Dr. Bret Alderman
I received my PhD in Depth Psychology from the Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2013. My first book was published by Routledge in their Research in Analytical Psychology and Jungian Studies series in 2016. I have taught courses on the roots of human behavior, neuroscience, and biopsychology at UC Berkeley through the Summer Institute for the Gifted and presently I teach Intercultural Communication through Alliant University.
Those are some of my credentials and accomplishments, but they can only tell you so much about me. As strange as it may sound, it is probably more important to my work as a coach the fact that in my twenties and thirties I worked long, grueling hours on fishing boats in the bone-chilling cold of the Bering Sea. I know what frozen sleet in high winds feels like as it cuts into your hands and face. I also know that working a 40-hour shift in sub-freezing temperature can teach you a few things about life, limits, and adversity:
The most difficult of life circumstances contain transformative potential, if we are willing to embrace the difficulty. What makes life’s difficulties transformative is the attitude we take towards them, and I'm not talking here about some cliché conception of positive thinking. No. What I mean is this: It is a game-changer when we fully understand that there is long-term growth hidden within short-term discomfort, even if the discomfort involves real suffering.
Our own personal limits—whether physical, psychological, intellectual or otherwise—are never quite what we imagine. They are real, but illusory: We are almost always capable of much more than we believe. Endurance athletes know this well. The so-called "wall" that marathoners run up against is not made of concrete. It is not made up of depleted muscle glycogen, limits in lung capacity, or the number of callouses on a person's feet. First and foremost, the wall is made of limiting beliefs . . . and those beliefs can be taken down, brick by metaphorical brick. I've seen it happen, and I've felt the exhilaration that accompanies the collapse of such self-imposed limitations.
Everyone has the ability to turn adversity into advantage. Often times adversity provides the energy and impetus needed to help us take our first steps towards a new life. Adversity often announces growth to come. Disaster, or what appears like disaster on first glance, is at times the best thing that could ever happen to us. It is just hard to see it that way when you're in the thick of it. Divorce is a perfect example, a gut-wrenchingly-painful one that I know well. All of life's setbacks have the potential to increase our resilience, creativity, and character.
For the same reasons that working those long shifts in the bitter cold was more important to my education as a life coach than the diplomas on my wall, the fact that, for well over a decade, I earned a living as a freelance translator while living in Mexico is more important for my life coaching practice than the letters PhD behind my name. The challenges of learning a new language, navigating the experience of culture shock, and acclimating myself to the norms and expectations of a foreign culture taught me adaptability and resilience. These challenges didn't teach me a theory about adaptability and resilience (although such theories can be useful). They taught me experientially. This will come in handy if you and I decide to work together. It will come in handy because when you are up against one of life's steep learning curves, I'll know the territory and have confidence that, just as I did, you will navigate that curve just fine.
Having said all that, my formal education does play an important role in the work I do. I have been trained in Depth Psychology, and I've spent decades delving into the work of Carl Jung and other notables who have followed in his footsteps, or taken similar paths. One thing that sort of training has done for me is to attune my ear to the deep resonance of metaphor. We are constantly speaking through metaphor whether we know it or not, and often times the metaphors we use have a great deal to teach us. So, when a client tells me, while speaking of a new business venture, that she lost her footing momentarily, my ears perk up. I ask, "Where else in your life have you lost your footing?" or "What does it feel like when you lose your footing?" Often times what happens when we explore a metaphoric expression this way, through multiple open-ended questions, we arrive at a little gold nugget, a little piece of wisdom, insight, or experience that is exactly what the client needs to take the next leap forward in his or her life.
Another way that my training in Depth Psychology informs my work as a life coach is through an understanding of archetypal patterns. Although each of us is a truly singular individual who draws upon a wealth of experience that is uniquely our own, at the same time we all share certain universal traits that make us human. We think and feel, dream and act, desire and fear in ways that are remarkably similar. Even the dilemmas, challenges, and goals that are most uniquely our own as individuals, upon closer examination, bare a striking resemblance to those of others. This is why heroic tales, even from far off lands and times so different from our own, never fail to resonate deeply within us. As a coach, having a sense of such similarities helps me identify certain psychological patterns and dynamics that can be conducive to greater fulfillment or, conversely, can serve to thwart it.
One last thing that I want you to know about me and what informs my practice as a life coach: I want you to find the right coach for you. That is what is most important. Your needs come first. I want you to find the coach that best fits who you are and what your goals are, and there are plenty to choose from here in the Bay Area and elsewhere. You deserve to work with someone with whom you have a good rapport, someone who gets you, someone who will bring out the best in you. That may be me, but it may not. The important thing is that you find a good fit. Having said that, I also want you to know that I work with a pretty vast array of clients of different ages, ethnicities, cultures, genders and sexual orientations, whose goals range far and wide: artists wanting to overcome creative blocks; students struggling to develop better study habits; professionals navigating mid-life transitions; individuals coping with divorce or relationship issues, and all sorts of folks striving towards fitness and weight-loss goals, to name but a few.
If you feel like we may be a good fit, book a complimentary session and we'll take if from there!
Bret Alderman, Oakland, CA, 2019
HOW I WORK
From Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones
In our first session, after a brief discussion on what coaching is and isn’t, as well as a brief overview of a few logistical issues, we’ll design an alliance. In coach speak “designing the alliance” refers to establishing mutual expectations and preferences as to how we are going to work together and what your objectives are. I'll ask you what you would like to get out of coaching and where you presently are at in relation to that desired outcome. I'll ask you a few questions about motivation and inspiration and if you have any special requests of me. Let me give you a few examples of that last part: Some clients have told me to feel free to interrupt them at any moment. Others have asked me to really let them "ramble" because this is how they best process. Others have told me they appreciate people who are very blunt and to the point. And the list goes on. Once we've established those special requests, I'll ask a few more questions to make sure that you and I both feel like we are allies in the mutually-shared desire to see you reach your fullest potential. Hopefully, by that point we'll have gotten to know each other well enough to have a feel for whether or not we would make a good team. After that, assuming we feel like we're a good fit, the real coaching begins.
As a coach, I listen to you with the sole intent of understanding your experience from your point of view. It’s a form of deep, empathic listening in which I focus completely on you, because that’s who the session is really about.
Most of my clients come with a goal in mind. Sometimes, it is a very specific, concrete goal that they can clearly articulate. Other times, it takes the form of something a bit more general, or fuzzy, or hard to define. Either way, it gives us a starting point and a direction to head in. It helps us set an agenda for the overall coaching relationship, as well as that particular session. With our agenda in mind, we begin a form of structured improvisation through dialogue. As a coach, I listen to you with the sole intent of understanding your experience from your point of view. It’s a form of deep, empathic listening in which I focus completely on you, because that’s who the session is really about. Deep listening of this sort is remarkably powerful in and of itself. But I don’t just listen. I also ask powerful questions about who you are (or perceive yourself to be), what you are learning about yourself, and what actions you are taking in relation to that information. Coaching works on the premise that you have the answers within, and as your coach it is my responsibility to help guide you towards those answers through asking the right questions. Rarely will I tell you what to do or what you should do.
Through this structured improvisation, certain themes begin to emerge, usually involving core motivations and stumbling blocks. Most of my clients begin identifying their stumbling blocks within the first few sessions, if not the very first session. More importantly, soon thereafter, they begin turning those stumbling blocks into stepping stones. What do I mean by this? Often the particular obstacle that a person is trying to overcome contains important information hidden within it. Discovering this information and tapping into it helps clients make the changes they need to make. It’s what changes an obstacle that hinders progress into an opportunity that facilitates it. Often, such obstacles come in the form of limiting beliefs and behaviors. Sometimes they are beliefs and behaviors that once served a purpose but are no longer what's needed for a person's present life situation. By bringing awareness to them, then developing a clearly-defined and intentional attitude towards them, we turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
Very often, by the end of the session, we’ve arrived at a well-designed action step. By designing these actions together, as opposed to me telling you what I think they should be, I empower you to find solutions that are meaningful and relevant to you.
There are times when the structured improvisation of coaching takes the form of a specific tool or technique that we may use, such as the Core Motivation Assessment, Designing Your Future Self, Dialogue with the Inner Critic, Wheel of Life, or an Assumption Chart, to name but a few. More often, the coaching is guided by the genius of intentional, empathic dialogue, which helps the client acquire the clarity, energy, and vitality needed to change his or her current life trajectory. Everyone who wants to create change in their life feels afraid at some point in the process. As strange as it may sound, the fear is an indication that they are in the right place. It means they are in the place where real growth happens. Through the coach-client dialogue, I help my clients develop strategies and actions to move through their fears and into new lives. These "new lives" can take the form of opening a new business, healing or leaving a difficult relationship, completing an important project, getting through graduate school, finding a new vocation, taking athletic performance to the next level, or many other forms.
Everyone who wants to create change in their life feels afraid at some point in the process. As strange as it may sound, the fear is an indication that they are in the right place. It means they are in the place where real growth happens.
Very often, by the end of the session, we’ve arrived at a well-designed action step. By designing these actions together, as opposed to me telling you what I think they should be, I empower you to find solutions that are meaningful and relevant to you. This meaning and relevance is what really generates the energy needed for you to accomplish what needs to get done. Regardless of your current life situation, I support the emergent you, helping you navigate your own unique process of emergence with grace. I support your dream and, more importantly, I help you get clear on the logistics of the dream - the concrete actions you need to take to make it a reality. One way I do this is by checking in at the beginning of each session to see if you’ve followed through on your planned action. I am an accountability buddy, one who knows what the action means in the overall scheme of your life. Having such a buddy can be a very powerful catalyst for change.