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How Coaching differs from Psychotherapy

“Psychotherapy heals wounds; executive coaching transforms ambitions into achievements. One addresses the scars of the past; the other, the stars of the future."

~Anonymous


How does coaching differ from psychotherapy?


This is a question that I get asked often. I also get asked what the difference is between executive coaching and life coaching, and between consulting and coaching. For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on the distinction between coaching and psychotherapy. It is essential to identify your needs and determine what would be most beneficial for you. This understanding is crucial in selecting the professional practice that aligns with your goals and will yield your desired outcome.

Without sounding too much like a history textbook, I think it’s interesting to know the origins of psychotherapy and coaching. Psychotherapy, as a formalized practice, has been around for over a century, with its roots tracing back to the late 19th century. Executive coaching, as a formalized practice, began to gain recognition and popularity in the latter half of the 20th century. The concept of coaching in a business context (aka executive coaching) began as organizations sought ways to enhance leadership and managerial skills. Psychotherapy is focused on diagnosing and treating mental and nervous disorders. Executive coaching revolves around professional development and goal achievement.


Everyone’s a Coach


With the popularity of the coaching profession, there has been wide misuse and overuse of the term “coach”. Many, without formal training, have called themselves a “coach”. When seeking an executive coach, prioritizing individuals who have undergone training from institutions accredited and acknowledged by the International Coach Federation (ICF) is crucial for ensuring their legitimacy and proficiency in the field. The ICF, founded in 1995, has become a global standard for professional coaching, establishing rigorous guidelines and ethical standards that coaches are expected to uphold. Choosing a coach with proper training not only signifies a commitment to industry-accepted standards, adherence to ethical practices and ongoing professional development but signals they are equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge, and competencies to navigate the complexities of coaching effectively. It is essential for organizations and individuals to vet coaches and inquire about their qualifications and training. It is also worth doing a “chemistry test” with your coach by taking advantage of free introductory meetings. You will want to find a coach that fits your personality and it’s worth investing this time and no cost to you. If you are focused on your professional growth through self-discovery, setting actionable plans and achieving positive outcomes, you would likely benefit most from an executive coach. If this is not what you desire, then you can look at some of the fields of practice mentioned in the first paragraph and do more research to determine what suits you best.

The Essence of Executive Coaching

Coaching is a process that focuses on creating and using strategies to achieve goals identified by the client. It can be divided into life coaching and executive coaching. For the purposes of this blog and in relation to what I do, we will focus on executive coaching. Executive coaching is specifically focused on the professional development and performance of individuals in the professional environment. While executive coaching tends to focus on individuals in leadership or executive roles, I work with individuals at all levels of their career journey. Executive coaches help with a variety of topics but they are mostly focused on the professional growth and development of an individual, or in aligning an individual's performance to organizational goals.


The Client is the Captain


In coaching, the emphasis is on empowering the client to make decisions and take responsibility for their chosen path through self-discovery, outlining their goals and taking steps to achieve them. The agenda is set by the client, and success hinges on their willingness to accept feedback, take risks and embrace new approaches. They are the captain of their ship and determine the journey to their destination. The coach acts as a guide, facilitating the journey and providing support, but the ultimate responsibility for change lies with the client. This direct and challenging relationship is characterized by honesty, straightforward communication, and the use of powerful questions to stimulate growth. Feedback is a crucial component of the coaching relationship. The client is expected to evaluate their progress, and if the coaching process is not yielding the desired results, open communication with their coach is necessary. We want to know what is and isn’t working so that together we can identify and rectify any roadblocks hindering progress. Effective feedback also enables the coach to refer and recommend another professional field if the desired outcome is outside the scope of executive coaching. The success of coaching is contingent on the client's proactive engagement and receptivity to change.


Psychotherapy: Navigating the Depths of Mental Well-being


In contrast to coaching, psychotherapy is a specialized field dedicated to the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of mental and nervous disorders. The primary objectives include alleviating symptoms, understanding the underlying dynamics that contribute to these symptoms, modifying dysfunctional behaviors, and developing coping strategies for psychological challenges. Therapy involves a deep exploration of the client's psyche, uncovering layers of thoughts, emotions, and experiences that may be contributing to their distress.


Professional Responsibilities and Boundaries


Both coaching and psychotherapy have ethical standards and organizations that provide guidelines by which practitioners need to adhere to in their practice. However, the nature of the relationship and the boundaries within each vary significantly. Psychotherapy is a healthcare service often reimbursed through health insurance policies, underscoring its status as a recognized and regulated field. In contrast, coaching does not fall under the purview of healthcare services and is not typically covered by insurance. In coaching, the emphasis is on transparency, honesty and the partnership between the coach and client. The coach provides direct feedback, asks challenging questions, and encourages the client to confront and overcome obstacles. On the other hand, psychotherapy involves focusing on the complexities of the client's emotions, traumas, and inner conflicts and the therapist holds a position of authority and expertise in the relationship.

The client engaging in coaching is explicitly advised to seek professional guidance for matters pertaining to legal, medical, financial, business, spiritual, psychological, or any other area requiring specialized expertise. The decisions in these areas are unequivocally the client's responsibility. As mentioned above, if during the coaching process, either the coach or the client identifies issues that are outside the boundaries of coaching or specifically there is a need for psychotherapeutic intervention, it is necessary for the coach to refer the client to an appropriate mental health professional.


Conclusion: Navigating the Path of Self-Discovery and Improvement


Both coaching and psychotherapy offer valuable avenues for growth and healing. While executive coaching empowers individuals to set and achieve professional goals, psychotherapy provides a therapeutic space for exploring the depths of one's psyche and addressing mental health challenges. It is crucial for you to discern your needs and choose the path that aligns with your objectives. Whether embarking on an executive coaching journey to enhance professional performance and satisfaction or seeking psychotherapy to navigate the complexities of mental well-being, the key lies in your informed decision-making to ensure you are on the right path for your journey of self-discovery and improvement. For additional clarification on the distinctions between psychotherapy and coaching, consult with a qualified professional, or feel free to contact me if you have any questions.



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