Ontological Coaching

Exploring changes to your way of being with mBraining

There are numerous forms of coaching available in our modern world, and many reasons why clients and organisations seek coaching support.

Not all clients want to look deeply, beyond performance based issues and day to day function. For those who do however, mBraining offers a simple, yet profound model to work at the deepest sense of core identity, enabling someone, should they wish to explore with an mBIT coach, their very way of being in the world – their ontology.


Moving from Human Beings to Human Becomings

“We are not human beings, we are human becomings.” ~ Dr. Humberto Maturan

Ontological coaching is not new. A quick google search will reveal numerous articles and references talking of “going back to the centre”, “coaching a way of being” and “coaching to the human soul”.

If we look at the meaning of the word Ontology – ‘to be’ – it opens up philosophical questions around existence versus perception of reality. Indeed we could argue the only reality there is at any point is that which we create through our thinking. As such no absolute reality exists. So how do we coach to such an abstract idea?

In mBraining we coach people to get out of their heads. The only identity which exists at head level is an ego identity, our perception of who we are, based on beliefs of who we should be. When coming from our head based perception we see ourselves as separate and we work to ensure our best interests are served.

While this is a healthy part of our early development, it is essential to “return to centre” to prevent us from being caught up in judgement of others, a perception that our view of the world is the only one that matters and a lack of tolerance (let alone compassion) for others, that would lead to true deep connection. It is from ego based identity that conflict arises, a perceived need to protect self and fight for survival.

In mythology and fairy tales we often read of characters journeying to find themselves – and this is what ontological coaching is about. To journey inwards to their true selves: a journey to find meaning and purpose in a complex, fast changing world, which so many people seem to be searching for.


So, how do we coach ontologically?

We require an awareness of all sources of intelligence (head, heart and gut). To access these intelligences (brains) we need to find a way to quieten our inner selves, to hear the small quiet voices from within and indeed to become aware of what we don’t yet know.

We become skilled at enabling the client to STOP, to stop thinking especially – to take stock and to prevent the ongoing patterns of motions which have become unconscious habit.

Careful contracting to ensure the client is informed and wiling to proceed in that style of coaching is essential prior to beginning any session.

An ontological coach will not provide any answers, but will guide and support the client to bring forth their own deep inner wisdom. It is essential that the client is aware of this style of coaching being recommended.

Not all clients truly desire real and lasting ontological change.

Assuming the client is keen to proceed, a simple breathing technique (known as the mBIT Balanced Breathing process) can be used to establish balance of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

A regular, deep breathing rhythm of preferably around a count of 6 in and count of 6 out, for 2 minutes is usually sufficient to balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems in the ANS. Without this, it is not possible to fully access the 3 brains (head, heart and gut neural intelligences), or allow their highest expressions to emerge.

Having acquired systemic balance, it is essential to connect with all three brains. Communicating with each brain in turn, enquiring around their prime functions (see Table 1), and not pursuing any set process, or script, the ontological, mBIT coach, will artfully guide the client to a deeper sense of self and purpose.


Prime Functions of the 3 Brains

  • Head: Cognitive Perception; Thinking; Making Meaning
  • Heart: Emoting; Values; Relational Affect

  • Gut: Core identity; Self Preserva&on; Mobilisa&on


Knowing that the brains communicate in different ways, enables the coach to recognise which brain is expressing itself; for example the gut may communicate in metaphor or kinaesthetic sensation, the heart by pictures or feelings, whereas the head may speak in fluent sentences.

At the communication phase in ontological coaching it is essential that the gut is enabled to fully express itself, as it is the seat of our core identity. This may require skills to foster safety and security, without which, it is unlikely the gut will be willing to share of itself that deeply.

If the coach has not established a deep sense of trust, or if they are not operating from a personal way of being that is real and authentic, again, it is unlikely the client will be willing to share at this level. What is essential is a safe holding of space, which enables a deep wisdom to emerge, and that is probably new to the persons’ awareness.

As that awareness emerges, sensitive and mature coaching is required to artfully tease out the deeper meaning of ontology, which can begin to open up new avenues of being in the world, to enable the client to explore unknown ways of being, new ways of being and create evolving ways of being within the context within which they live and work.

“Every brain evolves in its ability to operate as a processor, as a receiver, as a user of information.” ~ Dr. Michael Merzenic

Ontological coaching then is at the level of transformational or generative change which is likely to open up new ways of being the person had not even imagined previously – and this requires careful and skilled guiding from trained practitioners.

Even more excitingly, we know that neuroplasticity is evident in all three brains, so this level of coaching generates the development of new neural networks, literally changing the very structure of the brains, as you coach.

This is what makes mBraining so exquisite in its approach. And what allows for such deep ontological shifts. It literally allows the client to evolve new neural structures and new embodied ways of being.

Having opened a channel of communication with all three brains, a skilled coach will then align the three brains through a further guidance process, negotiating and dancing through the session, to the point that all three brains are in agreement of the potential way forward – and all three brains are operating at their highest expression (see Table 2) in any decisions made.

Highest Expressions of the 3 Brains

  • Head: Creativity
  • Heart: Compassion
  • Gut: Courage

It is only when all three brains are actively communicating, and aligned, not only with each other, but with the Highest and best form of self, that wisdom emerges. This is the point at which true ontological change is possible.

However, any change is not fully integrated until it is integrated at a deep gut level, so further work in artfully guiding the gut to integrate any agreed change is essential to assure ongoing lasting change. This ensures ongoing identity change.

It may be that full integration at gut level does not happen for 24-48 hours since the gut has a longer dwell time than the heart or head brains, so a follow up call or check in with the client is advised when working at this level.


What does it mean to coach ontologically?

By coaching at an ontological level you open up for the client the possibility of changing how they are in the world, their very sense of being; perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, values, ways of communicating and ways of behaving. Literally the way they see and experience the world can or will change.

Old established patterns can be dismantled, and new patterns formed, which is why the skilful guidance of an appropriately trained coach is essential, to ensure the changes are appropriate, moral and ethical in line with the persons’ core values and beliefs.

Any fixed idea or sense of who they are can fall away, opening up the possibility of ‘Human Becoming’ (and away from a fixed sense of previous ‘Human Being’). Deep personal learning opportunities emerge and from that new ways of decision making, which are based on an integrated wise approach which probably was not within their conscious awareness before the session – and which is far more likely to be successful and resourceful moving forwards.

Ontological coaching then is deep and profound, it can change the very essence of someone at their core and so should be undertaken with respect, humbleness and the upmost professionalism.



In a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, such as we face today, where it is impossible to predict future events and possibilities, it is essential that we learn how to be adaptive and flexible.

It is essential that we have the ability to make wise decisions fast and from a central grounded ethical place consider others through deep heart based connection in all that we do.

Coaching from the head alone may have been effective in a knowledge based society, where knowing what to do was power, where everything could be measured and monitored over time.

But, today we, and our clients, will require the ability to not know in absolute terms, to hold multiple perspectives, yet be able to continue to navigate and lead successfully in a forward direction, for the greater good of those around us, with wisdom and compassion.

It will be essential moving forwards that we skill people to recreate themselves to adapt to the changing environment they find themselves living within in life and work. Ontological coaching and mBraining are, we deeply believe, key ways to assist that journey.

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” ~ R. D. Laing


First published in Worldwide Coaching Magazine, March/April edition 2017  By Dr. Suzanne Henwood and Grant Soosalu

Image by chris lawton

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