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.
For 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.
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.
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About the author
Dr 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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