Tessa Dodwell

Coach | Mentor | Author | Speaker

Tessa was first introduced to coaching when she was working as a senior leader for a logistics company. Having found coaching motivating and inspiring, she decided to cascade it to her team of 500. The results were compelling – not only did the work performance increase but everyone was more energized, more engaged and more empowered. Tessa left the corporate world to pursue a career in coaching.

Tessa gained a distinction in her Masters in Coaching and Mentoring at Oxford Brookes University and now runs 2 coaching businesses side by side. In her own practice she specializes in supporting companies and individuals to optimize their transitions. In North-52 she works with two fellow students from her Master’s course. North-52 operates a “one for one” ethos so for every piece of coaching, mentoring or leadership development work done with corporates, we offer the same services to our chosen causes – currently we are working with 2 charities: Rethink who support those with mental illness and Trailblazers who mentor young offenders.

Tessa has published the outcome of her Masters dissertation on coaching across the retirement transition in the International Journal of Coaching and Mentoring and an article in the Coaching Psychologist on the same topic, a lost sense of self.



In episode 29, Coach Transformation Academy reeled back to a crucial characteristic – Coaching: A Lost Sense of Self. Tessa has published the outcome of her Master’s dissertation on coaching across the retirement transition in the International Journal of Coaching and Mentoring and an article in the Coaching Psychologist on the same topic, a lost sense of self.

Introduction to the webinar:

In this webinar, Tessa directed us at the value of considering identity when coaching. Her presentation introduced different concepts of the self, approaches to work with clients who present with a lost sense of identity, a lost sense of self. Tessa talked about 3 considerations when coaching a client with a lost identity – 

  1. Trigger to the loss
  2. Client’s response to the loss
  3. Coach’s own self-concept

Here are the keynotes from Tessa’s webinar:


  • We can be sensitive to not just our client’s identity but also to our sense of self.

What is the Sense of Self?

  • In the simplest form, it’s how we see ourselves.
  • Our identity is a big part of our sense of who we are. This also includes our self-concept, self-esteem, self-belief, and self-image.

What is the Lost Sense of Self?

  • It’s a mixed feeling of confusion, instability, and discomfort.
  • It’s an inability to articulate who we are.

How do you spot someone with a lost sense of self?

  • They might exhibit any of the feelings mentioned above. 
  • The most common sentence that exhibits this sense is: “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

How to coach someone with a lost sense of self – Model

  1. Identify the Trigger
  2. Understand Self-Concept
  3. Establish Client Response
  4. Coach Approach

Identifying the Triggers

Some of these triggers are best served by medical practitioners. There are 5 types of triggers (derived from the Richard Stevens journal, 1996):

  1. Physiological causes – based on the way we are biologically constructed
  2. Cognition causes – the way we think and interpret our world
  3. Societal causes – societal attitudes especially that differ from our own.
  4. Unconscious causes – unconscious defense mechanisms
  5. Experiential causes – the way we experience ourselves

Recognizing these triggers across the sessions helps to understand what could be causing the soft sense of self and make an informed decision whether to coach or not.

Physiological triggers are best served by medics, and subconscious triggers are best served by psychologists or psychiatrists.

Understanding Self-Concepts

Types of self-concepts:

  1. Unitary stable
  • Most of us feel like we have one unitary stable self, an authentic core.
  • Clients often find it hard to achieve the ideal self. A client with a unitary stable self experiencing a lost sense of self can be catastrophic.
  1. Multiple mini-selves
  • Some clients sense they have different ‘selves’ – acting differently in different situations. And these selves are often linked to the roles of their lives.
  • Individuals can change the emphasis of their mini-selves. However, they’re more likely to experience a grieving process for their lost mini-selves.
  1. Evolving Self
  • Some sense that their “self” evolves over time and experience.
  • It could be unitary or multiple.

Understanding Client’s Response to the Loss

  • There is a range of responses to a loss of self on a continuum from severe discomfort to an extreme elation.
  • Responses depend on the triggers and their belief about their self-concept.
  • Severe discomfort needs therapy as they’re most likely of medical origins.

Developmental Coaching approach

Three key areas where coaching can be helpful for a lost sense of self:

  1. Increasing self-awareness
  2. Working with the whole body
  3. Working with our narrator
  1. Increasing Self-awareness: 
  • Understanding Client Conditioning
  • Minimizing self-deception
  1. Work with the Whole Body
  • A deeper understanding of your client’s current situation and the need for the client to engage the whole body to put things into action as a result of the coaching.
  • Areas that might support a lost sense of self: 
  • Soft thinking 
  • Working with emotions
  1. Working with the Narrator
  • When we engage ourselves, we often hear an inner dialogue, our inner voice, and this often is an inner critic. This is referred to as a narrator.
  • Clients with unitary self-concept have a strong negative reaction to a lost sense of self. A discrepancy between an ideal self and a living self.

Some resources shared by Tessa:

  • Understanding the Self, Richard Stevens journal, 1996
  • Developmental Coaching: Working with the Self by Dr. Tatiana Bachkirova.
  • Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan

We hope you found Tessa’s insights, tips and model useful. 

A big shout to Tessa Dodwell for sharing her experiences, and insights with us on such a fascinating topic! Watch the entire video now to know more in detail about the triggers, coaching approach, an informational Q&A, and more!

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to level up your coaching skills and get insights from coaches all around the world. 

🔔 Email us to get added to our Subscribers List to get reminders, keynotes, presentations  and other useful information directly in your inbox.

Stay tuned for more episodes!

Speaker Details