario, it might lead to burnout, which is linked to compassion fatigue.

In such a case coaching comes at a huge cost – for you as a coach. In this study, we hope to find potential factors that decrease compassion fatigue (like supervision, for example).

we will try and analyze your compassion satisfaction (which we measure as a part of the survey). We “try” because the survey we use (ProQOL) is not a diagnostic test and it is not possible to make a diagnosis, based on the test scores alone. 


We are using the Professional Quality of Life (ProQL) scale to analyze compassion satisfaction. Further information can be found here, until our paper is published.

To conduct the survey, we have teamed up with Holger Lütters - an expert in marketing and consumer surveys - and Questfox, which will allow us to carry out a survey unlike any other survey so far. More details to come. 


To participate, click here.

The 2020 Pre-Study

The first study was carried out in 2020. Most striking results so far were:

  • Compassion of coaches seems to go down over time and boredom increases.
  • Men seem to experience more insecurity as coaches, than women do.
  • After 20 years of coaching experience, there seems to be a turning point in the experience of negative feelings. 
  • Formal coaching training does not seem to reduce the occurence of negative effects. The good news is: even id negative effects occur, their impact is not very high.

But the most interesting finding of all was data, generated by comments of (presumably) non participants: The negative feedback of coaches that we have received to conduct research on “The Dark Side of Coaching: Negative impact of coaching on coaches.” I am wondering: Are we as coaches allowed to have negative feelings at all?

Further information can be accessed here