Coaching Refugees, Immigrants and Displaced People

coaching displaced people immigrants refugees trauma language

How as a coach can we get alongside someone who has lost everything and fled to another country? We may not have shared their experiences or fully understand their trauma, but we can help them appreciate their strengths to help rebuild their life. Melissa Chaplin a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, unpacks 10 helpful tips when coaching refugees, immigrants and displaced people.

Highlighting the best after experiencing the worst

Strengths coaching people who have experienced displacement

I stood in awe as her story unfolded. Before me stood a woman who fled war, lost everything, started anew. She now desired to leverage her strengths for good. It has been humbling and an honor to provide CliftonStrengths® coaching to people who have experienced displacement.[1] If you ever have the opportunity to provide strengths coaching for a displaced person, here are some key ideas to keep in mind:

Preparing to Coach those who have been Displaced

Preparation is vital to ensure a beneficial experience for all participants.

1. Ensure Appropriate Timing

Participants will often benefit from a Strengths session more when they have some predictability with their immediate needs. A stable home, a reliable food supply, and basic needs will prepare them for a learning experience. Adjust the timing of your sessions for when their essential needs are met.

2. Enlist Supporters

Many people who have recently experienced displacement may have limited financial resources and cannot pay market rates for your services. Enlist donors or apply for grants to help cover the cost of assessments. Ask supporters if they could donate a CliftonStrengths® assessment code to benefit a person who has experienced displacement. Consider adjusting your fee to make these resources more accessible.

Additionally, invite participants who have experienced displacement in previous years. They will benefit personally from Strengths sessions and provide hope, perspective, and support for those more recently relocated.

3. Gain Understanding

Take time to understand the situations that caused your clients to relocate to their new country. Read first-hand accounts such as How Dare the Sun Rise, Where the Wind Leads, and Don’t Look Back. Use these stories to gain an appreciation for the incredible resilience of those who attend your sessions.

4. Appreciate Language Options and Needs

As you enrol participants in your sessions, help them take the Gallup CliftonStrengths® assessment in their native language. When redeeming a code, the Language option is in the top right corner of the screen and you can change the language for the reports. Additionally, get a sense of how comfortable they are with the language of the class and determine if you will need a translator to attend.

Coaching During the Session

Nearly all of those who have experienced displacement have experienced trauma. Employ a trauma-informed approach and consider the following:

5. Prioritize Psychological Safety and Confidentiality

In all of your interactions, honor the sacredness of each person, appreciate their resilience, and demonstrate care. Make it safe to share by valuing their ideas, and creating your session to be a judgment-free zone. Be humble, respectful, and curious as you assist them in “Claiming” their Strengths given their past experiences.

Begin your group sessions by setting clear ground rules on confidentiality. Overtly communicate that each person may share their personal insights from the sessions with others outside the group, but not the stories of others without gaining overt permission to do so. For those who want to take pictures to share on social media platforms, ensure that all participants agree that their images may be shared.

6. Give Back the Power of Choice

With each activity, ensure that they know they have a choice to participate and share only as much as they want. Giving a choice is one part of restoring dignity and empowering a person who has experienced situations where choices were few to non-existent.

7. Create Connections

When arranging the room set up the tables and chairs to facilitate collaboration, community, and connection between you and the other participants. Have a central group of chairs for general discussions and, if possible, some pairs of soft chairs around the edge of the room for breakout conversations. Use a variety of activities that allow for different forms of connection: pairs, triads, and small groups. Authentically connecting with others who have had similar experiences can instil hope and inspire great ideas.

8. Be a Learner

Although as a strengths coach, you have an incredible insight into the CliftonStrengths® themes, first take on the posture of a learner. Be curious. Ask questions. Doing so will help you communicate partnership and mutuality to people often seen as “less than” or “needy”.

9. Respect Their Culture

Recognize that what seems respectful to you may not feel like respect to another person. Ask your participants, “If I did something that felt offensive to you, how would you let me know?” Invite feedback at any time. Design activities with cultural differences in mind. Make it safe to ask what a word or phrase means, even in the CliftonStrengths® report.

Additionally, those who experience displacement in their youth often grow up as Third Culture Kids (TCKs). For many, the previous culture of their home is different from the culture they experience at school. TCKs can sometimes struggle with their identity as they adapt to comply with the new culture at home or school. Help them to “Name” their Strengths which are core to them, regardless of their cultural environment. This can be empowering as they recognize their true identity.

10. Celebrate Strengths

As Strengths coaches, this may feel like it goes without saying. However, given that those who have experienced displacement have often felt “less than” or the “outsiders,” giving them a lens to see how their strengths have carried them and how their strengths can be leveraged in the future can be literally life-changing. As you listen to their stories, authentically identify and celebrate how their strengths have contributed to their resilience and can continue to empower them forward.

Providing strengths coaching for those who have experienced displacement is rewarding, life-changing, and empowering, both for the participants and you!


[1] Such people are often referred to as displaced people, refugees, and sometimes immigrants. They are often forced to leave their home country due to violence, natural disasters, persecution and the like. 

Further Reading

Coaching to Enhance Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging
Strengthening the Coaching Relationship by Cultivating Trust
Are you Coaching Counselling or Consulting?

Header Image by 497608 from Pixabay

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