This paper is a discussion of a connection I found between a psychological theory underpinning the work of a helping professional and a physiological marker of well-being that is relevant to desirable coaching outcomes. More specifically, this paper aims to explore the use of heart rate variability, an objectively measurable marker of autonomic physiological well-being, that could be used to identify and describe an embodied benefit – a sense of vitality – which is a generally desirable outcome that clients may experience separate from or in support of any other specific emotional, cognitive or behavioral outcomes that emerge directly from the more conventionally recognized forms of coaching activity.


The first section of the paper is a non-systematic exploration of Carl Rogers’ Person-Centered Approach applied in coaching as a well-defined form of interaction that could facilitate this autonomic physiological benefit in the coach-client relationship. The Person-Centered Approach might be studied in comparison to other outcome-oriented coaching methodologies, more easily separating the impact of the relationship from the impact of methods.

The second part of this paper is a systematic review of the science around heart rate variability, its role in the relatively new field of interpersonal physiology, and a literature review of the current application of HRV in the study of the coach- and therapist-client relationship. This review included original, peer-reviewed research studies at the intersection of a) interpersonal synchrony, b) autonomic physiology measures, and c) coaching and psychotherapy.


The ‘classic’ version of the Person-Centered Approach in coaching appears to provide a distinct and compelling way to facilitate an autonomic physiological benefit that can be theoretically connected to a client’s experience of vitality from the coaching relationship.

The current body of research literature reveals that HRV is a complex, convenient, and promising measure for the autonomic physiological state that is predictive of a host of positive emotional, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes.  The concept of vitality can be theoretically connected to the measure of autonomic physiological state, though no research has been conducted on it yet.

While two meta-analysis studies were found and offered support for this use in the psychotherapeutic domain, there were no found that covered the coaching domain.  All studies in the meta-analyses were focused on measuring moment-to-moment interactions within the therapeutic process, with some also taking measures of overall outcomes to examine connections between process and outcomes. No studies focused on the relationship between the whole-session average HRV of the practitioner and its effect on the client HRV.


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