About Carlyn

Filming a health education video with actor Justin Yao in Burkina Faso, West Africa, 1995

Filming a health education video with actor Justin Yao in Burkina Faso, 1995

I was a young documentary filmmaker just out of college when my first two films were purchased by the Smithsonian Institution. That honor was followed by two more documentaries in West Africa that won prestigious awards. After over 20 years as a videographer and interviewer, I’m often asked how this globe-trotting, diehard documentarian evolved into a communication coach who specializes in the relational side of career development.


How Video Feedback Changed Our Marriage
It all started in 2005 when my husband and I decided to turn my video camera on ourselves to learn more about the way we interact. Right away, we discovered two things that immediately improved our communication. I observed that I interrupted him a lot more than I thought I did.

My husband noticed that he allowed himself to be distracted and was not paying attention to me when it was my turn. From that day onward, he has responded positively when I ask him to pay closer attention. We don’t waste time anymore arguing about these points and have more peaceful, loving conversations.

Bridge Between Documentary Films and Video Mirror Feedback
The exploratory sessions with my husband turned out to be the bridge between my first career as a filmmaker-interviewer and my second career as a coach specializing in Video Mirror Feedback.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, I had focused on the production of independent documentaries in sub-Saharan Africa, and created health education media while on staff as a Program Officer at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University.

Unexpected Lessons from Intercultural Filmmaking
In the course of filming documentaries, particularly in cultures so varied from Western Massachusetts, I quickly gained an expertise for registering non-verbal cues that helped me know what questions to ask, where to focus the camera, and when the energy in a scene had changed. It honed by already good instincts.

Filming a treasured conversation. Photo © Cynthia Yackenchick 2010

Photo © Cynthia Yackenchick 2010

Two decades into making social documentaries on topics and people close to my heart, I noticed a common response from the people I interviewed. “My conversation with you was a highlight of the event [that I was filming]. Thanks for making it so meaningful!” Over and over, people I’d just met appreciated my ability to explore the subject matter on a deep level with an intellectually engaged thought partner who was also emotionally present.

It wasn’t uncommon for interviewees to have aha moments, realizing they had choices over an undesirable situation they didn’t know they could change. Sometimes they acted on these insights and made new choices. A mentor pointed out that this is the impact of good coaching. Voila, my calling had found me!

Deepening My Education for Coaching
I chose to study Psychosynthesis, an approach to self-realization that is a down-to-earth combination of transpersonal counseling, meditation, and mindfulness practice. I was heavily mentored in this three-year training in client-directed techniques that complemented my rapport-building skills already in place. My filmmaker’s eye and ear came to the fore to add to the many dimensions that informed every step in my coach training.

Research Grant Opens Doors 
Curious as to why a tool as powerful as video feedback wasn’t used more frequently in individual and couples counseling sessions, I applied for and won the support of the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center to conduct research in 2008. Sponsorship included an excellent supervisor for my research, Patricia Romney, Ph.D., from the Department of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College.

How would psychotherapists who had a sample session with me respond to the process of coaching, then reviewing our filmed interactions? The research questionnaire revealed that the therapists unanimously reported the process promoted the kind of self-awareness that would lead to increased motivation for lasting change. Supporting Research

Embraced by Early Adopters in Medicine, Higher Ed, Business, Non-profits
These favorable results led to an ongoing collaboration with Suzanne Mitchell, M.D., M.S., Assistant Professor, Family Medicine at Boston Medical Center, after a powerful VMF experience. She witnessed firsthand how this tool could be used to quickly develop empathy skills in senior medical students.

For Dr. Mitchell’s pilot course on effective inter-professional teams, she hired me to use VMF to privately debrief an ethically challenging role play with each of 17 clinical graduate students. Each student discovered how the communication choices they made affected the dramatic outcome of the scenario.

After they discerned what that would rather have contributed, I guided them through practice, on video, of the new choices. A similar ethical challenge was bound to come up in their careers as physicians, social workers, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists. When they watched themselves speak in a more conscious, emotionally present way, each one experienced a paradigm shift that surprised them and reinforced their behavior shift.

Early adopters in the business community have welcomed the benefits of my method. Executives and managers become intensely interested  when they learn that emotional intelligence (and one’s ability to use it skillfully) is a vital ingredient in the long-term success of individual’s and companies. VMF for Business

Is There Life Beyond Video Mirror Feedback?
Yes, indeed!  I enjoy yoga, improv, walking in the woods, dancing, talking about what matters with friends, and serving on the board of the Four Winds Community School, a extraordinary two-room middle school in Gill, MA.