On coaching and counselling..
March 14, 2007
Over at Wishful Thinking Mark is pointing out the differences as he sees them between Coaching and Counselling. He’s making the traditional distinctions but I would take issue about the assumptions on which they are based and have posted here about this difference before (I’ll repeat some of it in this post). Mark says:
Counselling and therapy deal with personal problems – Coaching addresses workplace performance.
The idea that our personal and professional lives are separate and distinctive is not something I agree with. Organisations don’t exist – they are networks of human relationships and as such are emotional and emotion generating environments. We don’t come to work and leave our personal selves at the door and I don’t know about you – but I have rarely heard someone come home from work talking about “the bottom line” – if they do they are expressing their feelings about the bottom line. Workplace performance is interconnected with personal issues and problems and vice versa. When I am coaching I am always observing why someone brings this problem (personal and professional) to me at this time. The permission I seek to inquire, and the level at which I work is what differentiates coaching from counselling and psychotherapy.
Counselling begins with a problem – Coaching can begin with a goal or aspiration
Counselling is sought by people having difficulties – Coaching is used by high achievers as much as beginners or people who are stuck.
People can often come to counselling or therapy with a goal that is framed as a problem. Nobody I have ever worked with has come to therapy to purely talk about problems – they are there to understand and resolve that problem. I have also worked with people who come to counselling and therapy to gain a better understanding of themselves – not just when a problem manifests. And I have also worked with coaching clients who have come and been referred because there is a problem with their workplace performance, so this distinction doesn’t stack up for me.
Many (but not all) forms of Counselling focus on the past and the origins of problems – Coaching focuses on the future and developing a workable solution.
Many forms of counselling and therapy seek to understand the past as it impacts on the present. It’s essential (in my view) to understand transference – living the past in the present – if you are going to change the future. You can’t come up with a 10 point plan and expect it to be implemented overnight if you don’t understand what is driving the behaviour in the first place. If this were doable then we’d all be rational only entities with no bad habits.
Mark’s differences are the standard ones I have seen when coaches want to differentiate themselves from therapists and it speaks to me of the anxiety many coaches have about the training therapists undergo to understand the unconscious and how that impacts on the present behaviour both in and out of the workplace.
The similarities between both are important to note:
• All individuals who work with a coach or a therapist are interested in a “better” future
• Therapy and Coaching offer skills and possibilities for that future – the methodologies employed are different
• The quality of the relationship is the essential mechanism by which change is effected
• Self awareness on the part of the coach and therapist is essential for successful work with clients
• Unconditional positive regard, empathy and a person-centred approach are key to both approaches
While I apply psychodynamic thinking to my coaching relationships the key difference is about the permission sought to inquire into a client’s personal story and how that information is worked with in the coaching relationship. There are times when it is helpful to know more about family of origin – it may help to understand a dynamic being played out in organisational contexts. But unless a coach is trained to work with this material they run the risk of opening up emotional responses that may be difficult to contain. It’s also essential to know when to refer a coaching client to a therapist. Very often this is when a repeating pattern of unhelpful behaviour, rooted in unresolved personal relationships in the past, is unhelpful in the present.
As a therapist and a coach I bring distinctive skills to the client relationship that are based on my psychodynamic training and which allow me to:
• Meet a client in an authentic person-to-person encounter.
• Process my own feelings in the coaching relationship and to use them as constructive interventions.
• Spot a client who may need a therapeutic relationship and to refer on appropriately.
• Translate psychodynamic insights into powerful work related interventions that impact on work performance and behaviour.