Let's talk about the first misconception. It's half true - coaches do work with people who are not experiencing emotional difficulties or mental illness. They are not trained to do so, and are not licensed or supervised in doing so. However, the other half - that counselors don't work with those who are healthy - is simply not true. The reality is that counselor's and psychologist's training makes them very qualified and trained to do coaching. Dr. Michael Bader, a licensed psychologist, points out that:
The biggest difference between coaching and therapy, in my view, is that the theory that guides my work as a therapist can explain how coaching does or does not work, while theories that guide coaches can't do the same about therapy. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-is-he-thinking/200904/the-difference-between-coaching-and-therapy-is-greatly-overstated)
The second misconception - that coaches set measurable, time-limited goals and therapists don't - again, simply is not true. Therapy works best if client and therapist work together to set exactly these kind of goals. That's how we measure progress. Many therapists I know will assess their client's sense of whether or not they are achieving their goals every session or every few sessions. Tied into this misconception is the idea that therapy is long-term and coaching is not. Again - many good systems of therapy (solution-focused therapy for example) work best with a time-limited model.
Many coaches like to point to specialized training they have worked on. As a psychologist, I very much appreciate the effort these coaches have made to educate themselves and work in an ethical manner. Professionals like these are a credit to their profession. However, coaching as a whole has not licensure, certification or even educational requirements. There is no professionally agreed upon code of ethics. Because of this lack of centralized standards and ethical principles, engaging a coach is a risk.
Please don't get me wrong - there are many, many wonderful, trained and ethical coaches out there. There are also some great training programs out there. The International Coaching Federation has made an effort to create a code of ethics and implement standardized training. I think this is a wonderful start. However: The ICF has no authority to implement these standards to the field as a whole. There are no licensing requirements. I hope that will change in the future, and believe that it will. Until then, however, there is a wide range of traininig programs ranging from in-depth programs requiring supervision to simple online classes with no practice component. At this point in time, they can all claim to be "coach training programs" with equal legal standing.
The fact of the matter is that counselors and psychologists are highly trained. They have engaged in in-depth coursework, practicum and internship experiences during which they get real-life experience, and supervision. They are licensed, and regulated by licensing boards and codes of ethics. Because of these safeguards, there is more consistency and safety for you, the consumer.
So, let's get at the issue of how this works. Coaching is focused on helping you identify and make movement toward reaching your goals. So is therapy. Coaches are trained (ideally, but not necessarily) in helping you set and achieve these goals, through specific techniques including targeted and open questions, activities, and developing insight. Counselors and psychologists can do this too. The truth of the matter is that a trained and licensed counselor can do anything and everything that a coach can do. Coaches, however, are not able to do everything a counselor or psychologist can do. Coach trainer Barbara Silva said:
As a coach trainer this is an issue I discuss quite a bit with my students. The biggest difference as I see it is that a therapist may address both coaching and therapeutic issues whereas the coach must remain within the coaching realm, staying away from clinical issues. From the client's point of view, it's more about their perspective on the kind of assistance they need.
The two professions work well together and the key is to collaborate, so that the client gets the best support possible. I've noticed a growing number of therapists in my classes who are interested in learning new coaching techniques. Some are pursuing the Board Certified Coach credential via the Center for Credentialing and Education and the National Board of Certified Counselors. I see a great future for both disciplines." (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-is-he-thinking/200904/the-difference-between-coaching-and-therapy-is-greatly-overstated/comments)
So, the bottom line is that really is not much of a difference except training. (I know that there may be coaches that take issue with this, but the evidence is pretty clear.) Therapists and psychologists can do anything and everything a coach can do, because they are trained, they work with wellness as well as problems, and they use many of the same techniques, methods, and models.
If you are interested in working with a coach, check out the International Coaching Federation for their training and ethical guidelines: http://www.coachfederation.org. They are an excellent resource, and can refer you to well-trained and ethical coaches. If you are interested in working with a psychologist or counselor, ask them if they do coaching - many do!
Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.
If you are in crisis or danger, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be alone in facing these things – there are people who care and who will help. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2014 Dr. Laura Burlingame-Lee, Ph.D.