Interview with Pearl Mattenson, Relationship Coach

Pearl Mattenson

Leora’s note: I was introduced to Pearl through our mutual friend, Miriam Isserow. Pearl graciously agreed to answer questions about her new coaching initiative called Watershed Moments.

What is a watershed moment?
Watershed moments are transitional times in our life and the life of our family. Some Watershed moments are life cycle events whose importance is validated by our religious traditions or culture. Births, deaths, bar/t mitzvahs, weddings, holidays and graduations. And some are life phases or transitions that we sense are important but often lack a structure in which to ritualize our experience like gaining or losing a job, divorce, the prospect of an empty nest or leaving our family home. The tricky bit is that for most of us, we are inextricably bound with family and friends from our past and present, and it is in a communal or family context that we experience these watershed moments. If we are to find meaning and joy in them we need to be talking with our families and friends. We need to get clearer about what we want and we need help in negotiating the sometimes choppy waters of competing needs and priorities. Waters that may already be contaminated with a history of miscommunication and hurt feelings.

Watershed Moments

How did you connect with Judy Elkin your co-coach on the website?
Judy and I have actually been friends since 1985. And I credit Judy with introducing me to the coaching profession. Judy and I trained and were certified together in systems coaching at CRRGlobal. Our certification program required a project that would take our work out into the world in transformative ways. As we talked together we realized that we shared a deep commitment to family. In time our conversations evolved into what has become Watershed Moments. Judy and I have partnered on every aspect of the work. We are a powerful duo and most importantly we love collaborating. There is a lot of laughter and joy in our work.

What made you decide to do a separate website for the project? How are you marketing the project? Do you use social media? Have you considered setting up a Facebook page?
Judy and I each have our own successful coaching practice with our own websites. And we wanted to clearly mark the collaborative partnership of Watershed Moments. Luckily, Judy’s cousin offered to help us design our website. We were able to create our own brand. Conversations about the website design and content helped us to clarify what we were really hoping to do. Our logo for example, includes a distinctive circle which symbolizes the cyclical nature of a life, and of life cycle events. The colors are earth tones and this speaks to an aspiration we have for our clients- to approach their watershed moments with a grounded peaceful presence. The waves between the words evoke the “water” element in watershed. We believe that watershed moments are experienced in relationship and relationships are a river with calm spots, rapids and are always changing and moving.

Marketing? What marketing…. Actually, we have held off on actively marketing the project for now. Almost all our effort has gone into the creation of an ebook which we hope to launch in the fall. The book is intended for people who want to start talking with their family about an upcoming WM and are not sure how to get started. We probably will get serious about marketing WM as we begin to plan to market the ebook.

How does a coach differ from a therapist? Why would someone choose one over the other?
It is a great question, and the answer is not so clear. We share many overlapping approaches. Perhaps the best quote I heard in response to this is one Judy called to my attention from Dr. Carol Kauffman, Director of the Coaching and Positive Psychology Initiative who writes, “As a therapist, I follow the trail of tears with a goal of healing, as a coach I follow the trail of dreams with a goal of optimal functioning.” There is probably much more to be said here but I would point to one other important distinction: as coaches we do not operate on a medical model of pathology. That is we view our clients as creative and resourceful and fully able. We are not Pollyanna’s but we keep a strong focus on the possible. Having said that, we do not in any way shy away from deep and even painful emotions. There is nothing pathological about the need to be present to our feelings.

With respect to watershed moments in particular, if you want to explore more of the origins of an existing conflict around the event – then you may want a therapist. However, if you are more motivated by the question of how than why you probably could benefit from a coach. And most of us are trained to counsel you toward therapy if that is in fact what you need.

Do you only work with family systems or can individuals come to you too?
We can work with individuals absolutely. We can work with you to clarify what you want for your watershed moment and we can coach you to have some of the conversations that might support you to make it a reality. However, our first approach will be to encourage and support you to bring some of your significant others into the process. There is tremendous power in helping a couple or a family system hear each other, listen for understanding and move toward alignment on behalf of shared values.

What if a family member objects to another receiving coaching? What would you suggest?
It is certainly possible to imagine this scenario. Your spouse might worry about having to change or “give in” as a result of this work. Your family might have a culture of privacy or just getting through whatever it is. Your siblings might be worried about opening up a Pandora’s box.

Perhaps one key strategy is to start asking the questions and listening so that you can understand what is really at stake for your family member. Most of us, when we feel truly heard, unclench and can begin to turn towards the other. You may need to ask lots of questions to get to the heart of the matter. A pair of questions we really like to ask is, “What is your low dream or worst case scenario? What is your high dream or best case scenario? What would contribute to your high dream? What would contribute to your low dream?” A note of caution: If you ask questions like Perry Mason in the courtroom, you will probably be met with defensiveness. Try to ask questions with an open curiosity. No matter how well you think you know your family member, stay open to being surprised. We should say that ultimately if the family system is not ready for coaching- it’s not ready.

I could have enjoyed my son’s bar-mitzvahs more than I did. How do you suggest I plan for my daughter’s bat mitzvah to enjoy it more?
First I would want to understand more about what got in the way of your enjoyment at your son’s bar mitzvahs. What were you focused on? What role did you play? How much were you worried about making everyone else happy? When it comes to planning for a watershed moment, our view is, while tedious, we trust you to manage the to-do list. What often gets neglected is planning for the internal dimension. Considering questions like, ‘What is important to you about this moment?’ ‘How do you want it to feel as you move through your to-do list?’ What do you want to feel proud of when it is over? What memories do you want to create?’ Dreaming a little bit about these questions together with your daughter is a watershed moment all its own.

Here is an interesting strategy to try…imagine that a documentary filmmaker is going to accompany you and your family through the process of preparing for and enacting the bat mitzvah. What is the background music that would convey the tone of what is happening? What are the images you would want to capture? A casual hug as you study a text together? Smiles of encouragement? Different family members pitching in to help at different times? Whatever images you come up with is the first step toward planning for these moments. What will enable me to be present enough to smile? What will draw my family members closer through the planning? If this is useful to you, there are many more strategies available in our upcoming eBook.

I find myself yelling at my kids at certain times of the week (say, before Shabbat or trying to get one of them in particular to go to shul) would your coaching be able to help?
What you describe is probably very distant from the way you would like it to be, right? The coaching process could help you to get clearer about your own triggers and support you in taking steps to ease and manage your own stress leading into Shabbat. It might involve surfacing some deeply held beliefs about they way “it should be”. Additionally, we could guide you to have constructive conversations with your kids that help create a vision of the possible for all of you. IF this sounds a little vague that is because there is one thing coaching is not: prescriptive. We don’t come with a list of do’s and don’ts. Our work is all about helping you make conscious and intentional choices that are aligned with your own values-not ours!

Thank you so much, Pearl! Look forward to reader reactions. And by the way, concerning marketing… this interview is a start! Good luck with the ebook.

7 thoughts on “Interview with Pearl Mattenson, Relationship Coach

  • Excellant!
    This personal exploration of the difference between coaching and therapy, is valuable to readers and followers. People can be mislead to think life coaching is therapy lite. It clearly is not.
    I love the way you phrased your questions.
    Life coaching seems so helpful in shifting perspectives and paradigms!
    My own experience with it has been very powerful.

    • Yael it is so good to hear you say this. And glad you had a good experience with coaching. What is interesting is that more therapists are getting trained as coaches as well.

  • Thank you for such a rich interview. I have read “tips” which I think will be useful for my own life. The stressful circumstances and the frustration you feel in some situations you have a lot of expectations for are situations I totally recognize.

    • You are so right to point to the “expectations”–it has such a heavy feel to it doesn’t it? I find when I think of the “hopes” I have or the “intentions” I want to set or even say to myself, “what will I be open to?” it feels so much lighter. So glad you found useful tips.

  • WOW…powerful article with powerful statements. Thank you for publishing. Reading through this has helped me to re-focus in a number of ways leading to a deeper enrichment of my own personal coaching style.

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