What’s the Difference Between Therapy and Coaching?

As regular readers know, a significant number of our coaching students are psychologists, social workers or therapists expanding their service offering to coaching.

But what exactly is the difference?  It’s important to us in the industry to make this clear.  At GCI. we work intensively with therapists, many of whom are at the top of their game, and equally committed to becoming highly skilled coaches.  This gives us a wonderful opportunity to study that question.  We’ve partnered with our students to gain an acute understanding of what is different between therapy and coaching, as well as what is similar.

Here are some points we’ve discovered:

1.  Goal Orientation

  • The goal orientation is much stronger in coaching than in therapy and counselling.
  • It is common for individuals to present to counselling with an immediate desire to alleviate pain and anxiety. Therefore the relief of distress is the goal.  Depending upon the counselling approach, there may be little exploration of what the alternative or desired experience looks like at the outset.  Rather, that alternative state is something achieved as an outcome. It is a destination point, discovered over time under the guidance of the treating practitioner.
  • In long term psychotherapy, there is often a drive for greater awareness and personal growth.  This opens up exploration of the individual’s inner landscape, their motivations and desires.
  • While in therapy there may be a stated goal, in coaching it is typical to spend significantly more time unpacking and clarifying this goal.  The coach and coachee will determine measures of success and establish how to recognise when the goal is acheived.  The burden of responsibility for goal achievement is not left with the treating practitioner, but sits very clearly with the client.
  • In coaching, the client’s goal is the focal point which directs the conversation.  It guides the coach’s decisions about how to work with the client and what questions to ask.

2. The Client Is Capable

A core assumption in coaching is that the client is whole, capable and resourceful.  This creates many powerful differences in the role and approach of the practitioner.  The coach knows the client has a rich reservoir of tacit knowledge about their situation, as well as what they need to achieve their goal. The coach regards the client as the expert on their own life.  While this is consistent with a strengths-based approach to psychology, the emphasis on the client’s agency results in profound practice changes.

To operate within this paradigm the coach must be able to let go of any attachment to being the expert.

3.  Letting Go Of The Need To Know

Coaches often work with individuals on goals and issues that lie well outside the sphere of their therapeutic expertise.  You may work with a client who is launching a new business, who is negotiating a corporate take-over or endeavouring to change organisational culture.  These are things most therapists know nothing about.

This ability to work with clients independent of content expertise, expands a therapist’s potential client market. Once they learn to let go, doors begin to open for them.

We can do this as coaches because sense making and decision making lie with the client, not us. We merely guide their thinking through methods that are applicable without specific content knowledge.

Coaching requires a shift in mindset, most apparent in new coaches developing their skills.  Until they fully understand and internalize not needing to know, the coach can get in the way of the client’s process.  Numerous fact-finding questions, that do not extend the clients thinking, can take up session time and merely educate the coach about content they don’t need to understand.

It isn’t necessary for the coach to understand the content, and is in fact more helpful when they don’t because then they can focus solely on supporting the client’s processing skills.  In short, the coach’s job is to support the client to reach their goal, not to do the work for them.

Questions for Reflection

How familiar are you with that “not needing to know” state?

How do you feel differently about your role as a coach, versus therapist?

Interested in learning more about transitioning from Therapist to Coach?  Take a look at our upcoming Coach Trianing Intensive in Portland, Oregon.  We’d love to see you there!

GCI

History is Not in the Past

As coaches, being aware of the many influences that shape our clients’ lives is critical.  These influences include social and historical experiences that aren’t apparent at first glance.  Along with several of our graduates, Vicki and I are preparing for a trip to Greece for a process-oriented seminar called Worldwork.  These seminars are organized every couple of years in different parts of the world, and involve hundreds of participants working on global and historical issues.

As I prepare for the trip, I recall a piece I wrote at the last Worldwork I attended, in Poland, in 2014.  Here it is.

Warsaw, 2014

For the last week I’ve been in Warsaw, on the facilitation team for an event known as Worldwork.  Delegates from twenty-eight countries gathered to discuss, understand and address current and historic global conflicts.

Before I left home, many colleagues were curious about my commitment to this event. They asked me, why open the painful wounds of history? why put yourself through all that trauma?

For me the answer is simple. To address global conflict we need to study in depth  the lessons that both history and unfolding events reveal.

Few conflicts develop overnight.  Many ignite against a background of centuries of struggle.  The pain is buried as soldiers come home from war and civilians try to piece their lives together.  In the wake of unbearable trauma, when peace is tentative, it can be too much to talk about what has happened.  While we have new models for addressing the impact of atrocities, such as South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it also falls to later generations to pick up and continue the dialogue.  The hidden trauma of conflict and war carries on across generations.

The forces of conflict are intense.  Making smart decisions in the midst of turmoil is hard.  I suspect it’s impossible unless we understand – before we’re in a crisis situation – how rage and fear can collectively overcome us.  Behind these intense emotions is often the dream of something better, a deep yearning for change in our communities and the world.

Though we think of wars as part of history, the past is not only in the past.  The circumstances that shaped history continue to play out right now in our present world.  Oppressed communities dream of freedom and self-direction, while others experience the struggle for identity, for land or enough food to support themselves and their children.

Most of us not directly affected go about our ordinary lives believing we are immune to the pain of intense global conflict.   However, history has repeatedly shown that seemingly peaceful societies can find themselves in the midst of war or civil war at frightening speed.  Take the former Yugoslavia for example.

The Greek Delegates

History also shows us how dangerous it is when a group of people experiences being downed and unheard by the international community.  It creates a pressure cooker effect.  Greek delegates at Worldwork in Poland spoke about unemployment, hunger, and the worrying rise of neo-facism in their own country.  Rather than accepting growing violence as inevitable, their team will bring Worldwork to Greece in their continuing effort to engage and work out some of the tension and pain building in their country.

Of course conflict doesn’t just play out on the world stage.  It’s present in our individual lives.  We learn to persevere, despite tensions and conflicts in our communities, workplaces and families.  We get on with life.  One of the costs of not working these things out is we become desensitized to tensions or levels of suffering we’ve come to take for granted.

Yet it’s those tensions that are swept under the carpet, often in the name of momentary peace, that give rise to future conflict.  They smoulder, just waiting for the right moment to ignite.  Think about your own life.  What resentments are you carrying?  Who do you blame?  Who have you stopped speaking with?

If we’re to learn new ways of managing conflict, including the potential for violent conflict, we need to build that muscle in small ways.  I encourage you to be more like the Greek women from Worldwork.  Pay attention to the nagging or mounting tensions around you and address them if you can.

Reflections:

What nagging tensions do you ignore?

How does the past live on in your life?

Is there anything you need to re-visit in order to achieve greater peace in your world?