Every now and then I get asked about the differences in coaching and therapy, and what I actually do with clients. The main difference I see that can help differentiate the two overlapping practices is that coaching is more directive than therapy.
This, of course, varies according to a therapist's theoretical orientation or modality. Many therapists practice CBT, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which can be more directive than other forms of therapy. Homework can be assigned, and therapists can weigh certain opinions on what a client can do to grow. Therapy tends to be more client-centered where insight can be developed at the client's own pace.
What happens in coaching? Short-term goals are identified where I can help the client brainstorm how to break things down into smaller, achievable steps. I use Jane McGonigal's writing, Super Better, as a guide to help apply gaming strategies to real life. I also use my background in education and mental health to learn how to best support your learning style while teaching coping strategies. For the readers out there, I assign books and articles to help develop a positive change mindset and educate a client on what they might be working on.
The modality I love is called Bowen Family Systems Therapy. This theory overlaps well with coaching because one of its main interventions is to coach new skills. I view people in terms of their family systems and how the past can shape us, however, I do not dig into the past like a therapist does. To explore the past in depth would lean towards therapy, and my focus is on the present.
I do ask clients about their past patterns to help understand their successes or difficulties with working through hardships. It's important to figure out where we learned certain behaviors or ways of thinking, but again, the focus with coaching is to figure out how to stay present and work towards small goals to be successful towards a potentially larger goal.
The stages of change are referenced when working with coaching clients.
Each person has a unique process with change, and it can be cyclical. There are stages of relapse as well as precontemplation where we are not ready for change, but possibly ready to talk about the pros and cons before taking action. This is important to honor and identify in each person because if a therapist or coach pushes for change when the client is not ready, there may be resistance to change where the process takes even longer. When a client is ambivalent towards change, a therapist or coach will do their best to acknowledge a client's right to be in this ambivalence. Having this relationship and trust is vital to ensuring change can occur in the future.
Both therapists and coaches hope to create a space where a client feels accepted during their journeys of change. The most important component of growth is the relationship, so if a client feels heard and accepted, any theory or modality can help with change. If the client needs to work on severe mental health, though, referrals or recommendations for therapy may be given.
Sometimes coaching and therapy can have a very professional tone. Law & Ethics codes make it mandatory for therapists to limit having relationships with clients. Confidentiality is very important for both fields, but not all therapists or coaches adhere to strict ethical guidelines. It varies from person to person, so part of my work involves educating clients on what to potentially look for in a therapist if they were to need one. The power dynamic can make it easy for clients to trust in the authority of a therapist, even when they might do something unethical. (So, please, read on your rights and the ethics codes for therapists in your state. LINK TO CALIFORNIA CODE OF ETHICS 1/2017)
Coaching may feel more casual than therapy. This also depends on the therapist and their views on the therapeutic relationship and professionalism. Both have ethical guidelines, however, many coaches do not have to be licensed to practice. Some coaches take one course online and call themselves a life coach. Some coaches have extensive experience in certain fields and can now offer this knowledge to help people grow. Due to this range in requirements or experience needed for coaches, it is recommended to research what's out there. See if the coach you want has the right background, and can help you in an ethical way.
That's a quick overview of how I coach clients. I currently do home visits, and help translate how one's quirks can be used as superpowers in real life. I am looking for spaces to run social groups to help gamers and gifted children socialize in 2018. I will update with any changes!