Why is Every Great Coach a Neuro-Plastician?

by | 14 Jan 2024 | Behavioural Science, Business Tools, Leadership

Meet Ken, a career coach who uses the power of neuroplasticity to transform lives. Neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to adapt, allows Ken to support clients through emotional crises, work dilemmas, and the pursuit of personal and professional growth. He’s a great coach, but he’s also a “neuroplastician.” In other words, Ken navigates neural pathways, helping clients reshape their thought patterns, emotions, and behaviours by applying specialized neuroplasticity-based tools.

Ken always knew that inside the brain lay the key to profound, lasting change. Wanting to spark the kind of action that helps clients achieve goals faster, he jumped into the science of neuroplasticity. His favourite resource was neuroscientist Norman Doidge, who defined neuroplasticity as the brain’s capability to change (Doidge. N., 2016). Ken now understands the mechanics of brain change and uses neuroplasticity to help his clients break free from limitations, make intentional choices, overcome obstacles, and elegantly rewrite their stories. His powerful blend of coaching and neuroplasticity-based tools gives his clients ‘the edge.’ Their emotional well-being improves, and their performance does more than peak — it sustains.


Buzzwords and jargon may make the coaching world feel like a labyrinth of complexity and scientific terminology. One term that rears its head often is “neuroscience.” The word carries an air of scientific credibility. But sometimes, when coaches speak about neuroscience, they mean neuroplasticity. Neuroscience covers diverse disciplines, like neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neuropsychology — all practice-enhancing disciplines for coaches who choose to use them. Neuroscience gives coaches a scientific foundation for understanding how the brain works. In contrast, neuroplasticity provides a framework for bringing about change. It’s about the brain’s capacity to adapt as clients work towards their personal and professional goals. Coaches benefit from using neuroplasticity-based tools because they lead to positive, lasting neurological change. But, sometimes, coaches don’t know what they need to know about the brain. For example, knowing Latin terms like “gyrus cinguli a nterior” does not make one a neuroexpert. When coaches lead with, “I’m not a neuroscientist,” a thoughtful reply might be: “Okay, but are you a neuroplastician?”


The missing link between neuroscience theory and effective coaching is often the application of neuroplasticity-based tools and practices. Coaches become neuroplasticians using neuroplasticity tools that empower clients to make conscious choices that lead to deliberate change. Amy Brann, in her book Neuroscience for Coaches, describes a coach as “an expert in facilitating self-directed neuroplasticity.” Neuroplastician coaches help clients deal with emotions, re-pattern thoughts, and adjust social and other behaviours to generate desirable results. But such change comes from practical mastery and applied neuroplasticity, not just abstract, theoretical knowledge. The missing link is the difference between being an academic and a “pracademic” — a practitioner and professional in applied neuroplasticity. Coaches who effectively apply neuroplasticity-based tools are neither academics nor neuroscientists. Instead, they’re neuroplasticians, experts at using pracademic neuroplasticity tools. These coaches directly help clients rewire their neural pathways to create desired results.


As a coach, how do you know what you need to know about the brain? For example, how much control do you have over your decisions? Take 10 seconds to consider. Neuroscientist Benjamin Libet (1999) answered that provocative question. His research shows that the brain starts making decisions 0.5 to 0.8 seconds before we know it. Yes, that’s right! The brain decides for us before we become conscious about making decisions. Libet’s research explains that decisions emerge from subconscious brain processes rather than deliberate, conscious choices. His findings ignite debates about free will. As coaches, we must help clients control their brains, which sounds complicated, but it’s not. Let’s find out why from Sarah.


A prominent lawyer in New York City, Sarah wanted a career change. She hired Alex, a career coach, to help navigate the path ahead. With an insightful understanding of neuroplasticity, Alex shed light on the pre-conscious decisions in her brain. With this understanding, Sarah knew her environment was at the root of her desire for a career shift. She didn’t want to change careers; she wanted to be near her twin sister in Utah. Using simple neuroplasticity-based tools, Sarah gained control over her choices, paving the way for new decision-making pathways. As a coach, your role is to help clients be in control of the choices they make and the paths they take. But first…


Neuroplasticians are coaches who know how the brain functions in unconscious decision-making processes. They use tools that guide clients to make conscious choices. Their skills help clients address emotions, reframe thoughts, and adopt new behaviours, which rewire new neural pathways for lasting change.


Well, yes and no. When coaches embrace the principles of neuroplasticity and use pracademic tools, they most definitely are neuroplasticians. But if they’re referencing skeletal knowledge of neuroanatomy and using Latin jargon just to gain credibility… well, then, you guessed it. They’re not. Consider coaches who work with clients to overcome public speaking anxiety. Coaches who understand the brain’s role in releasing anxiety-producing stress hormones (not cortisol) will know how to help clients overcome that immobilizing dread of presenting before an audience. These coaches help clients replace old, defunct programs in their brains with new ones that ensure neuroplasticity. Porges (2011) explains that by using tools like applied neuroception, we can rewire redundant neural pathways to override anxiety. This override enhances confidence, not only for clients but also for coaches themselves. By helping clients develop the ability to present beautifully, both coaches and clients experience feelings of being in control in all spheres of their lives. That’s how coaches become neuroplasticians.


Stephen Porges, in his 2011 “Polyvagal Theory,” explained the concept of neuroception as the body’s subconscious ability to assess threats and safety in the environment. This ability influences our stress responses and emotional states without our conscious awareness. Neuroception allows for a greater understanding of clients’ unconscious emotional cues. By understanding neuroception, coaches can help their clients sustain emotional well-being. It’s an indispensable practice for the coach’s toolbox.


Using neuroplasticity in coaching sculpts a rich neural landscape ripe for lasting, positive change. Neuroplasticity-based tools, such as neuroception, create brain shifts that reduce emotional turmoil and lead to adaptive behaviours. This new-found confidence and understanding, in turn, leads to improved decision-making control. In a coaching marketplace saturated in neuroscience-lingo, neuroplasticians stand out by their ability to merge theory and practice. Neuroplasticians are truly conductors of transformative growth. But they’re not neuroscientists. Neuroplasticians sit on the shoulders of neuroscientists, creating practical tools borne from research. For instance, have you heard about Andrew Huberman? He’s a Stanford professor researching neuronal activity and promoting regeneration. On YouTube, he shows how regeneration in the brain works and explains the role of acetylcholine, epinephrine, and dopamine as ‘’three arrows’’ that motivate goal achievement. Neuroplasticians use research like Huberman’s to develop practical tools based on published neuroscience. Neuroplasticians are the ‘grandchildren’ of Professor Michael Merzenich, the foremost academic in neuroplasticity. He was the initial researcher to show that the brain retains its ability to change in adulthood. In speaking with Merzenich, we discussed and agreed on how important his work is for coaches who want to become neuroplasticians. Please visit the Institute of Organizational Neuroscience and watch a replay of our discussion, which also included a group of neuroplasticians.


The next time you hear coaches mention neuroscience, know they may be referring to neuroplasticity — the remarkable ability of the brain to change itself. Neuroplasticity is the core of the transformative power of coaching. By understanding and embracing neuroplasticity, coaches can catalyze profound change, helping clients maintain control of their brain-rewiring journey. Every coach can become a great coach — and a great neuroplastician! Indeed, the future is bright for coaches willing to master this key to unlocking human potential.

Brann, A. (2022) Neuroscience for Coaches. (3rd ed, published by Kogan Page)Doidge, N. (2016). The brain’s way of healing: Remarkable discoveries and recoveries from the frontiers of neuroplasticity. Penguin Life.

Kolb, B., & Whishaw, I. Q. (2015). Fundamentals of human neuropsychology (Seventh). Libet, B. (1999). Do we have free will. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(8–9), 47–57.Benjamin Libet

Merzenich, M. M.; Jenkins, W. M. (1995). “Cortical plasticity, learning, and learning dysfunction”. In B. Julesz; I. Kovacs (eds.). Maturational Windows and Adult Cortical Plasticity. Vol. 23. pp. 247–271.

Merzenich, M. M.; Tallal, P.; Peterson, B.; Miller, S. L.; Jenkins, W. M. (1999). “Some neurological principles relevant to the origins of — and the cortical plasticity based remediation of — language learning impairments”. In J. Grafman (ed.). Neuroplasticity: Building a Bridge from the Laboratory to the Clinic. pp. 169–187.

Merzenich, Michael, Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life: soft-wired.com Porges, S. W. (2011). The polyvagal theory: Neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, and self-regulation. WW Norton & Company.

Schwartz, J. M., & Begley, S. (2009). The mind and the brain. Springer Science Media.



Original article published in Choice — Magazine of Professional Coaching. Read here: Why is Every Great Coach a Neuro-Plastician?

Find out more at https://choice-online.com/

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Dr Leanne Elich PhD. GAICD. CEO, Leanne Elich Consulting

Leanne Elich is a Sales Psychology & Business Strategist with expertise in Neuroscience and Behavioural Science sales techniques. Leanne and her team work with individuals, teams and organisations to create powerful sales strategies to ethically influence consumer behaviour and create visibility in a busy market.