How Coaching Differs From Psychotherapy
I recently had a wonderful conversation with a referral in Canada who called for a massage session. I told her that I am currently providing only the life coaching portion of my business in that country. Spending part of the year in Canada, many of my credentials in mental health and massage therapy are not recognized in this country, and I had some misgivings with the approach of some therapists. So my practice has shifted to focus on life coaching.
The conversation continued around all the shifts she has been going through and it sounded to me as though she may be in need of a coach. I mentioned this, and she said she has had a lot of counseling with therapists and it didn’t seem to benefit her. I replied, “Exactly, this is why I have left the counseling field and am in the coaching field instead.” I had gotten so exhausted with the field and found that coaching actually got people to where they wanted to be in a way counseling never did. There are times when counseling is appropriate, but for many of my clients, coaching has proven to be more effective.
After a reflective pause, she asked “What is coaching?”
I explained that I see coaching as a partnership with the client in a creative process that inspires them to develop their personal and professional selves to their highest potential. For me, a coach is more likened to scholastic and athletic endeavors where the coach provides an ongoing partnership designed to help their client to produce fulfilling results in their activities. Coaches are trained to observe and assess a person’s abilities in order to customize a plan for that person’s areas for development. As a life coach, I seek to draw out the solutions and strategies from the client that have been tried and were not successful. (A “FAIL” is simply a First Attempt In Learning). This information provides some insight to develop successful plans that get positive results. I truly believe that people are naturally creative and resourceful, and may simply need expert guidance in discovering the solution that they already have within themselves. I see my job as coach is to enhance the skills, resources and creativity that the person already has and to add new skill sets that match the situations they find themselves in.
Through much experience I have found this approach useful in my own life to move forward; and have been gratified to see how successfully it works for others. Despite considering one’s past, coaching is focused on the present and the future. My focus is in the following:
- Defining goals
- Formulating a plan that will use the client’s skills
- Holding the client accountable for progress
- Providing structure, encouragement and support
Essentially, my job is to encourage a client to make choices in their best interests and make recommendations on how they can improve, but it is up to the person to make these choices. It is a nurturing relationship where I am by their side to provide guidance, expert resources and support.
As her interest in our conversation deepened, she explained that she never had an actual life coach before. She then asked, “How does coaching differ from therapy?”
I answered by explaining that my focus in therapy was to determine mental health and substance abuse problems and attempt to work with clients in a therapeutic approach to assist them in overcoming and/or dealing with these problems. In therapeutic settings it seemed to me that the focus was more on the past and problem areas, and that this potentially set limits to what outcomes were possible. As I have been both a professional counselor and life coach, I do see similarities between the two fields which often overlap, but there also sharp distinctions. What a person needs can be defined on a continuum. For instance, counseling focuses on moving a person’s emotional state from one defined by a degree of dysfunction (perhaps by substance abuse or mental disorder) to one of being more fully functional. As a coach, I am working with those who are typically on the more functional end of the continuum, yet maybe not achieving their full potential. I see myself as the animated version of the self-help section of your bookstore, but instead of a static book and do-it-yourself plan, I provide customized support a professional relationship.
There are some similar skills between counseling and coaching, such as active listening and reflection. As a therapist, my job was to address a client’s areas of dysfunction and/or trauma to help them heal and resolve old pain that is interfering with their life.
In therapy, it was my job to use more therapeutic interventions and phrasing. Whereas, in a coaching role, my language is more everyday and common speech. I sometimes found that my professional training and language could create barriers to really understanding and effectively communicating clients.
My life coaching work still involves solution-focused counseling and may use some similar counseling skills, however my interest is in working with the client to address their life goals. It’s my job to help them define and set manageable goals, and then develop the tools and habits to reach them. At all times, I’m aware of and respectful of the ethical guidelines of my role.
This brings me to another distinction: there are many regulations regarding psychotherapy and who can or is qualified to provide these services, while the field of coaching is much less regulated or defined. There are some organizations that are trying to provide this regulation, like the International Coaching Federation, (ICF), but then that begs the question of what specific skills and abilities (personally and professionally) make a good coach. For example, as a yoga instructor, I have found that it is the personhood of the instructor combined with their skills that make them better or worse. I have seen many well-trained instructors who do yoga a disservice in professional and personal life.
For myself, ethical behaviour is of utmost importance as a person and client.
Before I could continue, she asked, “So if coaching is not regulated as therapy is, should I be concerned?”
I replied that “You’re dealing with your well-being, your well-feeling, your success and fulfillment in life, so yes, you should be concerned.” The issue of regulation and ethical codes with life coaches is an important subject. I would suggest that consumers find out what the coach is offering upfront. I would suggest asking for their bio to get a sense of where they are coming from and where their skills and training are from. Check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints.
I believe that interviewing is a good practice to obtain the best fit with psychological perspective and training that addresses your needs and circumstances. I strongly suggest that you arrange to have an initial session with a prospective coach, to determine if there is a positive chemistry between you; and that the coach has the skill set and tools that will benefit you. Use your common sense and trust your intuition to determine if the coach is genuine and if you feel you will benefit from what they can offer.
She then asked me, “Well, what is it that you offer?”
I told her that what I offer is summarized in an inexpensive manual that is a compilation of tools I have found to be fundamental when formulating a new life plan. Most of the exercises are straightforward and easy to understand, the trick is in actually applying them.
I have found most people want a different future but are stuck in the energy level they are currently living in and cannot manifest the new life because it holds them in that older familiar space. My job is to assist people to realize their potential; which means that they see, feel and sense a new energy level. And that energy grows as they continue to use the tools and exercise their choices in sync with who they want to be.
Often, the client achieves magical results, but it’s not magic. It takes work. My workbook provides the structure and I am available in person or remotely to assist in navigating the process and charting your progress. The average client needs approximately 6 sessions at $75/hour. Many choose to do 12 sessions over the course of the year and some continue with quarterly “check-ups” to help maintain their progress.
Finally, she asked, “Why do some other coaches charge so much more?”
I don’t have an answer for that. I have seen some programs that measure success by the amount of income from coaching, I measure it by changed lives.