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.