I often get asked what coaching is and whether it is the same as counselling or other forms of support therapies, like mentoring or psychotherapy. So here is an assignment I prepared to explain what sets coaching apart from the others, but I also highlight some of the commonalities that are the basis of the confusion. I hope this helps provide some clarification.
First, let’s start by looking at what other forms of talking therapies exist to support an individual through life changes, and some of the most common include:
- Counselling, generally for persons who are well but going through a difficult time, such as bereavement, relationship issues, redundancy or other. The counsellor is expected to help understand feelings.
- Psychotherapy, looks at how early or past experiences affect the now. There are different types of psychotherapy, and generally this therapy helps you understand yourself more and can be useful for people who have a long term or recurring problem.
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) looks at problems and difficulties in the ‘here and now’ more than your past or childhood. CBT helps you understand how you think about yourself, the world and other people and how that affects your reaction to situations.
- Mentoring. A mentor focuses on guiding a less experienced person by building trust and setting example. A mentor is like a sounding board who can give advice.
- Other such as Creative Therapy, which encourages to express emotions and explore problems using a wide range of art materials or performance (eg. acting, drama). This kind of therapy can be helpful to people who may have difficulty expressing themselves and to understand how you feel.
These forms of therapy tend to be used to overcome emotional or problematic situations (traumas, anxieties and other difficult life events). They are mostly medical-based and have in common a focus on the individual’s history, feelings and behaviours. Therapists explore a person’s life (past) to determine the issues to be treated, and provide a diagnosis and advice to make a positive change.
These therapy sessions are delivered by professionals or persons qualified or properly trained in the specific area of concern (from here on I will generally refer to them as “therapist(s)”, although mentoring is somewhat more different to the others).
So what is coaching?
The Association for Coaching defines personal coaching as “A collaborative solution-focused, results-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of the coachee.”
And I also like Tony Robbins’ concise quote on what life coaching is: “…truly its own unique service designed to help ambitious achievers meet the outcomes that will bring them success and fulfilment”.
During my research, I also came across this definition from Bruce Peltier (Author of “The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application”): “A coach must be able to provide a good working definition of coaching and articulate the difference between coaching and psychotherapy”. It made me smile.
Differences and Similarities
Whether it is life coaching or another niche of coaching, what I have learnt is that the following are key contrasts between a coach and the above-mentioned therapists:
– a coach does not provide diagnosis or give advice, and instead (i) helps find all the answers that an individual needs, within himself or herself, facilitating the discovery of those answers by asking the right questions and (ii) helps identify current behaviours that may need to be modified to reach the desired outcome(s).
– a coach focusses on the “how” to achieve results and reach their chosen potential, through performance and actions (shorter and more defined term) while therapists focus more on the “why’s” and the individual’s life and emotions (longer term).
– a coach need not be an expert or qualified in the field in which he or she will provide help with.
– coaching works with the present and planning future actions, to achieve a future outcome; therapists (in broad terms for the purpose of this assignment) work mostly on past experiences and, generally, problematic areas to be treated, looking to provide often “medical-based” cures.
The table here-below sets out a few examples of areas that a coach and a therapist can offer help on:
|· Clarify and achieve personal and professional goals
· Create business plans
· Work to improve communication or other skills
· Achieve financial independence and security
· Start a new business or growing a current one
|· Recover from past traumas
· Explore why past relationships (business or personal) have been destructive
· Work through depression or anxiety that affect ability to function (at home or work)
· Survive a divorce or loss of a loved one
But are there any similarities? Ultimately, both coaches and therapists work to enable positive changes in a person’s life. Some other similarities I have found during my research for this assignment include: (i) both are client-centred using a collaborative partnership approach (ii) both work with the client’s whole life and often with emotional material, and (iii) both help identify and understand interferences affecting personal effectiveness.
Coaches and therapists may sometimes work on similar issues and use similar techniques, but the approaches are fundamentally different. Coaching techniques are non-advisory and are performance-driven, helping an individual to “learn” through actions to realise full potential, rather than “teaching”. Coaching works with the present and the future, while other therapists tend to look into the past and the present.
Why is it important to know the difference between coaching and other forms of support services? To get the right kind of support, it is crucial to know which type of guidance will serve the person best. It is important for a coach to recognise when potential clients need to explore other therapies to address their specific matter or situation, and to bring this to their attention. There are guidelines available to coaches for referrals to therapy as well as legal requirements to bear in mind on reporting certain matters to specific agencies, depending on the applicable laws in the country where you are practicing.