It seems like everywhere I turn, I hear the word “coach”. Somehow this old idea has found a niche outside of sports. With a strong kick start from the self-help movement of the 70’s, the benefits of a coach have found themselves in the world of growth – both in the individual as well as the corporate worlds. While coaching specialties vary from encouraging professional development in the corporate field to focusing on individuals’ goals, the general thrust is towards reaching goals and increasing one’s performance.
Paralleling these changes, the world of psychology has been embracing a client- centered approach that rejects the idea of the therapist as “all knowing” and instead sees the client as the change agent. For the past 40 or more years, brief therapy has helped steer the ship to include solution-focused techniques that increase motivation and help the client create the life that he or she envisions.
So what is the difference? Well, the distinctions made can be somewhat arbitrary, particularly in the area of what coaches do. Many coaches are actually trained therapist, social workers, and therefore their coaching techniques are practiced with learned clinical skills to help bring positive change. On the other hand, the coaching profession does not legally require any kind of education or certification. However, there are respected certifications that teach skills that have proven to be effective.
I have heard folks make distinctive statements about the differences, and what I am finding is that the lines can be blurred. Coaches might declare that therapy only looks at the past and only deals with dysfunction. Coaches will claim the territory of the functional folks and the arena that strictly works on moving towards greater productivity and reaching specific goals. Actually, this is erroneous, but as most things, has seeds of truth that make sense.
Coaching has grown for many reasons. The corporate world hires coaches to do a specific job, not wanting a therapist to include the other areas that might even hinder productivity. Individuals as well may feel the same, and like the trainer at the gym, they want their personal work to strictly include the goal-oriented tools that the coaches generally use. There are also practical issues that come into play. The therapist is used to providing insurance companies with a diagnosis in order to allow for the client to continue paid sessions, and even without the insurance necessity is used to diagnosing. Not everyone is comfortable with this.
What I believe is that a good coach trained both as a therapist and coach can be the best of both worlds, particularly with individuals and families. This is not to say that one strictly trained in coaching cannot be an excellent choice. It is to say that we are not robots, either broken or running at optimal speed. We are people. Our journey comes with bumps and bruising, three steps forward, one step back, being productive in one area and flailing in another. Sometimes the past does hinder the present, and visiting the experience can unlock negative patterns or thoughts that keep us from running ahead. It’s one thing to lose twenty pounds, but it’s another to keep it off. Therapeutic exploration can be the difference.