Do coaching and counselling mix?

When new clients approach me one of the first questions is whether coaching or counselling would be best suited to their needs. Getting the right sort of professional support from the outset is important. Coaches should be primarily concerned with goals not emotional distress. It doesn’t help as their seem to have sprung up a lot of coaches who deal with depression. Even more worrying is the proliferation of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) practitioners who claim to deal with serious psychological issues and have also branched into coaching. The boundaries between coaching and counselling have become blurred. It all gets rather confusing for the prospective client. When people are troubled they don’t always seek out the most appropriate help, just the nearest one. In this post I’d like to address the main issues with these blurred lines.

Coaching, Counselling and Psychotherapy

Coaching differs from counselling and psychotherapy in that coaching is usually about the ‘here and now’ and the future. Counselling usually covers, past, present and future and includes an element of distress or psychological disturbance. Psychotherapy is often longer term and deals with more severe disturbances. In essence coaching is about goals.  It’s a commonly heard phrase that ‘if there ain’t goals, then it ain’t coaching‘. Coaches are not therapists and should refer clients on to suitably qualified professionals.

I work in a centre with counselling professionals and if I feel a client’s needs are best served by counselling then I refer them to a colleague, with an option to return to coaching, of course.

Crossover between coaching and counselling

Some coaching approaches are based on psychotherapy models such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). I took a training course in SFBT to seeing  how I might apply it to coaching. I didn’t have to try very hard. Infact, many of the techniques translate so well into the coaching arena that they need little or no change. So we might say that SFBT has an element of coaching. The same can be said for CBT, with its emphasis on perceptual and behavioural change.

What about having coaching and counselling at the same time?

There are debates on whether coaching, counselling and therapy should be mixed in the same session. For SFBT and CBT they already are to some degree. So for counsellors and psychotherapists applying coaching skills might offer a useful bridge to focus on the future. I’d suggest that, ideally, counsellors or psychotherapists would refer a client on to a coach after addressing the emotional issues.

ask_about_coaching copyFor coaching clients even though the coach may have the skills, the focus of coaching should be goals and not dipping in and out of the past. To do so will only confuse the client. Yes, the coach may have to address emotional upset as issues ‘touch a nerve’ but it should not be the primary focus.

There is no reason why a client cannot attend counselling and coaching in the same time frame as long as the approaches complement each other as long as boundaries between the two remain clear.

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If you want to explore coaching, I urge to read my earlier post: How to Find a Life Coach (and the questions you need to ask before hiring one). If you like to discuss my coaching services please contact me.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIf you found this useful or interesting:

About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

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7 Attitudes Towards Human Nature and How They Affect Self-Esteem

For his classic book Assumptions about Human Nature, social psychologist Lawrence Wrightsman conducted extensive research into how we judge human nature and the social world. Other commentators on his research have argued that the ‘self-accepting’ (higher self-esteem) person tends to view the world as a friendlier place than does the self-rejecting person (lower self-esteem). In this post we consider seven attitudes about human nature:

  1. Agree or disagree? People are basically honest and trustworthy.
  2. Agree or disagree? People are basically altruistic and try to help others.
  3. Agree or disagree? People have a lot of control over their lives.
  4. Agree or disagree? People have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Agree or disagree? Most people will speak out for what they believe in.
  6. Agree or disagree? You can’t accurately describe a person in a few words (that is, people are simple to understand)
  7. Agree or disagree? People’s reactions differ from situation to situation (people are unpredictable)

Black-and-white thinking indicates a degree of cognitive inflexibility and has been implicated in emotional issues (disturbance). Challenging this kind of binary thought is a key principle in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and in life coaching based on the CBT model. One of the techniques is to explore exceptions to the ‘rule’.

Begin by asking the following questions:

  1. Do your responses (to the 7 attitudes) make for a safe and friendly world or an unsafe and hostile one?
  2. How do these attitudes shape your social interactions, especially in relation to confidence building?
  3. Which of these attitudes are most likely to act as an obstruction to your personal development and goals?

Consider each attitude in turn and explore exceptions to the attitude, such as, ‘People have a lot of control over their lives’. Consider the ways however small where you have control over your life. Also considering ‘People have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses’. What are your strengths? Continue through the seven attitudes to consider exceptions to all attitudes that have a less favourable view of human nature. Each time consider how each attitude impacts on your self-acceptance (esteem).

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodIn my coaching practice, I take a solution-focused approach which means that we focus on strengths and opportunities. As a client you will also look at your values, the principles and ideals you stand for in life. One of the challenges is to consider how attitudes and actions support your values and in turn support your goals. In confidence coaching (and in my book Unlock Your Confidence) a key theme is to consider how attitudes impact on confidence and esteem.

In solution focused coaching there is a maxim: the viewing influences the doing, and vice versa. This means that how we view ourselves, how we view the world and how we view other people, will influence what we do with our lives, our actions. The literally meaning of ‘attitude’ is ‘fit and ready for action’. Having the courage to take action is at the root of confidence.

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If you enjoyed this post and found it useful:

About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

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Self-Coaching: Exploring Exceptions to ‘The Rule of Absolute Hopelessness’

When we are stuck in the middle of a problem, it’s sometimes difficult to see a way forward. In  (life) coaching, it is often helpful to explore exceptions to the ‘rule of absolute hopelessness’. Stress throws us into survival mode and can negatively impact on our cognitive abilities. We don’t process information so well.

Questioning techniques (borrowed from Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Solution Focused Brief Therapy) help us to challenge our sense of overwhelm and to seek little glimmers of hope. Here are some suggestions for questions that you can ask yourself. They are also useful in working with others. If you are working with others, the questions need to be used sensitively. It’s important that other people feels as though they have been heard. If you are working on your own issues, you could get someone to ask you the questions, or else get a notebook and spend time writing down your answers.

  • Consider / Tell me about the times when you did not experience the problem so intensely.
  • Consider / Tell me about the times when you cope better despite the problem.
  • Consider / Tell me about the times when the problem doesn’t feel so great, when you feel more in control of things if only for a short time.
  • Consider / Tell me about the times when you refuse to let it get you down and control your life.
  • When was the last time you did something enjoyable and refused to let the problem get in the way of having a good time, even if only for a while.

When working with coaching clients, I invite them to take part in an observation exercise. I simply ask them to notice the times, between sessions when the problem/issue is not so intense or when it doesn’t bother them so much. The aim is not to take action or change things but purely to take note.

Ask about life coaching with Dr Gary WoodOften these observations form the basis of ways forward. Inevitably throughout our lives we will experience a sense of ‘stuckness’. Often it’s a sign that we are in new territory and learning something new. Exploring the exceptions can help to draw out the seedlings of transferable skills including coping skills. If there’s a sense of having been there before, exploring the exceptions can help instigate new learning and new ways of coping.

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Briefly Describe the Problem Then Focus Intensely on Solutions

Feeling ‘Listened to’

Talking about problems allows us to hear the problem outside of our own inner dialogue. Simply by finding the precise words to explain our problems to another person can cause a shift in perceptions. Some people seek coaching based on a perception that it is a lot like counselling. Of course, there are cross-overs in terms of some of the basic assumptions of Carl Rogers’s Person-Centred Therapy. Rogers talks about creating the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions for change’ and recognizes clients as the experts in their own lives. The therapeutic relationship is also paramount. It’s unusual to be another human being and feel totally ‘listened to’. It rarely happens in everyday life.

General description of the past and a detailed picture of the future

Now some clients, encouraged by the therapeutic relationship, feel the encouraged to explain in the finest details the issues that brought them to seek counselling. The idea is that greater understanding helps to facilitate change. In coaching it’s not necessary to know how you got here in the minutest of detail. As part of my coaching training I underwent the coaching process as a client. I quickly realized that I favoured the convoluted explanation to ensure that the coach understood every minute detail of the problem, how it had arisen and so on and on and on. The coach asked me ‘Where is this taking us?’ The question stopped me in my tracks. Early in my coaching practice I had experienced clients who felt the need to give me the fullest possible picture. This simple principle of ‘where is this taking us’ helped me to shape the sessions to better focuses them on the future. My own version of the intervention is ‘I’m getting a very clear picture of what you want to move away from. I’m less clear about what you’d like to move towards. Perhaps you could fill in a few of those details’. There is a fine line between hearing the client and getting bogged down in so much detail that all avenues of possible solutions are closed off.

If there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching

Coaching is ultimately about goals. There’s a mantra often quoted that ‘if there ain’t goals then it ain’t coaching’. It’s been a long recognized research finding that all forms of therapy have pretty much the same outcomes. It’s called the equivalence paradox. However I would argue that some therapeutic models lend themselves as better bases for coaching than do others. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a problem-focused type therapy that emphases changes in the ways we perceive the world and the way we act in it. Gestalt therapy is focused on the ‘here-and-now’ which has parallels with coaching. However with psychodynamic approach with its emphasis on unconscious processes the common factors are not so clear.  A former psychodynamic practitioner colleague proposed a model of coaching called ‘Cognitive-Analytic Coaching’ as an alternative to CBT. Apart from being a somewhat unfortunate acronym, the strong emphasis on analysis seems at odds with basic principles of coaching. There might be lots of thinking and analysing but the action element appears underplayed. It’s almost an afterthought.

Meaningful and practical steps to change

TV therapy-based programmes invariably pay homage to cod-psychoanalysis and often parents or teachers get the blame for everything. However it’s not necessarily the case that this insight will inspire any move forward in life. It might help to reinforce helplessness and become the justification for things to stay as they are. As well as digging over the past such programmes are also heavy on the symbolism. It just so happens that symbolic gestures look good on camera. However it’s unlikely that the programme producer asks the ‘client’ if standing at the seashore, letting balloons go at sunset chanting to the great baloon god is personally meaningful. Such TV-friendly dispays create the illusion of doing something without actually doing anything at all. Unfortunately, some ‘inspirational’ models of coaching follow a more ‘poetic’ approach to personal development. However, evidence-based coaching has a stronger emphasis on meaningful empowerment and practicalities. In my practice, any kind of exercise is based on client insights and always meaningful to them. If a coach tries to cajoles you in to trying ‘hocus pocus nonsense’ against your better judgement, then find another coach. Bullshit never takes precedence over meaningfulness.

Following the 80:20 principle

Coaching is often about making small significant insights rather than waiting for ultimate mysteries in life to be revealed. In my practice I operate the 80:20 principle to structure coaching sessions. This is in line with the CBT approach and the Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) approach. So, you would describe the problem or issue for 20% of the session and in the remaining 80% we would explore solutions. It follows the principle that the more we talk about the problem, the bigger it gets. Giving more time to solutions (even tiny little ones) can create a shift and begin building confidence and motivation right away. Solution-Focused Brief Coaching is about creating a different mindset. The coaching relationship begins with the coaching helping you to explore things from different perspectives. As the coaching process continues, you the client, get to learn the solution-focused perspective so that it becomes an automatic alternative to the problem-oriented mindset. Part of this mindset is to consider the smallest shifts and smallest actions to tackle the issue rather then trying to tackle the whole problem head on. Often a seemingly insignificant change leads to a significant change in perception.

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Other coaching and confidence blog posts from Gary Wood

Avoiding Negative People or Changing Your Attitude?

I saw a postcard circulating on the internet that read:

‘Avoid negative people for they are the great destroyers of self-confidence and self esteem. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you’.

I have no issue with the second statement but do take exception to the first.

Firstly, what exactly are negative people? Is this negativity a fixed state? If so, what a depressing view of humanity. It’s more accurate to refer to use the phrase ‘people holding negative attitudes’. It also offers the possibility that attitudes may change. However we can take this further. Using this absolutist mindset is not psychologically healthy in which we posit black and white categories of ‘positive people’ and ‘negative people’. In fact, in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT),  the ‘black and white mindset’ is seen as something the needs to change. Many of the CBT techniques are aimed at ‘logically disputing’ the results of black and white thinking.

As a coach, many of my clients hold negative attitudes which are usually directed towards themselves. So, as a coach, should I avoid such people? Instead should I surround myself with ‘positive people’? Working with people with negative attitudes is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work as a coach and as a teacher. Such clients bring out the best in me and I can clearly see that I have made a difference in people’s lives.

Going back to the idea of all-pervading negativity, are there really people who are absolutely negative about absolutely everything, all of the time? Of course not. Admittedly, people can get into a negative cycle but I have yet to encounter people for whom this is all encompassing. My coaching practice is heavily influenced by solution-focused therapy skills. As with CBT, I work with clients to explore the exceptions. I will ‘look for what sparkles’ in someone’s life rather than consign them to the scrap heap. Admittedly this is not the easiest route but it is infinitely more rewarding. My coaching practice is also significantly informed by my psychological training. My PhD was in attitudes and ‘black and white thinking’. I very much view coaching as process to facilitate attitude change.

The assumption in the self-help quote above is that ‘negative people’ destroy self confidence and self esteem.  However, there is another saying offering a different perspective: ‘Difficult people are our teachers’. Many people tell stories of triumph over adversity and overcoming obstacles. Sometimes ‘difficult people’ test us. It’s not necessarily a reason to avoid them. Obstacles can strengthen our resolve. There is also the question of perception. Sometimes ‘negative people’ and ‘difficult people’ are those who don’t agree with us. Of course, it’s different when faced with bullies and those who seek to put us down. However is total avoidance necessarily the right strategy? Will avoidance preserve confidence and esteem? Surely habitually using avoidance over assertiveness could actually lead to lower confidence and esteem. Is it really a strategy to run off to people who always tell you what you want to hear? I can think of countless times in my life when ‘difficult people’ brought out the best in me. I’m not alone in that. There isn’t a success story ever written that does not contain an element of triumphing over adversity. Yours will be no different.

The problem with much that is written in self-help circles is that it is simply not thought-through. It bears little relationship to real life or evidence based psychology or models teaching and learning. Much of it is written in an over-generalized style (says he over-generalizing). Often self-help stuff reads like newspaper horoscopes. it’s easy to pick and choose and distort the message to get out of it what you want. Explanations of psychological types can often be used to prevent people from moving on, such as the myth of the addictive personality, the myth of significant gender differences or in this case the myth of toxic people. Surrounding ourselves by supportive people is one thing but what happens when one of those people starts telling you what you want to hear? Do they get labelled ‘toxic’ and are then avoided?

Often it’s not what happens in our lives that counts but how we perceive it and deal with it. The same applies to difficult people. These people may offer you an opportunity to let your positive attitudes shine. The call to avoid people with negative attitudes taps into an emotional-focused coping strategy in life. It’s easier to deal with the emotions than it is to get to the heart of the issues. To avoid ‘negative attitudes’ is a short-term fix. Managing our attitudes towards people with negative attitudes is a longer term solution. Otherwise, you may as well go and live on a desert island.

Often people displaying negative attitudes just want to be seen and heard. It’s better to be a people manager than operate a people-waste disposal system. Managing your perceptions, actions and reactions will help to build your own self-esteem. Avoiding opportunities never will. There are always going to be people that push us to the limit and we feel that if we don’t get away that they will drag us down. I admit that I have met a few people like that in my life. On the odd occasion I did opt for self-preservation but that process took years not at the first hint of ‘trouble’. Giving up on people should be the last resort not our default ‘speed-dial’. Inevitably you will give up on people but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try first. So before you reach for the ‘self-help short cut’, ask yourself if there is not a better lesson in there somewhere than that offered by the ‘inspirational’ self-help postcard approach.

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Oh No They Can’t! Oh Yes They Can! Self-Help Mantras With Evidence-Based Psychology Can Help!

Self-help affirmations are a common techniques designed to improve a person’s sense of worth but many self-help books offer the technique in uniformed and uncritical way. Unfortunately our inner critic is not so forgiving. So, if you endless repeat ‘I am a gifted, lovable, dynamic, outgoing person’ over and over again your inner critic may just respond each time ‘No you’re not! NO you are not!! NO YOU ARE NOT! NO YOU ARE @&%*ING WELL NOT!’ So, it’s no surprise that new research has found that low-self esteem felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves. However, ‘let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater’. As welcome as this research is, affirmations can still be helpful if you use them in line with evidence-based psychological insights. Let’s look at why and how.

As I explain in Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It, the problem is that many self-help gurus do not have even a fundamental understanding of attitude change, although many have recognised that the over-blown affirmations do not work. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a negative person and tried to offer suggestions you will know why. Invariably your attempts will be met with ‘yes but, yes but, yes but’. As we know ‘yes but means no!’. It’s like aiming ‘well intentioned missiles’ at the Starship Enterprise when the deflector shields are up. You ain’t gonna get through!

The secret is to recognise that attitude change is often a slow and subtler process. If we combine the psychology of attitudes with some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) and insights from Positive Psychology then we do have a recipe for change. All of these already drawn on a body of research whereas the ‘repeat things you don’t believe’ approach, does not!

The secret is to use small incremental steps that are difficult to disagree with. Focus on continual improvement. So for instance, compare these two statements:

  1. I am a lovable person
  2. I am becoming a more lovable person

Statement 2 is still not perfect but it is not so easily discounted as statement 1. Furthermore, statement 1 is most likely cancelled out by the existing statement running over and over in a person’s head, which says ‘I am an unlovable person’. This has already set up a perceptual filter that looks for evidence to support this statement and filter out anything to the contrary. This how negative attitudes and stereotypes are maintained. Statement 2 can easily be tagged on as a ‘but’:

  • I am an unlovable person BUT I am becoming a more lovable person

So if you are running negative statements, what you need to do first is spot them and use a method to cancel them. Just saying ‘Cancel’ makes the process more conscious. You can then substitute a ‘becoming’ statement.

Another technique is to add an ‘up until now clause’ which opens up the possibility of change. For instance:

  • I’m crap at maths

This becomes:

  • Up until now I’ve been crap at maths

Now add the ‘but’:

  • Up until now I’ve been crap at maths but I’m improving

After you’ve used this for a while, your inner critic is  much more likely to be receptive to the affirmation:

  • As I work at it, my maths is improving

Whereas, ‘I’m fantastic at maths’ is likely to be met with the immediate response: ‘No you’re not, you’re as thick as pig sh*t’!’ Clearly, your inner critic recognises the lie and tells you so and you end up feeling worse. To make progress you need to write affirmations that are unlikely to be rejected.

It’s only really possible to scratch the surface in this post, but hopefully I’ve demonstrated that it’s not self-help affirmations that are at fault, it’s how they are written. Knowledge of evidence-based psychology of attitude change (and therapeutic techniques) can help us to structure statements, that slowly peel back the defences.

One of the main motivations for writing ‘Don’t Wait. . . Swim Out‘ was to dispel self-help myths and put some evidence-based insights back into equation. Here’s a short video that explains more about my approach to affirmations and turning that inner critic into an inner coach:

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