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  • MIke Brouwer

What can we learn from philosophers when working as a coach? – Ricoeur

Bijgewerkt op: 6 dec. 2022

Paul Ricoeur was a French philosopher who sought to explore the relationship between language, interpretation and human action. As such, he was highly influential in the development of narrative therapy.

We are able to tell a story about ourselves, which presupposes the existence of an I that can talk to itself, as in a reflection. Autonomy is seen as the extent to which you are free to tell your own story about your life, with the importance of coherence between story and choices. His work can help coaches to better understand the stories people tell about their lives and provide a blueprint for how to work with clients to help them create new stories and move forward.


Specifically, Ricoeur’s work highlights the importance of listening and understanding a client’s story without judgement, in particular: understanding the social and cultural context of the story. He recognized that each story is formed within a context of relationships with others, and therefor limited in freedom to make autonomous choices.

Within that context there’s also care and concern for others, highlighting that being recognized is an important goal for all of us. Coaches can use Ricoeur’s work to help clients explore how they define themselves in the context of the world around them. Autonomy and care can be powerful aspects to explore the relations with others.



Ricoeur’s work emphasized the value of self-reflection and the importance of engaging in (internal) dialogue as a means of exploring our inner lives and constructing meaningful narratives. He points us to the experience of the Self listening to the Self, which can help coaches to create meaningful and transformative coaching experiences when introducing clients to that experience.


At a more global level he was an advocate of strong institutions to support the care of as many others, while pointing at the risk of institutions becoming bureaucratic and losing sight of their original purpose. Ricoeur’s concern can be seen as a permission for coaches to use their personal freedom, autonomy and care to apply a practical form of wisdom in their work with clients, independent of their (coaching) institutions.

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