A 3 Step Model to Help Your Client Work Through Difficult Feelings and Emotions

Coach and Client Dealing with Difficult Emotions in Session

How many times have you watched a client, friend or loved one do (or not do) something that's clearly going to cause them difficulty later on? Could this be because we live in a society that believes that facts, science and rationality will solve all our problems. Yet, whether we're aware of it or not, we're ALL ruled by our feelings and emotions.

Whatever kind of coaching you do—even business, career and executive coaching—it's often feelings (as well as those tricky beliefs) that get in the way. And the more buried those feelings and emotions are—the more likely they are to trip our clients up.

So if you have a stuck client, it may be that they need to work through their emotions and release 'stuck energy' around a situation or person.

Is "Releasing 'stuck' energy" a little "woo-woo" for you?

Think about it for a moment. When something unpleasant happens we often replay it in our minds. But when we do this, we relive not only the event itself but how it FELT—and all the 'negative' thoughts and feelings are dredged up all over again.

This leaves us feeling drained and often feeling bad about ourselves. And when we're tired and feeling bad about ourselves—who has the energy to face challenges and move forwards?

Here's an example:

Once, I had this strong, outspoken client. Yet she panicked whenever she needed to stand up to her boss.

Then, one session, after telling me about her most recent interaction with her boss, she spontaneously mentioned a story of a bully who humiliated her in front of her class in junior high. No-one would play with her for a week.

So I asked her, "What are you feeling right now?". I simply sat there and acknowledged as she shared how shaming the whole incident was and how difficult it had been for her.

She cried and was quite embarrassed, and I sat there some more, occasionally nodding.

Afterwards we continued with our session and as we were agreeing actions at the end a light-bulb went on for her! She said she was afraid if she stood up to her boss that he would shame her and she would lose the respect of her colleagues.

This 'Aha Moment' was a turning point. (After some in session role-playing and preparation) she went on to speak up for herself, as well as ask for —and receive—get a well-deserved promotion!

"The 3 As" - A Powerful 3 Step Model for Difficult Feelings and Emotions:

The Big Idea: This exercise is not about trying to change anything, just providing a compassionate, comforting presence that allows people to process and release emotions and feelings, get unstuck and move forwards.


This is the "what". Help your client look more closely at their feelings and emotions "with a flashlight". Ask simple questions to help your client get clear on WHAT they are feeling.

  • You could try asking, "What are you feeling right now?" and "What else?"
  • You can also go a little deeper and ask, "So, what is it like for you to feel like that?"


This is about acknowledging what they're feeling, and witnessing their pain so they feel both validated and supported.

  • Try something like, "That sounds like it was hard/painful/difficult for you."


The simplest, but hardest step. Feelings can be painful and are often irrational—and we know it! So of course people try to rationalise or avoid feeling them. But it's the very avoidance of feeling (what we already feel!) that keeps us stuck!

Helping people allow their feelings is as simple as sitting there with them—and doing nothing except being a compassionate presence.

  • Try saying, "It takes a lot of courage to do this—but how about we just sit with that for a moment?"
  • Then literally sit with them while they experience their feelings.
  • Also, a great way to get people out of thinking and into ALLOWING the experience is to ask:
    • "Where in your body do you feel that?" and "What is that like?"
  • Then use YOUR gut-feelings to decide when to move on. Don't rush them out of this. Maybe you notice a shift in their body language, position or energy.

Wrapping up the process

To wrap-up you can ask them something like:

  • "How was that experience for you?"
  • "What did you learn about yourself?"
  • "How do you feel now?"

Other great things to ask to help them be stronger in the present time include:

  • "What would you do differently if this happened now?"
  • "What resources would you have to call on now, that you didn't have then?"
  • "What might you say to this younger you?"

Hopefully they will feel a little lighter and be able to take their next steps from a place of authenticity and strength—instead of fear and avoidance!

Watch out for:

IMPORTANT: Know the line between counselling/therapy and coaching. If the memory is of a deep or abusive situation, or if your client is emotionally fragile or stuck, it may be beyond the realms of our coach training—and you may need to refer them to a therapist or counsellor.

  • Consider: How comfortable are YOU with feelings and emotions? People will sense your discomfort or judgement so don't ask someone to delve into their feelings unless you're sure you can fully support them.
  • Your client may well cry or get visibly upset. It's important that you DON'T try to fix them or interrupt the process. Simply compassionately support and BE with them as they release their feelings and emotions.

If you like this article on how to work through difficult feelings and emotions you may also like:

Lastly, love Coaching Processes and Models? Check out The GROW Model Explained with Coaching Questions, Graphic, Tips & more!

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Coach and Client Dealing with Difficult Emotions in Session by SpeedKingz via Shutterstock


  1. Vernon Diannah Porter

    Your emails and contents are always so helpful. Once things change I and I can make a living with this, I will be into LifeStyle Coaching full time. Hopefully in the next year or so. Special Thanks. Rev. Vernon Diannah Porter.

    • Emma-Louise

      Thanks so much Vernon! It's always great to hear that people are finding our articles and tools helpful - thank-you for taking the time to comment. Warmly, EL

  2. Susan Cathcart

    Hi Emma Louise

    Thanks for your inspiring e letters and resources.
    I have been really busy with other contract work but am still very interested in coaching and coaching tools.
    Your newsletters are such a good reminder and they keep me interested.

    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Susan! So nice to hear from you. And I am glad to be keeping you interested in coaching - there is such a need for it out there. Thanks for taking the time to email and say hello - I really appreciate it. Warmly, EL

  3. Brenda

    Excellent article, Emma-Louise!!

    "Allowing" is an important reminder. I know the very first time I sat "in the moment" with a client who was crying over a poignant revelation, it was very uncomfortable-I wanted to comfort them- but I soon learned how powerful just sitting in that moment with them, can be in the coaching process. Something changes within them during those moments...so important not to interrupt that process.

    Thank you again!!!

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Brenda, that is a lovely story - and wonderful that you felt comfortable enough with yourself to allow that! Great job! Warmly, Emma-Louise

  4. Leigh

    I absolutely love your work! I’m an aspiring coach and have used many of your tools with myself 🙂 Can’t wait to use them on future clients!


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