(This is the second in a series of three posts on differences between Life Coaching and Therapy examining when each can be helpful. I have identified nine distinctions and here we explore the next three. CLICK HERE to read Part 1 of Do I Want Therapy or Coaching?)
Those Who Use Life Coaching Tend to “Self-Select”
A growing number of individuals who are going to be seeking help may be aware that they have the option to work with a therapist or a Coach. Those who select for a Coach will often do so for the “Goal-Oriented” reason stated above. A second very consequential reason is found in the matter of payment for the service. Some will select for therapy purely because that is the option which can be paid for by insurance coverage and view a 100% out of pocket expense as unacceptable. Others are not concerned about the manner of payment and have the resources to pay out of pocket and so will be guided by the first factor mentioned (goal-orientation) or some other reason why they view Coaching as preferred.
The stigma of therapy is still a factor for some who don’t want to be viewed as mentally or emotionally troubled. Then there is the individual who prefers therapy and wishes to do work which is more specific to that field of expertise and has no pertinent financial restrictions and can seek a therapist who does not accept insurance payments. Those who select for Coaching then are unlikely to see therapy as a solution for their current need. They may have found therapy helpful in the past as I have, or they may have had unsatisfactory experiences with therapy. They will be able to pay out of pocket or have their employer pay and are likely to be people who are less thinking about what’s wrong with them and more likely to be thinking about how they achieve what they want.
Life Coaching is Much More “Action-Oriented”
I am hard-pressed to think of a Coaching session I have ever been involved in, as Coach or Client, that has not been heavily focused on actions I will take. This is a striking and, to me, incredibly impressive statement to make about the profession. It is all about action. It is about obstacles to action, strategies for action, inspiration for action, interim steps to action, unpacking post-action situations and learning for the next action. I believe that this is why the profession is taking off and is now estimated to be a billion dollar industry worldwide. The appeal of being all about action is a powerful one. It’s probably why Nike’s coining and trademarking of “Just Do It” has endured for 30 plus years.
Therapy doubtless has a lot to do with action as well. In my experiences in therapy it has been very helpful to me in taking actions that were positive. But that was never the main focus of the sessions, nor did I expect my therapist to ask me at the end of each session, “Mike, what actions would you like to be accountable for over the next week?’ This approach to coaching brings it back to action every time. Even when actions don’t turn out as hoped or aren’t taken, it gives powerful material on which to build, re-strategize and move forward. Here, Life and Executive Coaching becomes very much like sports coaching. I coached basketball and baseball as a volunteer for a total of 10 years. The classic sports Coach’s routine is to come up with a game plan, practice it, play the game and then unpack and start on working for the next game. The entire focus of the Coaching is for performance – action!
Life Coaching Goals are Generally to Get from “Normal to Optimal”
In Life Coaching there is never a perspective that the client is “abnormal” or less than normal. The “normal” word, of course, is relative and can’t be pinned down. Therapy relies on categories, research and textbooks that will classify people with some conditions as abnormal. To the Life Coach, those classifications are irrelevant. The client who walks through the door or begins the first video session is by definition normal in the sense that he or she, like me, seeks “to maximize their personal and professional potential” as the International Coaching Federation defines Coaching. Everyone is assumed to be able to maximize their potential. Whatever my starting point may be as a client, it is normal for me and the goal then is to move from normal to optimal. Therapy can very reasonably have goals of reaching optimal levels of performance as well. This can be one of the many areas where therapy and coaching do similar work and overlap. The difference, however, is that the starting point will never be viewed as abnormal or defective. The Life Coach, in partnership with the client, acknowledges the many ways that he or she is imperfect and those imperfections are acknowledged as normal.
(In the next post I will explore the final three of the nine differences between Coaching and Therapy).
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