Coaching v Therapy

Photo by  Kari Shea

Photo by Kari Shea


Executive coaching is very solution-focused. Some engagements can be as short as 1-3 sessions. Other clients need longer periods, from six months to a year, strategies and tools to interweave results and relationships at the individual, team, and organization level. It sounds like a simple concept, but it is not easy to pull off. A coach’s background varies, accounting for a wide spectrum of talent. A coach can hold a behavioral, social science, or psychology master’s or doctoral degree.  And, there are also coaches practicing with little professional background. Both types of coaches submit to the requirements of a coaching program. Both types of coaches can get certified through an accrediting body by taking a 3-hour open book test. Because the certification body accepts all comers, some choose not to become certified, using their academic degrees and experience as credentials. There are no state licenses for coaching.

Psychotherapy is a long-term process. A patient works with a therapist to diagnose and resolve problematic beliefs, behaviors, relationship issues, feelings and sometimes physical responses generally resulting from past trauma. The therapist holds a clinical master’s or doctoral degree and submits to state licensing requirements. In general, states license two specific types of roles—mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. 

In choosing a practitioner with coaching or therapy, the client needs to decide what level of rigor they are looking to engage with and distinguish for themselves the difference between wise counsel versus friendly advice.

Dipping v Dwelling

Both therapy and coaching are collaborative processes based on the relationship between an individual and a practitioner. Both are grounded in dialogue, provide a supportive environment allowing clients to talk openly with someone who’s objective, neutral and nonjudgmental. Both practitioners use a client’s past as a tool for understanding present behaviors. It is here a therapist will dwell to heal and a coach will dip to frame understanding of how the past influences the present. Coaching can be therapeutic, but it is not therapy. Together with the client, both practitioners will work to identify and change the thought and behavior patterns that are keeping clients from feeling and performing their best.

While there is a shared understanding and rigor between trained therapists and coaches educated on behavioral theory, the fundamentals of coaching are what distinguish it from therapy. Therapy dwells in the past and attempts to heal an individual’s emotional pain by reversing the suppression of memories and emotions. Coaching dips into the past and attempts to help an individual frame painful experiences to increase awareness of past patterns and understanding of their impact in present situations. In this way, coaching is not therapy, but it can be therapeutic.


Coaching is focused on helping leaders work through their dilemmas so they can truly learn on the job (in front of others, under pressure) and directly translate that knowledge into results for their teams and ultimately the organization.


Coaches use diagnostics to asses individual and organizational effectiveness and performance. They do not diagnose mental illness. A coach with a background in behavioral science, psychology, or related field has an understanding of the fundamentals of human behavior from a theoretical perspective (how family systems work, human development, adult learning, our lopsided natures, and the impact of denial—to list a few things). Therapists apply a similar lens and use it to determine illnesses and pathologies so their patients can be clinically treated.

 The coach’s focus is typically present-forward compared to the retrospective lens of the therapist. The coach is not focused on healing the past, but rather taking note of how it influences the present and what strategies can help the client increase their effectiveness. Coaching never requires medication, micro-dosing, coordination or services, or adjunct therapies though the client might opt for any those experiences separately with a therapist.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

How do you keep track of your personal development and career goals?

I developed the Becoming Personal Development Journal as a way to keep my milestone goals, progress, and overall thoughts on my own development in one place. Sure, I have my blog to do that, but after inadvertently deleting my blog of ten years when I switched to a web site, I realized the impermanence of ideas. Plus, writing something by hand requires discipline and it’s discipline that comes into play when you are trying to achieve a bold goal.

Through this journal, I wanted to inspire my clients to stay motivated and maintain their momentum as they were rolling off engagements with me.

I started using early versions of the Journal two years ago. I had quit my job to finish my doctorate, was fresh out of my final defense with my committee, recovering from some very painful surgery, and felt a bit rudderless. Because I started this process for myself in August 2015, I made the journal undated. Change starts the day you decide it starts. You do not have to wait till January  to get started. In fact, it’s almost better if you do start at an odd time of the year since you are not distracted by three months of holidays. I noticed that my clients felt a bit overwhelmed with papers and information I had pointed them to during our time together. Many didn’t have a system for keeping their learning in one place. I experimented with PowerPoint and worksheets, with varying degrees of success. There are several worksheets inside the Journal that will help you get organized, focused on your goals, and really learn about yourself as a catalyst and leader. These are informed by both my research and my experiences coaching.

Using the Becoming Development Journal
I make it easy to get going with this journal. I Set up your weeks starting on Mondays and ending on Sundays. Each week, you’re prompted with a question to make you think about your goals and how you plan to get them done. You have space to write the things you are working on (like noticing your attention in meetings or with certain people, noticing your decision making and the quality of your thinking, and even noticing how you felt that day). Some people might develop symbols for some of these concepts. Smiley faces makes a good one for mood. A numerical rating system can also quickly denote how your day is going. I provide example entries to help you get started.

There are a lot of extra sections in this journal, including different approaches to managing stress, avoiding burnout, and a lot more. Over time, see if you utilize the whole journal or only focus on specific sections.

Why Journaling Works
It’s been said that writing down your goals makes them more concrete. Pysch Central has a great article about the benefits of keeping a journal. I noticed that as I logged my goals and the milestones to getting there each day, I learned more about myself, what I do well and where I struggle. I became an effective coach to myself at a time when I couldn’t pay anyone to care. More importantly, the things I want to avoid altogether are there, staring me in the face. I become my best accountability partner. Here, I can be completely honest with how I’m doing and notice trends along the way. Friends are great, but they are soft on us. Managers are great too, but when given a choice to talk about the status of the business v the status of you, they will opt for the business. They generally have extremely limited bandwidth for deep conversation on your personal development. We all have those times in our lives when we need support coupled with an accurate reflection of where we are at.

Using this journal has been helpful for me and my clients. While I love writing about concepts related to coaching on the blog, it’s so much easier to flip a few pages through the journal. A few weeks ago, I had spike in networking activities. Thanks to the Becoming Development Journal, I was able to pinpoint that it happened as a result of being asked to write an article for a local newspaper, which resulted in an invitation to speak on a panel. From there, several meetings sprung up, and in one of them, I received some valuable advice that gave me something to think about in terms of my approach to getting business.

What are your development goals for the coming month? Do you use a journal or a similar method to log your progress?

Peopling 101: What is systems coaching?

Systems, or team coaching is a process where a team will engage with the systems coach when there are issues present, or when a team would like to align themselves around particular goals.

Photo by  Muyuan Ma

Photo by Muyuan Ma


What is team coaching?

Team coaching is a process where a team will engage with the systems coach when there are issues present. For example when a team might want to align around particular goals. There might be changes happening within the organization. It is a journey that the team takes. Very often the systems coach will accompany the team over a period of months to ensure that the behaviors that are identified within the team coaching situation are supported over that period of time and then embedded into the workplace.

When would team coaching be used?

The situation might be painful for the team, so very often things like change initiatives and projects, mergers and acquisitions, when there is a silo mentality in the departments or within one section, if there are political games that are being played, if there are toxic behaviors, toxic communication where individuals are not able to align around certain goals, where there's a lack of safety, a lack of trust…team coaching is very effective.

What does a team experience during the team coaching process?

Team coaching is very experiential so no writing. It's about the coach engaging with the team at the level that the team is and the coach stimulates powerful conversations to happen by creating a safe environment and encouraging and fostering trust. A team can expect to be moving around in various exercises, to be asked many questions, but also to speak to each other in a very honest and open way. Sometimes many teams feel quite vulnerable in the process. If they are willing to go to that place then magic happens because the team feels closer afterward.

What is a team coach?

Also called a systems coach. A systems coach does not focus on individuals but looks at the team as a whole (system). They focus on the relationships that are formed between those individuals in order to maximize the team's potential. They hold a system perspective and have various principles that support that perspective.

For example, they don't engage one-on-one with individuals. They don't view conflict as something that is wrong. They view it as a signal for something trying to happen. When they see conflict happening between the individuals in the team, they move away from who’s doing what to whom and take a helicopter perspective to look at what's trying to happen for that system. They also work with them with the belief that every voice that is voiced in the team belongs to the individual but also is a voice of that system and therefore needs to be honored and respected, even those voices that are unpopular and so very often marginalized. That there's the systems coach will work to bring all of those voices into the forefront so that the team may readjust itself.

What does team coaching process look like?

It’s different every time a coach engages with a team but at its core, a coach would meet with the team, assist the teams and needs first, what their goals and objectives are what their strengths are and areas for development. The assessment very often is a face to face a series of questions along with questionnaires (ie, the 360). After the assessment, the coach determines a coaching plan and very often they’ll meet with the team on a one- or two-day workshop that kick-starts the program. Then there's a follow-up process. After that the coach will meet with the team every 4 to 6 weeks for a period of time depending on the level of dysfunction and the team's ability depending on what the team's issues were.

Common coaching outcomes.

Each team will have unique goals and outcomes. However there are some general outcomes like alignment around goals, a much more positive sense of team, the team members really identify with the team's identity, there's much better communication, people feel a lot more trusting towards each other, they feel safer to share when they've made mistakes, they hold each other and themselves accountable, change is dealt with in a much more smoother way because people feel empowered during times of change, and team members don’t view conflict as something bad, but they do a conflict or something needing to happen at that moment and they are much more skillful at dealing with it.

The ultimate goal of a team coach is to work themselves out of a role.

Related tools:

-          Waterline Model, STRUCTURE (roles, goals, norms, decision style)

-          Tuckman Model for Team dynamics: group process