What’s the difference?
There seems to be a good amount of discussion on the topic of the difference between life coaching and therapy, and I’ve had clients ask me about it. I have a unique perspective. I hold a Master’s of Science degree in Group Process/Psychotherapy from Drexel University and practiced for 20 years as a psychotherapist in private practice. Then 10 years ago I completed coach training and certification through The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and went on to receive Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from the International Coach Federation (ICF). I currently have a full-time coaching practice. I’m also the President Elect of ICF Philadelphia, and previously served two years as VP of Education providing continuing education learning for members.
In my experience people seek out psychotherapy when they need help with challenging emotions from either within or as the result of circumstances. They want what’s “wrong” “fixed.” Where as, people generally seek coaching to enhance their life. They want to successfully move toward their future – either one they envision or they’re unclear about – and which they’re having difficulty actualizing on their own.
Psychotherapy, social work and psychiatry come out of a history of serving mentally ill populations, though in modern times all three professions have expanded their patient bases to serve high-functioning people struggling with less debilitating issues. This evolution is evidenced by the movement in psychology toward resilient, strength-based approaches, such as Positive Psychology. This very recent branch of psychology, instead of treating patients from a deficit perspective, or even focusing on what makes a person unhappy, seeks to understand what makes human beings thrive, it’s focus is on the manifestation of happiness.
The coaching profession began in the early 1990s when the US went into recession and companies began to enact widespread down sizing. Suddenly two things happened: First, those that were being down-sized required support to move on, and, Second, the leaders and managers remaining were highly stressed, had an enormous workload and benefitted from support to proceed in such a different economic business environment. Coaches began to be hired to work with poor performers and eventually high potentials and high performers, usually at the top of the organizations. Before long people at the middle of larger organizations and leaders at smaller organizations began to independently hire coaches. Today across business, non-profit and government and in people’s personal life coaching is valued as a stand-alone development solution.
My experience in practicing both is that when either modality is done competently the process is enormously “therapeutic.” What I mean by therapeutic is that the process that’s undertaken is beneficial to the client resulting in desirable outcomes. Both coaching and psychotherapy can achieve this. When done well and competently they both take a person through a process that helps them in their efforts to grow, overcome issues, and become more effective in their lives.
In fact, I believe there are other options where people seeking growth and development can find help and guidance, for example, 12 step programs, self-help books, faith-based organizations, meditative practices, or strong and supportive families and friends, to name a few.
Coaching is still a relatively new discipline. I recently read a blog post that humorously stated: “everyone either has a coach, is looking for one or wants to become one.” There is a little bit of a Gold Rush feel to it all, and maybe a bit of a turf war rather than the much needed clarification of the strengths and benefits of either. Everyone’s jumping on the coaching bandwagon. This is exciting because the profession is exploding globally with an estimated 47K coaches practicing worldwide in 2012, up from 2,100 in 1999. On the other hand lots of folks are calling themselves coaches without any formal training or credential.
So I think potential clients need to do more research, reading and study about what coaching is and how it can be helpful. A good place to start is the ICF benefits of coaching and FAQs pages. Also, seek coaches that are members of ICF because to attain membership they had to have completed an accredited coach-training program. Finally ask if they hold an ICF credential. Membership does not require credentialing but coaches that attain a credential went through additional rigors to attain and maintain the credential. Become an educated consumer because hiring a coach or any other helper is an important investment in your future.