12 May Coaching vs. Therapy: Why do we need coaches, anyway?
An interesting conversation came up in the discussion on a Facebook coaching group I belong to. The post itself was actually a promotion for the admin’s latest training offer for coaches. Someone asked the question, ” What is a “Life Coach” anyway? Sounds like what you do when you don’t have the skills or patience to be an actual licensed therapist.”
Interesting question. As someone who purports to be a life coach, it’s an important one too, because one of the most valuable skills in any marketing is overcoming objections. If someone objects to the basic premise behind what you do, it can be very difficult to convince them that your job is even a real thing.
I know this, because I’ve also worked as a digital marketing strategist (“why can’t we just have the sales team make posts?”) and a music composer (“why wouldn’t filmmakers just buy music that’s already been written?”). It’s challenging, because when you find a need that you have the skills and passion to fulfill, you really want to put everything you can into helping people who need it. But, being told you’re just a different version of another kind of work can be demoralizing. Being told you got to that point by choosing to simply not put in as much work as someone else with a different job title is even worse.
But, here’s the reality: a life coach is not a therapist. They’re not the same thing at all. Granted, a life coach can provide some therapeutic modalities. I myself have certified as a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Practitioner, a Hypnotherapy Practitioner, and an NLP Practitioner. The “practitioner” distinction is important, because it means I’m not a “therapist,” but rather someone who uses some of the techniques and strategies of those therapies when helping my clients.
So, really, what is the difference? I thought about this for a little while. There’s no governing body for coaches the way there is for therapists, so the standards vary widely. That means there’s less confidence in the field, and there’s a lot of emphasis on results to demonstrate effectiveness. Still, at the end of the day, we can draw an analogy:
If you’re injured and need help recovering, you go to a physiotherapist. This individual; who is university-trained and board-certified; uses very carefully selected biomechanical strategies to help your body recover and regain strength and reduce pain.
If, on the other hand, you want to lose weight or get in shape for a competition, you hire a personal trainer, who gives you a structured plan, keeps you accountable, and keeps you working toward your goal. There are dozens of certifying bodies for personal trainers. You can take an online course in a week, or you can attend a weekend-long workshop and write an exam. Or you can study kinesiology for four or five years, get a Master’s degree, and call yourself a trainer. Ultimately it’s the results you deliver that will get you your reputation and ongoing credentials.
One is a healtcare practitioner. The other is a part of your development team.
If we look at one as a licensed therapist and the other as a fitness coach, we can see the correlation. A physiotherapist, who deals with the physical health of the body, equates to the role of the psychotherapist, who works with the modalities and systems involved in mental health.
A personal trainer, in contrast, creates a strategy for physical improvement and success. A life coach works the same way, creating a structured plan and accountability for working toward you lifestyle goals.
Of course, there’s always some crossover. The trainer uses knowledge of physiology in a way similar to the physiotherapist (working with the muscle mechanics to maximize safe and efficient use of the muscles, thus improving strength and conditioning). Similarly, a life coach will often apply psychological methodologies to improve the client’s outlook, mental state, goal orientation, and habits. Generally, though, the therapist is focused on recovery and health, while the practitioner is focused on strategy and development.
As someone who works with men recovering from divorce, one of my first intake stages is to determine the potential client’s stage of recovery. If they’re very recently separated and deep in the depths of depression and anxiety, a coaching program to recover is often not where they need to be. While my programs do help men reset, refocus, and recover, there is a point where their mental state might not be up to the task of being merciless with their time in the morning or pushing themselves to get their workouts in. In these cases, I have no hesitation in suggesting they first work with a therapist to reclaim their emotional state and work through the grief they feel over the loss of their relationship.
Once that work is made more manageable, I can help guide them over the challenging part of rebuilding their confidence and self-esteem through the use of CBT, NLP, and even guided hypnosis, after which we start to build up daily rituals and an outline for success in their Three Pillars. That process tends to be longer, but the end result is a steady and successful recovery that usually has them coming out feeling their boldest and most accomplished.