May 12, 2023

Kittens and coaching: using cuteness as a coaching tool

Human beings are meaning makers. Actually, we can make meaning out of almost anything!

When Chris, Carlo and were having breakfast at my place after our strategy meeting, we started talking about John Farhall et al’s study on consumer satisfaction of psychics versus medical doctors, friends or psychotherapists. In this study, the psychics had the highest satisfaction score. Chris, Carlo and I agreed that instead of scoffing and dismissing these results, we might well look at what to learn from them.

So, I brought out a few of my “psychic” decks of cards: a tarot, some cards with various goddesses and a card deck with kittens (reference below) in various poses and depicting different emotions. We tried our luck acting like psychics. Carlo knows a lot about “cold reading” and told us how the conversations of psychics with their clients tend to go. The psychic creates a ritual, like you shuffling the deck, cutting the cards, selecting “your” card or drawing a line around your hand and writing down your birthdate. Then the psychic starts interpreting the “information” that was “revealed” by the ritual. This interpretation is deliberately vague and could fit anyone. The psychic then observes carefully how you respond and has many “saving” moves. For example, if you select “death” in the tarot deck, the psychic might ask whether there has been a death recently. If you say “no”, the psychic will widen the interpretation: “Ahh… it does not necessarily mean a physical death, it may be something that you had to say good-bye to spiritually”. You can see a really good example here:

We then tried using these card decks in the form of a coaching session. Our first attempts with tarot or goddess cards were more like bad psychic sessions – we are by no means skilled actors. We hit gold when I tried a coaching session using the kittens. Tarot and goddesses carried too much meaning by themselves and did not leave enough room for interpretation by the client. The kittens were quite “neutral” and interpretable. The coaching session went like this:

Kirsten asked Chris to mix the cards, cut them and in a smooth move from her days as a mean canasta player and laid out 7 (gotta have a magic number) kitten cards in a pretty pattern in front of Chris.

Kirsten: “Chris, which of these kittens resembles your problem the most?” (Of course, “the most” implies that there is a card that resembles the problem. Also, as Chris is visiting a psychic, he might expect to talk about the problem – it might as well be an aspiration or goal to make it more Solution Focused)

Chris selects a card and all smile (of course: kittens!)

Kirsten makes another mysterious move folding the other kittens back into the deck, mixing the cards with well-practiced flourish (muscle memory is great). The chosen kitten is placed in the middle of the table. She then positioned 13 (you remember, magic!) other kitten cards around the “problem kitten” and asks: “Which card is most like the relationship you want to have with your problem?”

Chris chooses a card and speaks at length about the relationship he wants to have with the problem. Kirsten puts down 21 (again, magic) cards around the “problem kitten” and the “relationship kitten” and asks Chris who would notice if he developed the relationship to the problem that he would like to have and could he please select the representatives of these people from the 21 kittens. Kirsten continues to ask (but almost does not have to as Chris is sharing without prompt): “What would they notice?” “How would they respond?” “How would you respond?”

Kirsten then asked Chris to identify the person who would be least surprised that he was able to develop the relationship of his choosing. The person was not among the kittens on the table, so Kirsten put down another herd of cats and Chris chose one. “What does this person know about you that tells them that you can do this?” Chris answered.

Another set of kittens (this time choose your own magical number) was produced and Chris was asked which of the kittens exemplified most situations in his life where he had already been able to have that kind of a relationship. “What did you do then?” “What did you notice?” etc.

After that, a scale of kittens was laid down on the table and Chris was asked which one would most resemble a step in the right direction, what that would look like, who would notice etc. etc.

As you can see: Kitten coaching!

Obviously, the kittens are completely arbitrary. We think that any kind of “neutral” enough set of cards would work: landscapes, dogs, birds, comics…  We are partial to kittens, though and will try to come up with a magic reason for them.

We are looking forward to doing a workshop on kitten coaching as the next shiny tool in coaching at a conference: do invite us for a workshop if you are interested and watch Kirsten’s canasta skills in action!

If that hasn’t happened, a good alternative is joining us at our weekly free meetup and exchanges.


Farhall, John & Pepping, Christopher & Cai, Ru Ying & Cugnetto, Marilyn & Miller, Scott. (2022). Use of Psychics for Stress and Emotional Problems: A Descriptive Survey Comparison with Conventional Providers and Informal Helpers. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research. 49. 1-17. 10.1007/s10488-021-01166-y.

Pack, Bodo (2018): Bildimpulse kompakt: Katzen. Fotokarten für Inspiration und Coaching. 1. Auflage. Berlin: Heragon Verlag GmbH.

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